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Microsoft takes Build 2020 online in wake of coronavirus

At this point it may seem more newsworthy for planned tech conferences to go ahead, rather than to be altered in the face of coronavirus. All the same, Microsoft’s Build conference has followed the example of Facebook F8 and Google I/O and switched to an online-only format.

The safety of our community is a top priority,” a Microsoft spokesperson told The Verge. “In light of the health safety recommendations for Washington State, we will deliver our annual Microsoft Build event for developers as a digital event, in lieu of an in-person event.”

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Said “recommendations” refer to restrictions in place in a number of Washington state counties, where events with more than 250 people have been banned. 

Given over 6000 people attended Build 2019, that feels like a reasonable precaution – even if the ban on large events is currently scheduled to end long before Build 2020 begins on May 19. At the rate things are going, it’s possible even more draconian restrictions will be in place by then, and Microsoft has clearly decided to bite the bullet early.  

“We look forward to bringing together our ecosystem of developers in this new virtual format to learn, connect and code together,” the Microsoft statement continued. “Stay tuned for more details to come.”

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Livestreaming keynotes is nothing new, and if you’ve ever watched one you’ll know it works pretty well. So if all you wanted from Build 2020 was to hear the latest on Microsoft’s upcoming dual-screen devices, the Surface Neo and Surface Duo, well, you probably won’t notice much difference.

But people don’t pay $2395 per ticket just to be in the audience – it’s a place for developers to network with engineers, and it’s hard to see how that can be replicated remotely. The truth is that it probably can’t be satisfactorily, but it’s also fair to say that we’ve never been forced to try. Coronavirus really is changing the comforfortable assumptions we’ve made about 21st century living to date. 

The question is whether or not the adaptations we’ve made to deal with coronavirus will stick after the pandemic is dealt with, or if we’ll fall back into old habits as soon as the last person is inoculated.

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