Microsoft Ignite, previously called Microsoft TechEd, is an annual conference that has been taking place since 1993. Microsoft uses the conference to show off upcoming products to developers and IT professionals.
In this blog post we look at 2019’s Ignite conference and the new products they announced that you can get excited about.
Azure is Microsoft’s answer to Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). It’s a hosting and infrastructure platform that allows developers to spin up servers and services that do specific tasks (such as a database, managing sessions or storage).
Each of the big platforms have a slightly different take on the services they provide, with pros and cons for each. Some platforms even have unique services or might be first to market with a new piece of tech.
Azure Stack launched a couple of years ago which allows companies to use Azure to manage their own on-premise infrastructure. Azure Arc aims to go one step further, allowing users to manage the hybrid cloud in one place.
Take a look at Microsoft’s announcement to learn more about Azure Arc.
Chromium is the open-source engine that powers the Chrome browser. It’s lightweight, fast and portable so it can be easily added to other applications. Beyond the Chrome browser, Chromium is built into many platforms. This includes Electron, a development framework for creating desktop applications in web technologies. You’ve probably used some Electron apps, such as Slack, Discord, Yammer, Twitch, WhatsApp, Skype, Microsoft Teams and Basecamp.
Microsoft announced that Edge, their web browser that took over from Internet Explorer, will now be built using Chromium. It’s available for early access before general release in January.
At Ignite, Microsoft announced that Edge would be getting some new privacy features, such as ‘InPrivate’.
InPrivate shares many features that Incognito has in Chrome. It won’t store your history or long-life cookies, but it will work in conjunction with Bing to remove any search history and personally identifiable information from your searches.
Edge will also enable tracking prevention by default. Tracking prevention is a grey area at the moment because it often disables features which can break the web for certain users on some websites. However, Microsoft thinks they’ve fixed that with their new implementation, presumably finding a happy medium between effective privacy and usability.
Chatbots are a hot topic at the moment. Many large businesses use them as first-line support to cut down common questions, while smaller businesses use the opportunity to sell and offer customer support on more channels without increased code.
Microsoft Virtual Agents allows you to create intelligent bots using a drag and drop interface. These systems aren’t new, but many of them are quite dumb in the sense that they only allow set answers to multiple-choice questions. They don’t necessarily tie into your own systems. Most of the time, a chatbot needs to actually do something for the customer beyond providing basic information, such as book a table or search a database. Virtual Agents incorporates these sophisticated features and can tie into other Microsoft Azure products. This includes the vast AI offering that Azure boasts, providing an enhanced toolset.
The goal of Virtual Agents is to take bot building away from developers and put it into the hands of the topic experts.
Microsoft’s virtual assistant, Cortana, has some new features. Cortana is now able to read emails to you, respond to emails on your behalf, delete or archive emails and tinker with your work calendar.
Microsoft missed the boat with consumer-focused virtual assistants. Google is leaps and bounds ahead of the competition with a consumer-facing virtual assistant. The Google Assistant is able to do almost anything you can do on your phone all totally remotely. It also predicts actions based on your routine or whether it thinks you’re on public transport or driving and behaves accordingly. Google Assistant can even make an appointment or booking on your behalf by calling the restaurant and speaking to them to place the booking (check out this video for an example).
One thing Microsoft does know well is the corporate enterprise market. Cortana’s new and upcoming features focus on making people’s working lives easier, rather than their personal lives. Microsoft definitely has a lot of experience in this space so we’re excited to see how the updated virtual assistant works in practice.