This morning at Microsoft’s annual Build developers conference in San Francisco, CEO Satya Nadella announced what he calls a “fundamental change” to the forthcoming Microsoft Office 16. That includes add-ins for Excel and Outlook that developers can craft to run on any platform — including online, in Windows and on the iPad.

An early demonstration of the company’s forthcoming Office add-ins enable an Uber customer to book a ride through what used to be known as an appointment screen.

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“We’re opening up the Azure user experience to all your applications in a fundamental way,” said Nadella. He went on to promise that Office would offer a kind of unified data graph that will “go beyond APIs and data silos, to a semantically rich graph of data.”

Data being used by Outlook users, and evidently of the other Office apps as well, will be exposed to developers on any platform — not just Windows — through what the company calls a Unified API Endpoint.

The idea here is that, when someone books an appointment on a calendar, writes a message or books an Uber car, that information is published in a form that any web application — not just an Office plug-in —can access through a common REST API call.

This concept may be a bit esoteric, so I’ll explain in a bit more detail.

A decade and a half ago, Microsoft exposed the data generated by Office so that Windows developers can write applications that used that data for their own purposes.

But those “line-of-business” (LOB) applications, as Microsoft called them at the time, were only available by creating applications that ran in Office, and on the same network — as opposed to the Internet.

New Opportunities

The new concept does for Office what Facebook did for its user graph: make the data generated by the application available to (presumably authorized) applications in the outside world. And rather than being locked into the corporate network, Azure acts as the back end.

Earlier in today's program, Scott Guthrie, the company’s executive vice president for cloud and enterprise and the development crowd’s favorite “redshirt,” ushered in the Docker era of Windows, leading the keynote with an introduction of the Docker container virtualization system on Windows Server.

“One of the things we know is that a cloud platform must offer you the flexibility of choice,” Guthrie stated, playing into an emerging theme at today’s conference that Microsoft is moving away from leveraging its entire revenue base on Windows alone.

Azure CTO Mark Russinovich — for over a decade, the rock star of Microsoft conferences — demonstrated how in a few seconds with a Windows command line, a Linux command line, or from Visual Studio’s “Publish” command, a .NET-based Docker container running a web server can be extracted from its image, published, and even debugged. In his characteristic rapid-fire style, Russinovich managed to get all of this done before he could complete his sentence.

Russinovish’s demo used a miniaturized, containerized, distributable version of the .NET runtime, called .NET Core. Guthrie confirmed that the open source versions of this redistributable runtime will be made publicly available today.

Word from the Top

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella started out today's keynotes by sharing a tweet from his company co-founder Paul Allen, to which was attached a scan of the first BASIC source code to be signed by Allen and Bill Gates. In it was a comment (what we used to call a REM statement) suggesting that there should be a better method for programmers to share bugs.

“So as you can see, it started back then,” said Nadella.