Microsoft Build 2024 looks like it's more about AI fluff than developer stuff

Windows? We're the Copilot company now

Comment Microsoft's Build 2024 conference is getting under way in Seattle. As the Copilot company makes a multitude of AI announcements, one question seems pertinent: Is Build and Microsoft's commitment to developers starting to wither?

The event has not recovered to pre-pandemic levels in terms of in-person attendance. Approximately 4,000 turned up in Seattle, although Microsoft would point to many times that number having registered for on-demand streaming. Last year, the figure was around 5,000.

It's a far cry from the more than 12,000 people who showed up in Paris for KubeCon in 2024. More than half of them were also first-timers.

Build is aimed at software engineers and developers, and has been running since 2011. The event is the successor of the venerable Professional Developers Conference, which dates back to the 1990s. Microsoft has another major annual event, Ignite, which succeeded its TechEd conference (also originating in the 1990s) and is more aimed at IT professionals as well as developers.

The comparison between the highlights of 2019 and 2024's Build starkly shines a light on the issue for developers working with Microsoft technology. In 2019, it was all about Visual Studio. The Windows Subsystem for Linux 2, replete with a Linux kernel for Windows 10, was on display. There was Windows Terminal, and Microsoft talked up what was coming with .NET 5.0 – an increase in scope and a performance bump.

Giving Windows total recall of everything a user does is a privacy minefield


2024 is a different story. If a developer hasn't gulped down their AI pills and pulled on their Copilot pants, Microsoft doesn't seem that interested.

Nowhere was that disinterest in anything which can't be slapped with the Copilot or AI label more evident than at yesterday's AI PC event, where new Surface hardware and "Copilot+ PCs" were launched.

Unless CEO Satya Nadella has something more to pull out of the bag – perhaps an official sighting of a version of Windows with more AI skills than the vaguely creepy Recall feature as well as the ability to answer more than the question "How do I turn off Copilot?" – there simply isn't a lot to interest developers not already heavily invested in AI.

For the sake of the in-person attendees, we hope there is more than just AI, AI, and more AI.

2024's Build event could be defining for Microsoft. While Windows might still be a highly profitable segment for the company, the direction of travel it wants developers to take is clear: Copilot and AI. Ideally with a generous helping of Azure ladled into the mix.

The advent of generative AI is changing how developers work. A 2023 piece in Forbes asked the question whether there is a place for coding education. The answer is nuanced. Yes, but not as previously understood, and certainly not as dispensed in previous Build and PDC events. Where past gatherings were used by Microsoft to show developers how to dig into the innards of Windows, the advent of low-code platforms and now Copilot and AI everywhere means it seemingly regards developers as another conduit for the company's AI vision.

Not all developers will agree with that vision.

In the company's Big Book Of News, shared before the conference, Windows was mentioned fewer than ten times. AI appeared more than 150 times. While this is an unscientific sample, it does make clear which way Microsoft thinks the wind is blowing.

Microsoft's obsession with AI and Copilot might please investors, but the company depends on developers. A collective shrug at what should be the company's premier developer event could translate into something that alarms those same investors in the years to come. ®

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