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Microsoft Dev Box speeds up development, but will devs buy in?

Microsoft Dev Box offers developers a range of tools to increase productivity, but old habits tend to die hard.

Microsoft Dev Box enhances developer productivity including increased agility and velocity. The fully managed, cloud-based IDE, built on Windows 365, comes with an array of advantages including faster developer onboarding and easier collaboration because everyone is working in the same space.

Dev Box enables Azure developers to spin up the "beefiest" of VMs with all the tools, connected services and network resources they need from the onset, said Satya Nadella, executive chairman and CEO of Microsoft, during Tuesday's opening keynote at Microsoft Build, the company's annual software and web developer conference. With Microsoft Dev Box, developers can access code quickly, Nadella said, while ensuring a secure and compliant environment.

Dev Box is the latest in a long line of largely unsuccessful attempts to move IDEs to the cloud. The direct connection to Azure may help to move the needle, but widespread adoption is still unlikely to happen soon, according to Chris Riley, senior manager of developer relations at marketing tech firm HubSpot.

Microsoft Dev Box advantages

Developers who adopt Microsoft Dev Box will find many advantages under the hood. One of those advantages is increased velocity, creating an optimal coding environment and removing points of friction -- which happens because there is no need to download and customize development tools, said Arnal Dayaratna, research vice president of software development at IDC.

Prior to Dev Box, it could take days to set up a workstation, Microsoft said in a blog post.

The increase in velocity is exciting news for developers, Riley said. "Developers don't want friction. They want to move quickly. They get very frustrated when they're slowed down," he said.

Dayaratna also said Dev Box may increase developer agility because they can work from any cloud-enabled machine.

Riley echoed the point, saying this will make the developer job more flexible because developers can pick up where they left off versus making sure that they are pulling from a repository, even if they are working in a coffee shop. Plus, developers don't have to wonder if their setup is different from other departments because everyone has the same infrastructure, he said.

Dayaratna added that a cloud-based IDE like Dev Box can expedite onboarding. "Devs can be up and running, productively, on day one of their jobs," he said, "because they are signing into a pre-configured workspace."

Don't expect developers to scramble for Dev Box

But Microsoft isn't the first vendor to rollout a cloud-based IDE. Other companies have developed cloud-based IDEs, including a cloud-based version of the Java-based development platform Eclipse and AWS Cloud9, Riley said. But they never took off, he said, primarily because of fear of connectivity issues -- one of the biggest disadvantages of cloud computing.

Plus, developers tend to fall back on old habits. "It is easy to fall back on how you traditionally develop because it's just so convenient to develop on your local machine," Riley said. "You have your environment and infrastructure right there, in front of you."

Despite the potential to enhance developer productivity, Riley doesn't expect developers to adopt Microsoft Dev Box until they are forced to. 

"It will take a large cohort of developers, initiated by a company like Microsoft, HubSpot or a large SaaS vendor saying you don't have a choice," Riley said.

However, a major factor that sets Microsoft Dev Box apart from its predecessors is a direct integration into Azure, Riley said, which may lure more developers into adopting it.

Another reason developers may be enticed to try Microsoft Dev Box is compatibility. Microsoft Dev Box is compatible with any IDE that works on Windows, IDC's Dayaratna said.

Beyond Eclipse and AWS Cloud9, Dev Box will face other competitors, including JetBrains IntelliJ IDEA 2021.3. But while JetBrains has equivalent capability, it doesn't offer Dev Box's broader compatibility, he said.

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