Day two of Microsoft’s Build Conference in San Francisco focused on the cloud and how Microsoft will help developers build better back ends for their mobile applications.

Today, Microsoft demonstrated numerous enhancements to the Azure cloud platform. Using Azure, developers can now construct back ends for their mobile apps using .NET or Node.js.

(Related: Recap of Build, day 1)

Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of Microsoft’s cloud and enterprise group, said that Azure has added services to enhance developer productivity and capabilities. Among these is the inclusion of a new notifications API, which allows a message sent to a hub to be passed along to potentially millions of connected devices.

Azure also added support for Active Directory from mobile devices, as well as the ability to perform debugging locally and remotely. Azure also added some new APIs for auto-scaling, testing and authentication.

For authentication, a single token can now be generated that will be usable across Microsoft’s other online products. Using the new authentication tools, developers can build applications that allow them to move into Office 365 without needing a different authentication token.

This authentication support is also available to developers building their front-end clients on Android and iOS. Azure also added offline data-sync capabilities, as well as Office 365 API integration.

Guthrie also discussed the improvements to Azure’s SQL Server offering. First of all, Guthrie said Microsoft has increased the size of supported databases to 500GB. The company is also offering a 99.95% uptime SLA.  

SQL Server in Azure will also be receiving a self-service restore capability. “It does automatic backups for you,” said Guthrie. “You can roll back the clock to specific time. We save up to 31 days of backups. This feature doesn’t need to be turned on; it’s built in.”

Microsoft has also added active geo-replication. “You can run SQL databases in multiple Azure regions around the world and set it up to automatically replicate your databases for you,” said Guthrie. “In the event of catastrophic issues in one region, you can initiate the failover automatically. With Azure regions, we intended to try to make sure we have multiple regions in each geography. So there are two regions 500 miles away from each other in Europe.”

On compilers and universal apps
Microsoft also announced that it has been working on Roslyn, a next-generation compiler for Visual Basic and C#. This compiler is designed not to be so much as a black box as regular compilers are. The goal is to make the compiler behave more like an API.

Roslyn is a work in progress, but at Build, Microsoft announced that it would be made open source.

As for the future, the company plans to offer a version of Windows designed for embedded devices and the Internet of Things for free to developers. Devices with screens smaller than nine inches are also eligible to receive future Windows updates for free.

(Related: TypeScript 1.0 comes out at Build)

The Xbox One, on the other hand, is becoming part of the universal Windows apps pantheon, though no actual date for this functionality was given. In the future, though, developers will be able to deploy their desktop and phone apps onto the Xbox One using the universal Windows apps capabilities of Visual Studio.

A new version of Visual Studio supporting universal Windows apps is available from MSDN right now; however, this is only a release candidate for Visual Studio and not a final release.

Why Windows?
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella addressed the crowd at Build by taking some prerecorded questions at the end of the keynote address. One of those questions caused him to ruminate on Microsoft’s past, and its similarity to its future.

“If you think about what developers mean to us, it’s pretty deep,” he said. “We were a tools company before we were an office company before we were a Windows company. We are again in that era now. We’re bringing the entirety of the Windows family from the Internet of Things to consoles to tablets to phones to PCs. We have that proliferation in ubiquitous computing in ambient intelligence. It’s exciting times for us and developers in terms of opportunity to take your apps and bring them forth to Windows as it evolves.”

When asked why someone should build for Windows, Nadella said, “You want to build for Windows because we are going to innovate with a challenger mindset. We’re not trying to do just the next version of Windows; we’re going to come at this by innovating in every dimension the software and hardware across the Windows family. We’ll make progress with rapid pace.”