Microsoft delivers test builds of Visual Studio for Mac, Visual Studio 2017 for Windows

Visual Studio for Mac is not a port of Visual Studio for Windows; it's a rebranded version of Xamarin Studio integrated development environment (IDE) that will work on the Mac. (Microsoft bought mobile-tool vendor Xamarin in February 2016.) Visual Studio for Mac is available as of today as a preview for download.

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Visual Studio 2017 is the official name of the product Microsoft has been calling "Visual Studio Next" and/or codename "VS '15'." As of today, a near-final Release Candidate version of that product is available to testers. The RC includes a few brand-new features, but is mostly complete at this point. Officials told me this week that the final/general availability version of Visual Studio 2017 would be out in early 2017.

Microsoft made these announcements at its Connect() 2016 developer event in New York City on November 16.

At that event, Microsoft also announced it is joining The Linux Foundation as a Platinum member, and that Google is joining the .NET Foundation's Technical Steering Committee. The .NET Foundation is the vehicle Microsoft has used to open source a number of its developer technologies, including .NET and ASP.NET implementations and components.

Visual Studio for Mac will include IntelliSense and refactoring via the Roslyn Compiler platform. It will use MSBuild and the same debugger engines for Xamarin and .NET Core apps, as well as the same designers for Xamarin.iOS and Xamarin.Android.

Visual Studio 2017 for Windows also is relying on the "Roslyn" work to rearchitect the C# and Visual Basic compilers. The coming release includes enhancements in refactorings, code generation, code analysis, navigation, testing, and debugging, officials said.

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Other Connect() announcements today included a preview of a new Visual Studio Mobile Center, and general availability of both Visual Studio Team Foundation server 2017 and Azure Application Insights.

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Visual Studio Mobile Center is a portal that is meant to help developers build, test, distribute, and monitor apps built in Objective-C, Swift, Java, Xamarin, and React Native for Android, iOS, and Windows devices. Documentation for the new Mobile Center is here.

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Samsung also is releasing a preview of Visual Studio Tools for the Tizen operating system, which will allow developers to build apps for Tizen running on Samsung TVs, wearables, mobile, and other IoT devices.

Microsoft's multipronged strategy for bringing speech to IoT devices

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Microsoft has been stepping up its game around connecting its Azure cloud services to Internet of Things (IoT) devices. But few may realize the company also is simultaneously working to bring its various speech capabilities to IoT devices, too.

Microsoft provides IoT developers with various tools for integrating speech with their devices. There are built-in Windows 10 speech application programming interfaces (APIs) for tasks like dictating a simple message and Web search. There are natural-language services -- known as Language Understanding Intelligent Service (LUIS) -- that are part of Microsoft Research's Oxford API set, and are available for non-Windows platforms, too. There's Bing Translate. And there's Cortana, Microsoft's personal digital assistant.

Figuring out which of these tools is best for which kinds of tasks seemingly can be a bit tricky. Company officials provided a framework for guidance during WinHEC, listing some potential scenarios, like controlling a sous-vide machine by voice (using a combination of LUIS with Windows 10 or Oxford Speech APIs), and controlling a robot using voice (using Windows 10 local speech APIs).

In the home automation/device control example, Microsoft showed how a user could check whether her/his garage door is closed with voice queries without having to use a phone or tablet.

What is IoT?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a scenario in which objects, animals or people are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction. IoT has evolved from the convergence of wireless technologies, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) and the Internet.

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A thing, in the Internet of Things, can be a person with a heart monitor implant, a farm animal with a biochip transponder, an automobile that has built-in sensors to alert the driver when tire pressure is low -- or any other natural or man-made object that can be assigned an IP address and provided with the ability to transfer data over a network. So far, the Internet of Things has been most closely associated with machine-to-machine (M2M) communication in manufacturing and power, oil and gas utilities. Products built with M2M communication capabilities are often referred to as being smart. (See: smart label, smart meter, smart grid sensor)

IPv6’s huge increase in address space is an important factor in the development of the Internet of Things. According to Steve Leibson, who identifies himself as “occasional docent at the Computer History Museum,” the address space expansion means that we could “assign an IPV6 address to every atom on the surface of the earth, and still have enough addresses left to do another 100+ earths.” In other words, humans could easily assign an IP address to every "thing" on the planet. An increase in the number of smart nodes, as well as the amount of upstream data the nodes generate, is expected to raise new concerns about data privacy, data sovereignty and security.

Although the concept wasn't named until 1999, the Internet of Things has been in development for decades. The first Internet appliance, for example, was a Coke machine at Carnegie Melon University in the early 1980s. The programmers could connect to the machine over the Internet, check the status of the machine and determine whether or not there would be a cold drink awaiting them, should they decide to make the trip down to the machine.

Kevin Ashton, cofounder and executive director of the Auto-ID Center at MIT, first mentioned the Internet of Things in a presentation he made to Procter & Gamble. Here’s how Ashton explains the potential of the Internet of Things:

“Today computers -- and, therefore, the Internet -- are almost wholly dependent on human beings for information. Nearly all of the roughly 50 petabytes (a petabyte is 1,024 terabytes) of data available on the Internet were first captured and created by human beings by typing, pressing a record button, taking a digital picture or scanning a bar code.

The problem is, people have limited time, attention and accuracy -- all of which means they are not very good at capturing data about things in the real world. If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things -- using data they gathered without any help from us -- we would be able to track and count everything and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling and whether they were fresh or past their best.”

Dr. John Barrett explains the Internet of Things in his TED talk:

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