There are now roughly three weeks left until Microsoft kicks off its annual developer event known as the Build conference in Redmond, Washington. But this year, things have been changed. The effects of the coronavirus outbreak have turned the event into an all-digital experience now set for May 19 and May 20.

Microsoft typically uses Build as a chance to discuss developer-specific products and services, but this year we’re expecting things to diverge from how they have gone in the past. There might be a lot less focus on software, as well as less about Windows or Office and the Microsoft products you use every day, and even more emphasis on A.I.

Here’s a look at what we expect from Build 2020.

Online-only, free for developers

Build has always been an in-person event where developers and journalists alike could connect with Microsoft employees and learn about the company’s latest offerings. Developers typically pay a hefty registration fee to attend and get a seat at various sessions dedicated to Microsoft’s latest software and products.

This year, though, that has changed, according to a report from CNBC. For the first time, Microsoft has shifted Build to an online-event that’s completely free to watch for developers. Journalists and the media, meanwhile, will be able to watch sessions and discuss the event through Teams, Microsoft’s virtual communication service.

Microsoft is now calling Build a “48-hour digital experience.” It highlights the fact that any developer can register to watch for free. The event usually kicks off with a major keynote on the first day, which summarizes the scope of the event. That has not, however, been confirmed for this year yet.

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This all falls perfectly in line with Microsoft’s plans for the future. The company canceled all of its internal and external events through July 2021 in favor of digital experiences. Microsoft experimented with this before and held an online-only event for the media when it revealed its newly renamed Microsoft 365 consumer subscriptions, which have access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and the other Office apps.

More developer, less consumer

In recent times, Build has always been focused on developer aspects like Microsoft’s Azure cloud-computing platform. It has never really been the stage to reveal big updates for consumer products like Surface and Windows. We expect this to be especially true this year, with another change to the format of how you might grasp it all.

At Build 2019, Microsoft didn’t directly discuss Windows 10. The company instead focused on smaller shifts like Edge’s transition to Chromium. The company also switched up the presentation style of its keynotes, focusing less on showing live coding and more on the actual announcements.

That’s true again this year. In fact, CNBC reports that Build 2020 will be focused on the “core audience of software developers.”  The Build 2020 website shows various key segments titled “Every Developer is Welcome,” “Azure for Every Developer,” “Build Tools for the New Way to Work and Learn,” and “The Future of Technology.” For us average folk, that should mean an emphasis on Azure, cloud computing, A.I., and machine learning.

Expect to hear about Android as well, since Microsoft is planning to release a dual-screen Android phone, the Surface Duo. 

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The format of the event, though, will obviously change. It’s rumored that Microsoft will shift to use social media as a way to fire up discussions and answer questions about keynotes. Microsoft is also apparently asking its executives to film prerecorded segments in their homes, which might be uploaded for developers to view. It’s unknown if there still will be a “live” aspect, as Microsoft typically has its “Channel 9” studio on the set of the event each year.

Windows to get a back seat

With the focus of Build apparently shifting to the core audience of software developers, Microsoft’s consumer products could likely get a back seat at the conference. That means we once again won’t hear much about Windows or Surface directly. There may be some announcements related to cloud services or Office, but we don’t expect it to be a big topic.

It was, however, supposed to be a big year for Microsoft, with the upcoming releases of the Surface Duo dual-screen smartphone and the Surface Neo dual-screen PC. The company is also working on Windows 10X, a new flavor of Windows 10 for dual-screen PCs.

Rumor has it that the dual-screen devices have been delayed to help Microsoft work on bringing the touch-optimized software to single-screen devices. We don’t really expect Microsoft to talk much about it at Build. If anything, Microsoft might provide more support for SDKs and other tools developers could use to develop apps and services for Windows 10X. This is supremely important for the future of Windows and Surface, so the company may follow up on previous Developer Days from earlier this spring.

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What about Windows 10? With a change in leadership and Surface chief Panos Panay now in charge of a new Windows+Devices, group, it was also expected for regular Windows 10 to get some visual updates in the fall. As Windows is no longer the focus of Build, we don’t expect this to be discussed either, even with the pending launch of the May 2020 Update.

We do know that Microsoft will give Windows a “breakout” session during Build. The Windows Insider team, which handles preview versions of Windows, confirmed it will be hosting its own virtual webcast sessions at Build, so Windows will, for sure, not be absent entirely.

Of course, the fall is when Microsoft usually talks about its own hardware and usually Windows, so you can expect more at that time. Until then, don’t hold your hopes up for Build to become a Surface and Windows extravaganza this year.

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