June 16, 2024


Sapiens Digital

Microsoft Tips AI Supercomputer, New Biz-Focused Tools at Azure-Focused Build

6 min read

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (Photo by MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP via Getty Images)

At its first cloud-hosted Build developer conference,
Microsoft announced a raft of new developer capabilities, most leveraging its Azure
cloud services, but some tied in with Windows, Teams, Microsoft 365, Fluid Framework,
the Edge browser, and the Bing search engine.


Microsoft has new and updated
Azure features in no fewer than nine categories:  infrastructure, Data, AI,
Mixed Reality, IoT, Developer Tools, Community/Ecosystem, and Quantum. Highlights
in the infrastructure category include the release of a public preview Azure
Arc for Kubernetes and SUSE Linux. Arc provides unified management of
multi-cloud, on-premises, and edge computing environments.

New Azure Data capabilities include updates to the Azure
Cosmos DB noSQL hosted database service, new pricing, and an SLA guaranteeing single-digit
millisecond latency and 99.999 percent availability. Improved Postrgres and MySQL
support and a public preview of Azure SQL edge (which offers built-in
streaming, storage, and AI), and Azure Synapse Link round out the highlights.
That last one allows for analytics on live data, and is now working in Azure
Cosmos DB, with support for Azure SQL, PostgreSQL, and MySQL coming later.

For in-depth detail on all the announced Azure capabilities,
consult the Microsoft Azure

Azure Machine Learning Responsible ML graphic

Cloud for Healthcare

The first of several planned Industry Cloud solutions, Cloud for Healthcare is a timely solution combining Microsoft 365, Dynamics, Power Platform, and Azure.  It provides a common data model for sharing across apps and to provide analytics. The idea is to help hospitals better manage patients and resources, with security and compliance in place. A public preview of the service starts today. Better late than never. You can read more about it on the Microsoft Industry Blog.

New AI Capabilties

In addition to many updates that ease and optimize AI
programming for developers, two AI advances announced at the conference stand
out: the Responsible ML (machine learning) initiative and a cloud-accessible
supercomputer. The Responsible ML is what it sounds like: It offers guidelines
for protecting user privacy, security, accountability, and fairness assessment.

AI Supercomputer graphic

The supercomputer Microsoft announced is the fifth
most-powerful ever recorded and the only one among the TOP500 supercomputers
that’s accessible to customers via the cloud. It’s designed to perform massive
AI and ML for customers as well as for Azure itself. You can read about it on
the Microsoft AI Blog.

Another interesting AI announcement is the public preview of Project Bonsai, which utilizes machine teaching, not learning. As Microsoft’s press materials explain, “machine teaching enables the ability
to incorporate knowledge from experts rather than extracting knowledge from
data alone.” It offers a way for subject-matter experts to build AI
systems without needing to be AI experts. A subsidiary offering to Bonsai is
Project Moab, a robot that customers can 3D-print to learn how to build
autonomous control systems.

Internet of Things (IoT) Is Still a Thing

Microsoft announced new capabilities for its Azure Digital
Twins, which produce the behavior of actual things in digital form in order
to, for example, predict maintenance or optimize usage. New for Digital Twins
are OPEN Modeling Language, live execution environment, easy integration with
Azure IoT Hub and other Azure services, and rich query APIs. Microsoft is now
offering certification in IoT, as well as support for virtual networks (VNETs)
so companies’ data needn’t go through the public internet.

What’s New for Microsoft 365?

Almost all of the announcements for Microsoft 365 (formerly
Office 365) involve Teams, though there’s one for Yammer, and a design change
in Outlook for Web.  And most of the
Teams news is about new ways for developers to take advantage of the platform. For
example, they’ll be able to use new extensions in Visual Studio and Power Apps
to more easily build apps for Teams.

As for user features, the Bookings feature in Teams,
announced in March, becomes a fully released feature at Build, and new Teams
templates aid in creating Teams setups for applications like banks, hospitals,
or event management. Integration with Skype TX (a hardware/software setup for studios)
and NDI for Teams, available in June, bring new capabilities to broadcasters.

A new Microsoft Lists app will arrive this summer in Teams,
which lets users keep track of workflow issues, contacts, issues tracking, and
status reporting. List templates will be provided, and the app can generate
notifications. Lists traces its ancestry to SharePoint Lists, whose users will
find it familiar. It will also come with “built-in governance, security
and compliance.”

Finally, Yammer, that private business version of Twitter, now
lets users like and reply to posts from within Outlook.

Fluid Framework for Everyone

Fluid is the name Microsoft gives to its design language that
takes advantage of transparency and animations to make tasks clearer. At Build,
Microsoft is introducing Fluid Workspaces and Fluid Components. These internet-connected
services will first appear in Outlook for Web, with components things like text,
tables, lists, agendas, and action items. A public preview of these will first
roll out to Microsoft 365 Enterprise and Education subscribers.

Another Fluid announcement is that this Fluid Framework will
be open-sourced, available for developers to build their own components. It will
be hosted on GitHub starting sometime over the next month.

Windows Gets Some Love

The big news for Windows 10, Project Reunion, pertains more to developers
than to end users of the OS. Project Reunion is intended to bridge the worlds
of UWP (Universal Windows Platform) apps acquired in the OS’s Microsoft Store
app store with traditional Win32 Windows programs. According to Microsoft, it
will “provide a common, backward-compatible platform for existing code and
for the latest client platform innovations.”

The other major news for Windows concerns that other OS buried
within Microsoft’s OS—Linux, or rather, the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). At Build, the company is announcing that
WSL will support GPU and GUI (graphical user interface) apps. Finally, installing
Linux will be a simple matter of running “wsl.exe -install” at the
command line.

Edge and Bing Are Still Things

Microsoft’s updated Edge web browser has met with more
success since switching to the more-compatible Chromium codebase, even passing open-source
and privacy darling Firefox in some recent usage reports.

Microsoft Edge

One of Edge’s hallmark features is Collections, a truly nimble
and useful research tool that lets you drag pages and images and write notes in
an always-accessible side panel. New for Edge is integration with Pinterest, which
can also be though of as a web-wide collection tool. The new integration lets
you show suggested, related content from Pinterest at the bottom of the Collections

Collections currently lets you save to Word or Excel, but the
Edge team is announcing the ability to save to OneNote as well, which is
eminently sensible, since Collections and OneNote are both concerned with gathering
notes and media.

Edge is bringing back a favorite feature of mine: search in
sidebar. Rather than being slowed down by having to open a new tab when you
search on highlighted text, the results appear in a sidebar, letting you stay
on the webpage you’re viewing.

Microsoft Edge Automatic Profile SwitchingMicrosoft Edge Automatic Profile Switching

Corporate users are getting a new Bing result-page type: Work.
That is, the results in this set are strictly from your work domain, rather
than the general web. Results here come from any Microsoft 365 content—documents,
employee directories, and internal websites.

Bing for Commerce is a custom site search option that uses
AI to direct queries that drive more conversions, i.e., sales. New for this product
is Machine Learning in Commerce, which lets companies train their search results.
An SDK for Bing for Commerce is being released, letting developers code for it
in Java, C#, and Python.

For users, more new Edge goodness includes a redesigned
extension store, more capable PWAs (progressive web apps) that offer share-sheet
capability, and Automatic Profile Switching to enable work credentials for work
sites. Find out more on the Edge Developer Blog.

Further Reading

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