Microsoft Build was bad for Windows fans, and the company needs to do better

Microsoft Build was bad for Windows fans, and the company needs to do better

Microsoft held its annual Build developer conference this week. Once again, it was a virtual event, as the Redmond firm announced last year that all of its events would be virtual until at least July 2021. Sadly though, it just wasn’t a good show, especially if you’re a Windows fan.

I know what you’re thinking. I get it. Build hasn’t been a Windows-focused show in years, and it seems like every year, it focuses on the home-grown OS a little bit less. This year’s show just felt awkward, and maybe even a little bit embarrassing.

All of the Windows news at Microsoft Build 2021

In Microsoft’s Build 2021 Book of News, which is now public, there are seven items listed under Windows. Regardless of the fact that this is a tiny fraction of the total amount of news, let’s take a look at those seven items.

  1. Microsoft Edge 91 is now available with improvements to Startup Boost and Sleeping Tabs.
  2. Microsoft Edge WebView2 is now generally available in WinUI 3.
  3. Project Reunion 0.8 is out in preview.
  4. A Windows on ARM developer kit is coming this summer.
  5. Windows Insiders can now run GUI apps in WSL.
  6. The Windows search box has new features.
  7. Windows Terminal 1.9 is out in preview, and you can set it as the default terminal emulator now.
Snapdragon Developer Kit with green background

Snapdragon Developer Kit

That’s it. Now, consider that some of it isn’t even news. The Windows on ARM dev kit was announced the day before the show by Qualcomm. The ability to run GUI apps in WSL has been around since Windows 10 Insider Preview build 21362, so nothing has changed there. Even Edge 91 coming this week isn’t really news. The release schedule is published, and all of the features have been in the Beta channel for weeks.

That leaves WebView2 in WinUI 3, Project Reunion 0.8, Windows search improvements, and Windows Terminal 1.9. And with the exception of Windows Terminal 1.9, which seems to have features that some Terminal fans are excited about, the rest of the updates seem trivial.

Indeed, if you tuned into Microsoft Build for Windows news, you wasted your time.

Well, there was one big Windows story at Build

During Satya Nadella’s opening keynote, the CEO talked about “the next generation of Windows”. The Windows talk lasted about a minute, and indeed, if you’re a fan of Windows, it was an exciting minute.

This was a big story. Doing a Google search for ‘Microsoft Build’ shows Nadella’s Windows tease as two of the three top news stories to come out of the show. Imagine that. A single minute of a keynote is getting more attention than the 43 pages of announcements in the Book of News that was linked to earlier.

The Windows event is coming in June

I wasn’t surprised that there was so little Windows news at Build. On top of Windows news waning in recent years at the event, we know that there’s a specific Windows event coming in June. Yes, that’s when we’ll hear about the “next generation of Windows” that Satya Nadella was talking about.

Windows 10X start menu leak

Windows 10X Start Menu

It’s codenamed Sun Valley, and it should be pretty cool. It’s a visual overhaul of the OS, taking elements from the now-defunct Windows 10X. If you’re a Windows fan, this is the thing that you should be excited about.

But for whatever reason, Microsoft has decided that Windows wasn’t worthy of a spotlight at Build. Instead, it gets its own event.

Everyone else does it at the developer conference

This is the part where you say, “But it’s a developer show, Rich. It has news for developers.”

Microsoft has done a great job of convincing its enthusiasts that there should never be any overlap between consumer and developer news. It’s actually an interesting phenomenon because these same people seem to think that Apple’s and Google’s developer shows aren’t real developer events.

Android12 Material You Collage

Android 12 Material You

At Google I/O, the company showed off a ton of stuff at its two-hour opening keynote. There’s a massive visual overhaul in Android 12 called Material You, and Wear OS is finally getting the love it desperately needs by working with Fitbit for better health services and Tizen for a unified developer platform.

At WWDC next month, Apple is going to announce its next big updates at its keynote. You can bet that we’ll see iOS 15, watchOS 8, macOS 12, and tvOS 15 right out of the gate. In Apple’s case, we might even see new hardware too.

When it comes to the next big software update, that’s the thing that takes center stage at Apple’s and Google’s developer conferences. For Microsoft, it takes a back seat. I’m sure that Windows and devices chief Panos Panay would say that Windows will get a bigger spotlight at the June event, but frankly, there should be no bigger spotlight than Build.

Panos Panay with Surface logo in background

Panos Panay

Also, if Panay doesn’t want to show off Sun Valley at Build, he could have used that as the day to pull the trigger on the release of the Windows 10 May 2021 Update. Instead, that happened the week before Build. It was to no one’s surprise either. Anyone who follows Microsoft these days knows that it wouldn’t have a major Windows update conflict with its developer conference.

Microsoft doesn’t care about Windows anymore

OK, put down the pitchforks. Windows isn’t going anywhere in my lifetime. And Satya Nadella just promised that Windows is about to get the biggest update in a decade. That’s right; Windows 8 came out less than a decade ago. It may have been a terrible failure, but if you want to talk about UX overhauls, it definitely did that.

Microsoft Build used to be a Windows show, and it gradually became more and more about Azure. Throughout this time, the Redmond company has become more and more focused on Azure. Fewer and fewer resources get put into Windows development.

Satya Nadella on dark background

Satya Nadella

We’ve seen something of a resurgence of Windows in Microsoft over the past year. The pandemic has caused people to work from home and PC sales to have significant growth, so, therefore, Windows suddenly matters. But even Microsoft is too smart to think that that growth will last.

Microsoft says that it cares about Windows. It says so over and over. I honestly can’t tell you how many times during Build I’ve seen someone say that Microsoft cares about Windows. But here’s the problem.

Google doesn’t say it cares about Android, and Apple doesn’t say that it cares about iOS. They don’t have to. They actually put effort into the product so no one would ever doubt it.

Conclusion: Microsoft Build back better

We’re at a point where there’s a disparity between what Microsoft wants to show, and what the people want to see. After all, Nadella’s one minute of Windows talk in the keynote was probably the biggest story of the show. Unfortunately, it got the least amount of time.

Microsoft is the Azure company today. Every Microsoft watcher knows that. That’s been the biggest area of growth for years now. More recently, it’s even become the biggest source of revenue.

Satya Nadella in front of pictures of children at EDU event

Satya Nadella

But still, Windows is going to be a major product for the Redmond firm for the foreseeable future. It’s still the operating system that we stare at every single day. It’s what we use to work, it’s what we use to play games, it’s even what we use to develop for Azure.

Windows 10 is being used by 1.3 billion people in the world. That’s a lot, and speaking to the PC space only, it’s the overwhelming majority.

It’s a crime that Windows was an afterthought at Build. And if anyone from Microsoft is reading this, stop telling us that you care about Windows. Start showing us. And no, it doesn’t count if you tell us you’re going to show us soon.

About author

Rich Woods
Rich Woods

Managing Editor for XDA Computing. I've been covering tech from smartphones to PCs since 2013. If you see me at a trade show, come say hi and let me ask you weird questions about why you use the tech you use.