When former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gave his infamous “developers, developers, developers” chant in 2000, he may have been a little overenthusiastic, but the sentiment was right.
It was true 30 years ago when Windows 1.0 came out, and it’s true today: Without developers to build great apps for Microsoft’s platforms, the company is sunk.
Speaking at a pair of Microsoft events in the last week and a half, Nadella proved that he may not be as outgoing as his predecessor, but he’s still focused on developers, developers, developers.
“We think about building technology so other people can build technology and make things happen,” said Nadella at last week’s Microsoft Envision conference.
The difference is that Ballmer wanted those developers to write code for Windows and Windows only. Nadella’s game isn’t to consolidate Windows’ power among developers, but rather to make sure that Microsoft stays a part of the conversation, everywhere, on every device.
It’s a two-point game plan: Give Microsoft developers basically whatever they want, to write software any way they want, for whatever operating system they want. And then, turn that goodwill into a gentle, but effective, sales funnel towards the Microsoft Azure cloud.
It’s a huge and necessary leg up if Microsoft wants to topple Amazon in the cloud wars. And just as importantly, it comes as programmers look to move away from Windows and towards developing for iPhone and Android.
It’s a thread that becomes clear if you look at Microsoft’s biggest recent announcements out of the Build developer conference.
The first announcement was that Windows 10 is getting the ability to run Ubuntu Linux software, including the mega-popular Bash command shell.
Putting aside the historical ramifications here – Microsoft spent the nineties unsuccessfully trying to stamp out Linux, a free alternative to Windows – it’s a move intended to bait programmers into using Windows 10. Developers like using Linux software, Windows 10 supports Linux software and Windows software, so maybe consider doing all your development with Windows 10.
The second huge announcement was that Microsoft’s Visual Studio, a long-popular tool for writing Windows software, is getting a free add-on to let you easily make iPhone, Android, or Mac apps too.
That feature is based on the technology Microsoft got when it bought the hot startup Xamarin in March.
Microsoft is bending over backwards to give developers what they want. If they wanted a pony, Microsoft would probably buy them a pony. But they want the ability to write iPhone apps and use Linux sofware, and so that’s what Microsoft is starting to deliver.
So that’s the bait. The hook is the Microsoft Azure cloud.
The world has changed a lot since Ballmer started his tenure as CEO way back in 2000.
Thanks to the rise of the smartphone, you’re more connected to the Internet than ever. And so, we expect that our apps will be smarter, continually get better, and let us take our files and settings with us no matter what device we’re using.
For software developers, that’s a tall order. Your average small app company doesn’t have a spare data center or mega-genius research lab lying around to invest in artificial intelligence or maintaining a consistent, highly-secure file storage system.
For companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and Google, it’s a huge opportunity: These tech titans have already solved these hard problems for themselves, and are farming those solutions out to developers via their respective cloud computing platforms.
Those cloud platforms offer a whole mess of pay-as-you-go services that developers can build those smarter apps that people want. And it’s working, with Amazon Web Services, the clear cloud leader, on track to be a $10 billion business this year.
But the cloud computing market is also super-competitive. When the Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services clouds offer similar technical fundamentals, you need something else to stand apart and feed the cloud beast.
Taking the bait
Hence, the developer push. When you use the Visual Studio/Xamarin combo, you can use any cloud service you want to provide the brains for that app, in line with Microsoft’s newer, more inclusive philosophy.
But thanks to what Microsoft Azure CTO Mark Russinovich calls “deep integration” with Visual Studio, it provides an easy, built-in way to get started with Microsoft’s backend. It basically forces developers to at least consider Microsoft Azure.
“You have to look at Microsoft,” says Microsoft General Manager of Developer Platform Marketing and Sales Mitra Azizirad.
Developers aren’t stupid, and this only works if they like what Microsoft is doing – it’s never been easier to build apps out of a mix-and-match Frankenstein of components from one vendor or another. That’s why Microsoft is literally doing whatever it takes to keep them happy with outside software support; quality of service; and a breadth of offerings to make developers’ lives easier.
Just look at Microsoft’s plan to help developers build chatbots with Azure. No matter what you’re doing, no matter what you’re building, Microsoft wants to be a part of it. And it doesn’t want developers to forget it.
“Even if we’re just a piece of [the app], that’s cool too,” says Azizirad.