Developers, download these apps to see if Microsoft is on the right track

This week Microsoft made previews of a number of tools available to developers

At Build this week Microsoft did its best to woo developers of all kinds, offering cross-platform tools and software upgrades to improve productivity, and above all clarifying its vision for universal apps.

The company's underlying goal is to get as many developers as possible to use its tools and build Microsoft applications for Windows and other platforms. To see whether Microsoft is on the right track, developers should be looking at the following software:

Visual Studio 2015 release candidate

Step-by-step, Microsoft is getting closer to the launch of Visual Studio 2015, which was at the center of many of the announcements at Build. On Wednesday, the Visual Studio 2015 release candidate was made available for download, with a go-live license for taking it into production.

The program offers functionality for building universal apps for Windows phones, tablets, PCs, Xbox, IoT and the HoloLens head-mounted computer. An important piece of the software is cross-platform support for building applications for Android and iOS. To go along with that, there are dozens of new productivity and diagnostics features, Microsoft's developer division boss S. Somasegar said in a blog post.

Visual Studio Code preview

A full version of Visual Studio isn't the right choice for all developers. A new alternative is Visual Studio Code, a preview of which was also made available for download this week. It's a free, cross-platform code editor for building Web and cloud applications on Mac OS X, Linux and Windows laptops and desktops. It has rich code assistance, navigation and integrated debugging. The latter now includes support for Node.js; support will be extended to other platforms coming soon.

Preview of .Net Core for Mac OS X and Linux

As part of its platform expansion, Microsoft made an early preview of .NET Core for Linux and Mac OS X available for developers to experiment with. Since Microsoft began the process of open sourcing .NET Core last November, the company has seen great momentum for the project, with new capabilities and a community forming around it, according to Somasegar.

Universal Windows Platform Bridges toolkits

In a bid to ensure there are lots of applications for Windows 10 phones, Microsoft will make it possible to transform Android and iOS apps to versions that can run on its upcoming OS. A lack of apps has hobbled Windows Phone, and if Windows 10 is to become a success Microsoft needs to address this.

Project Astoria will allow Android developers to target Windows 10 phones using their Android IDE. With Project Islandwood, Apple developers will be able to build universal Windows apps from within Visual Studio 2015 using existing Objective-C code. Microsoft plans to reveal more information before the end of August. For now, there are invite-only previews of both projects.

Windows 10 IoT Core preview for Raspberry Pi 2

With a preview release of Windows 10 IoT Core, Microsoft is making it possible to install the operating system on the recently released Raspberry Pi 2. Microsoft is hoping the community behind the board computer will eventually use its OS to power robots, weather stations and other sensor-based systems and devices. At Build, the Microsoft also demonstrated how the Pi 2 could be combined with the HoloLens.

Microsoft now wants feedback to find out "what's working well and what we can do better," it said. The Win 10 IoT Core preview version can also run on the Minnowboard Max.

Not all announcements at Build were potential game-changers -- some are simply meant to make developers more productive.

Application Insights preview

After building an application, developers can monitor its performance, availability and usage with the Azure-based Visual Studio Application Insights. One of the goals of the service is to analyze user activity and adoption, so developers can prioritize future upgrade work.

A public preview was made available on Wednesday, and a full commercial release should be ready within a few weeks, according to Microsoft. It's compatible with a wide range of operating systems, including Windows, Android and iOS, and programming languages such as C++, PHP, Ruby, JavaScript, Python.

GitHub Integration in Developer Assistant

On a bad day, even the most seasoned coders get stuck and need a little advice. Enter Developer Assistant, a plugin for Visual Studio that combines Bing Code Search capabilities and contextual information to help untangle tricky programming problems.

The latest version of the tool was announced on Thursday and has taken a big leap thanks to the integration of GitHub, according to Anuj Jain, program manager at Microsoft's Bing Tech Experiences. The number of repositories of code samples, API samples, and projects that developers can search for and view from within Visual Studio has shot up to 21 million, he said in a blog post.

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