Predictions that Microsoft would cancel its Build 2020 conference have turned out well-founded. In a statement on Thursday, the company told The Verge it will be shifting to an all-digital presence due to coronavirus.
“The safety of our community is a top priority. 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,” the spokesperson said. “We look forward to bringing together our ecosystem of developers in this new virtual format to learn, connect and code together. Stay tuned for more details to come.”
Digital events have so far proven a valuable tool for event organizers, still letting them convey important information and advice. Microsoft has taken similar measures with its other canceled events, such as Minecraft Festival, GDC 2020, and E3 2020. However, the face-to-face interaction and opportunity to network is the reason many attend these events, so it's still a sad yet necessary development.
The death toll in Washington state has reached 31, with 420 confirmed cases, the highest of any of the states. As a result, all public and private K-12 schools in the Pierce, Snomish, and King counties have been closed. On Wednesday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced a ban on gatherings and events of over 250 people in the same counties.
Seattle is part of the King county, making Microsoft's event naturally affected. It could, in theory, shift the event elsewhere, but the logistics of that would make such a move near impossible. With measures constantly evolving as the pandemic spreads, an online shift simply makes the most sense.
Assumedly, those who did pay for the event will get a full refund. At the time of writing, though, Microsoft has not updated the official website with its statement or any details in that regard. Either way, attendees may end up out of pocket due to flight and hotel costs. It's a sorry state of affairs, but one that could save the lives of lots of vulnerable citizens.
At the very least, we can look forward to more details about the Surface Duo and Neo, Windows 10X, and Android development. Barring any last-minute illnesses, I assume the opening keynote by Scott Guthrie and other Microsoft visionaries will also go ahead.