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Microsoft cancels Build, makes it virtual

Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft Corp., pauses during a Bloomberg event on the opening day of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020.

Simon Dawson | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Microsoft said Thursday that its annual Build developer conference in Seattle, set to run from May 19-21 will be held online instead of in person, a Microsoft spokesperson told CNBC in an email. The change was made as the coronavirus continues to spread around the U.S.

Build is one of Microsoft’s biggest events, where the company announces new technology across various product lines. Microsoft held Build for the first time in 2011. Prior to that, the company brought together thousands of people for its Professional Developer Conference and Mix events. Around 6,000 people were expected to attend last year’s Build event.

“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,” a Microsoft spokesperson told CNBC. “We look forward to bringing together our community of developers in this new virtual format to learn, connect and code together. Stay tuned for more details to come.”

Washington state, where the conference has been held for the past few years, has been hit particularly hard by the disease, with 31 deaths, more than in all of Japan, according to Johns Hopkins University data. More than 125,000 cases have been logged globally, according to the World Health Organization.

Microsoft earlier opted to hold two smaller events online instead of in person: the MVP Summit for handpicked non-employees and the WSLConf for discussing the Windows Subsystem for Linux technology. Facebook and Google also recently decided not to hold in-person developer events this year.

There were warnings Build might be restructured.

On March 2, Microsoft updated its Build website with a message showing that it was staying on top of health information but had not decided to cancel the event.

“In light of the global health concerns due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), Microsoft is monitoring public health guidance in relation to in-person events,” the message said. “At this time, global health authorities have not issued guidance to avoid travel to this location. We are looking carefully at our event calendar as well as our presence at industry events in the coming months. We are not taking decisions lightly, but the health and well-being of our employees, partners, customers and other guests remain our ultimate priority.”

On March 11, the same day the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee banned gatherings of more than 250 people in three counties, one of which contains Seattle.

The Verge reported on the news earlier.

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