Satya Nadella hits Sydney and channels Steve O'Ballmer from eight years ago

Elon Musk's AI effort lobs into Azure, which now has Functions, bots and very grunty instances

A little over eight years ago, then-Microsoft-CEO Steve Ballmer came to Australia, told developers that Microsoft loved them and predicted that within a decade average homes would have screens on just about every wall. Thanks to Microsoft and the earnest efforts of clever developers, he said, we'd always have information and entertainment at our fingertips.

Ballmer's 2008 visit came just a day after Barack Obama was elected president for the first time. The branding for his visit - “Liberation Day” - therefore caught the tone of the times (and meant I got to have a little fun referring to the CEO as Steve O'Ballmer).

“Liberation Day” was billed as “A new dawn for developers with the freedom of software + services.” The software was Microsoft's development tools. The services was Azure.

Fast forward to today, the day on which Ballmer's successor Satya Nadella came to Australia for the “Microsoft Australia Developer Event”, a name happily devoid of political associations. Nadella gave a speech in which he said - you guessed it - that Microsoft loves developers and that its tools plus Azure are developers' best friends.

“I always go back to the very creation of Microsoft, when Bill Gates created the interpreter for the Altair,” Nadella said. “Tools for developers remains at the heart of who we are as a company.”

Nadella does have a far better story to tell than Ballmer on the services side, as Azure 2016 is vastly richer than Azure 2008. The new CEO therefore pointed to the combination of Microsoft's cloudy cognitive services, the sheer scale and might of Azure's FPGA-powered cloud and the applications it can place in front of users as representing a big opportunity for developers.

“Everyone has the chance to create technology that creates surplus in our economies and our societies,” he said. “Our role is to provide the tools that let developers have that impact.”

Nadella's visit also coincided with a few items of news, namely:

  • Elon Musk's OpenAI project has picked Azure as its preferred cloud and will collaborate with Microsoft to advance AI technologies;
  • Microsoft's serverless compute service, “Functions”, has exited beta. Developers can get going in C# and JavaScript, with F#, PowerShell, PHP, Python and Bash scripting in preview;
  • The first preview of a new Azure Bots service that Nadella said “takes conversational understanding and brings it to bear to build new classes of applications” before going on to predict that chatbots will soon be as common, and as expected, as mobile apps;
  • December availability of N-Series Azure instances first teased in October 2015

The CEO also had a chuckle at Microsoft's expense, as he yesterday announced a collaboration between Microsoft and Cricket Australia around analytics designed to improve player performance. The national men's team yesterday lost its tenth match on the trot and Nadella therefore opined it might not be the best day on which to talk cricket.

Nadella also had his own prediction about what the home of the near-future will look like. His version asserted that average homes will soon be packed full of sensors in every room and that thanks to Microsoft all the information they gather will be put to good use.

Let's see if Nadella's prediction is more accurate than Ballmer's, which was right about screens being in every room but didn't pick those screens would be smartphones or tablets.

One last thing: if Nadella uttered the word "Windows" during his 40-minute talk, your correspondent missed it. ®

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