Microsoft Build 2021: All the Big Announcements to Expect

It’s that time of year again, when technology companies unite with developers to talk about upcoming software and services. We’ve already experienced this with Google’s I/O conference, but now it’s Microsoft’s turn with Build 2021. 

For the second year in a row, Microsoft’s Build developer conference, which runs from May 25 to 27, is all digital and free for anyone to attend. It’s an entirely online experience, with livestreamed or prerecorded sessions that can be added to an online schedule, or “backpack.” There are even breakout opportunities and networking chances with Microsoft Teams.

But this year’s Build developer conference has high hopes compared to last year’s event. We think the 2021 edition will be a bit different from the past, with more of a focus on Windows and consumer products. Here’s what we expect from Build 2021.

A peek at the future of Windows

The front-end experience of Windows 10 wasn’t talked about much at previous Build conferences. Unlike Apple or Google, Microsoft doesn’t usually talk about big updates or features of Windows 10 at its Build keynote. Instead, it tends to focus on the developer experiences for the operating system. Last year, the big announcements were Project Reunion, changes to the new Microsoft Edge web browser, new GPU and GUI features for the Windows Subsystem for Linux, and Microsoft PowerToys.

This trend is expected to also be true in 2021, but there’s reason to believe that some larger changes could be in the works. The reason why?

Well, rumor has it that Microsoft is planning a big visual rejuvenation of Windows 10 for the second half of this year. Yet, at the same time, Microsoft also decided the much-hyped Windows 10X operating system “could be more useful in more ways,” which meant killing the project as a stand-alone release.

As explained in a blog post, Microsoft wants to bring the technologies from 10X into other parts of Windows and Microsoft products so that it is not “confined to a subset of customers.” Per Microsoft, this includes a “modernized touch keyboard with optimized key sizing, sounds, colors, and animations.”

For you, that means Microsoft wants to focus on the 1.3 billion devices that already run Windows 10. Build would be the perfect chance to discuss all this and how plans have changed throughout the year.

We expect Microsoft to talk more about those visual changes coming in Windows 10 — and how developers can code their apps to match up. So far, we’ve seen hints at this already with new icons and fonts. Code in Windows Insider beta builds also reveals that Microsoft is planning a redesign of things like the jump lists in the Taskbar and the Start Menu itself, and even a new look with sliders in the Action Center.

Other changes that could come up at Build 2021 include a new Microsoft Store, which will now allow support for Win32 apps. These new changes can put more money into the pockets of developers. There could also be more details about Visual Studio 2022, which is the Microsoft program used to code Windows and other apps.

Things have clearly been building up to all this, and even Windows and Surface Chief Panos Panay seems to have gotten caught up in the hype over it. At Microsoft’s last large conference, Ignite 2021, the exec teased that “it’s going to be a massive year for Windows.”

If you look at the current list of Build sessions, there are some hints at this. Though Microsoft is known to keep the best Build sessions hidden until the last minute, there are a couple of sessions about Windows 10. These include “What’s new for Windows desktop application development” and “What’s new in Windows 10 for ALL developers.”

More on the future of Microsoft Edge

Build 2020 featured a lot of sessions focused on Microsoft’s new Edge browser, which is powered by Google’s open-source Chromium engine. Since last year, Microsoft has steadily updated Edge, adding in lots of new features like Vertical Tabs, a new Kids Mode, and Performance Mode.

Expect Microsoft to continue this theme at Build 2021. The company will likely highlight the progress made in Edge and talk about the new direction heading forward. At the Ignite conference, Microsoft mentioned how it wanted to merge the codebase between the mobile and desktop versions of Edge. This allows for more features to be ported between the two versions, and for the browser to stay updated regularly.

Because Microsoft has already pushed out a Canary and Dev channel to the Android version of the browser — as well as a Beta version on iOS — you can expect to hear more about these plans at Build.

A lot about Teams and Microsoft 365

Microsoft Teams

With the boom in the use of Microsoft Teams due to the pandemic, you can expect it to be a big topic of discussion at Microsoft Build. Last year’s event saw Teams and Microsoft 365 receive many updates such as a Bookings app and the new Lists app. We expect more of the same this year, where Microsoft talks about incoming features for Teams and other Microsoft 365 apps.

Right now, there are more than 287 sessions focusing on Microsoft Teams, Azure, and Power Platform, all of which fall under the Microsoft 365 banner of products. More could be on the way, too.

It definitely looks as though this year’s Build is one to watch. Teams, Edge, Windows, and more could finally be put into the spotlight, and we consumers will have the chance to enjoy shiny new features.

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