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Has Microsoft Lost Its Mojo With Developers?

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Has Microsoft Lost Its Mojo With Developers?

Microsoft has long been a heavyweight in the IT industry. Has the technology giant lost its mojo with developers? Learn what's up with Microsoft and devs.

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In September 2000, Microsoft was celebrating its 25th anniversary. During an incident at one of the celebratory events that surely would have gone viral in minutes had social media and smartphones been available at the time (but was fortunately caught on video nonetheless), then-president and CEO Steve Ballmer stomped and clapped across the stage, working himself  (and the crowd) up into a sweaty frenzy as he repeatedly chanted one word: “Developers.”

Developers were clearly important to the company in 2000, when .NET was so new that apress release announcing the 25th anniversary festivities had to render the name phonetically (“dot-net”). Flash forward 15 years to today, and few would argue that developers are even more important to Microsoft. But, the thing is, they are more important to every company—tech and non-tech alike—which means there is a lot of competition for developer mindshare.  This is especially so as more and more organizations look to unlock the transformative power of APIs, which, without developers, are of limited strategic value.

Through its storied history--filled with high-highs and low-lows--Microsoft has lost some of that mindshare to the likes of tech giants like Apple and Google, but also to companies that it never had to consider as competitors before.

Has Microsoft lost its developer mojo, and can the company get it back?

Those Were the Days

In 2000, Microsoft was a king of the hill, pooh-poohing those that dared to compete in the same space—or in spaces that Microsoft eventually decided really were important. Microsoft technologies still dominate when it comes to corporate computing, but competitors big and small have chipped away at its armor even in that vaunted space. And, when it comes to consumer/mobile computing, some would say that Microsoft has been left in Google’s and Apple’s dust.

Why? Developers.

Actually, developers and end users. 

Another big difference between today’s computing environment and 2000’s is that the world has gone digital. Computing doesn’t stop at office walls anymore. In a trend often referred to as “the consumerization of IT,” computing is 24/7, and it’s woven into every aspect of a user’s life. Consumers (personally and professionally) now call the shots, as their expectations for what technology can and should do grow.  Organizations can either exceed those expectations or expect to be quickly jilted for one that can.

Who builds those enterprise applications? Developers.

Further, and, perhaps more importantly, those applications run on devices, and users may have no stronger loyalty than they do to their mobile gadgets and the apps that run on them.

Who builds those mobile apps? Developers. 

Which platforms will developers build their apps for? The most widely used. For example, on the mobile front, iOS has a rabid fan base; so, too, does Android. Microsoft’s Windows Phone? Not so much. (See IDC stats in the figure, below.)

idc-stats

In fact, Microsoft recently announced plans to cut 7,800 jobs and streamline its mobile phone business. As reported by ProgrammableWeb’s Eric Zeman, “Microsoft has more or less admitted defeat in the smartphone space,” at least as far as hardware is concerned. Microsoft remains committed to the Windows Phone operating system, but, judging from IDC’s numbers, it doesn’t seem like users share in the company’s enthusiasm. 

And therein lies Microsoft’s current dilemma. Developer mojo has been in short supply for Microsoft for several years—largely through its own doing. (Some would say undoing—Vanity Fair calls it Microsoft’s “lost decade.”).

Developers were clearly important to the company in 2000, when .NET was so new that apress release announcing the 25th anniversary festivities had to render the name phonetically (“dot-net”). Flash forward 15 years to today, and few would argue that developers are even more important to Microsoft. But, the thing is, they are more important to every company—tech and non-tech alike—which means there is a lot of competition for developer mindshare.  This is especially so as more and more organizations look to unlock the transformative power of APIs, which, without developers, are of limited strategic value.

Through its storied history--filled with high-highs and low-lows--Microsoft has lost some of that mindshare to the likes of tech giants like Apple and Google, but also to companies that it never had to consider as competitors before.

Has Microsoft lost its developer mojo, and can the company get it back?

Those Were the Days

In 2000, Microsoft was a king of the hill, pooh-poohing those that dared to compete in the same space—or in spaces that Microsoft eventually decided really were important. Microsoft technologies still dominate when it comes to corporate computing, but competitors big and small have chipped away at its armor even in that vaunted space. And, when it comes to consumer/mobile computing, some would say that Microsoft has been left in Google’s and Apple’s dust.

Why? Developers.

Actually, developers and end users. 

Another big difference between today’s computing environment and 2000’s is that the world has gone digital. Computing doesn’t stop at office walls anymore. In a trend often referred to as “the consumerization of IT,” computing is 24/7, and it’s woven into every aspect of a user’s life. Consumers (personally and professionally) now call the shots, as their expectations for what technology can and should do grow.  Organizations can either exceed those expectations or expect to be quickly jilted for one that can.

Who builds those enterprise applications? Developers.

Further, and, perhaps more importantly, those applications run on devices, and users may have no stronger loyalty than they do to their mobile gadgets and the apps that run on them.

Who builds those mobile apps? Developers. 

Which platforms will developers build their apps for? The most widely used. For example, on the mobile front, iOS has a rabid fan base; so, too, does Android. Microsoft’s Windows Phone? Not so much. (See IDC stats in the figure, below.)

idc-stats

In fact, Microsoft recently announced plans to cut 7,800 jobs and streamline its mobile phone business. As reported by ProgrammableWeb’s Eric Zeman, “Microsoft has more or less admitted defeat in the smartphone space,” at least as far as hardware is concerned. Microsoft remains committed to the Windows Phone operating system, but, judging from IDC’s numbers, it doesn’t seem like users share in the company’s enthusiasm. 

And therein lies Microsoft’s current dilemma. Developer mojo has been in short supply for Microsoft for several years—largely through its own doing. (Some would say undoing—Vanity Fair calls it Microsoft’s “lost decade.”).

Most recently, Windows 8 was a bust. Windows 8.1 was better, but it was basically a fix for some tin-eared UI decisions. Microsoft has always done well on the games front, although Sony now leads Microsoft in gaming console sales.

And, really, when it comes to games—or pretty much anything these days--it’s all about the apps. Mike Newman, founder of Big Duck Games, the studio behind the popular FlowFree game, told CNBC in the wake of the Windows 10 launch that Microsoft is falling short as a development platform for these apps: "A challenge is that the Windows app ecosystem is less mature than other platforms, so some of the ways that we generate revenue are more difficult,” said Newman. "For example, there are fewer ad networks supporting Windows and also fewer advertisers promoting other apps and games, so our ad space is less valuable."

Still a Force to Be Reckoned With

No one is implying that we’ll be seeing “For Rent” signs in Redmond anytime soon. Microsoft is still a mighty force to be reckoned with. But that’s just not enough these days. Customers (and thus developers) are looking for technology providers that demonstrate innovation, agility and sensitivity to users’ needs—all areas in which Microsoft has traditionally come up short.

So, back to the mojo question: Or, put another way, can Microsoft get its groove (not to be confused with Groove) back? 

“Microsoft has certainly lost some of its dominance as users have opted for alternative form factors to their desktops or laptops,” says Nic Grange, CTO of Retriever Communications. 

Grange, an experienced software engineer and developer who oversees development of Retriever’s enterprise apps, notes the significant role Apple has played in what he sees as Microsoft’s slide from the top: “Apple has obviously played a large part in this with the huge popularity of the iPhone and iPad, so Microsoft has had to play catch-up.”

With all of this said, you still can’t get fired for buying Microsoft, as the old saying among the enterprise IT set goes. Thanks in no small part to the troves of organizational documents that are archived in Microsoft’s file formats, Microsoft Windows and the Office productivity suite are still among the most widely used business software.

Indeed, Lane Campbell, for one, believes that Microsoft still has plenty of mojo in the corporate world.

“Microsoft hasn’t lost its mojo with corporate clients,” said Campbell, technology entrepreneur and member of the board of Durmic Consulting, a technology solutions provider. “They offer a reliable release cycle and a very powerful set of tools for creating software on their platform.”

Development ROI

But developers today think in terms of ROI—they go where the users go, and where their applications will be most widely exposed and accessed. Today, the bang for development buck is often less on Microsoft’s platform than it is on, say, Apple’s, note developers who spoke with ProgrammableWeb for this story.

Eric Wroolie, for example, was a Microsoft developer for more than 15 years, but has dropped Microsoft languages completely in the last few years.

“There used to be a lot of innovation coming from Microsoft--they owned the entire stack, from server to client. They even dominated the browser sphere for a while,” he said. You used to be fairly confident your users were on Windows, so no big deal. Now, so many people are on a Mac. Windows is still waiting for you to buy the next operating system.”

That next operating system, of course, is Windows 10, which was rolled out in limited release on July 29.

Windows 10 is completely new, built under the guidance of a CEO—Satya Nadella-- who has taken Microsoft into directions few thought the company ever would or could go in. More open, more in tune with users’ needs and the competitive landscape, more willing to compromise ... It’s a whole new Microsoft, and a whole new operating system. It’s also the “last” version of the operating system the company will release, updating incrementally instead of with dot upgrades.

Reviews of the new Windows 10 OS have been generally positive.

Wired said in its review of the operating system:

“Windows 10 represents the obvious future of PC operating systems. It makes Mac OS X feel old-fashioned, stuck in a time where The Desktop was a thing that mattered and the only way to access the Internet was through a browser. On Windows, the whole OS is connected; it pulses with activity and life, through Cortana and Live Tiles and notifications. It’s connected, to itself and your stuff and the Web. It’s a powerful, productive operating system, and if it improves at the pace Microsoft promises, it’s going to serve people well for many years to come.”

High praise, for sure, hitting on many of the things that will pull users back into Windows’ orbit and will certainly resonate with developers. 

Further, Microsoft has made some big changes in its development model, offering the ability to create universal apps, which will work across different devices but have just a single API set and app package (there’s that increased ROI developers are looking for), and opening up its server-side .NET stack.

“Microsoft is sinking more effort than ever into providing the best possible developer tools and community,” says Larry Roth, senior partner of technology at Tenet Partners. “They are doing things uncharacteristic of Microsoft, such as embracing open source projects like Node.js and truly integrating them within their toolsets and cloud services. We are seeing renewed interest in Microsoft from developers.”

Much of this interest may be piqued by Microsoft’s moves with Windows 10 toward a more unified development model. 

In a March 2015 blog post, Kevin Gallo, partner director of software engineering (Azure), said:

“Windows 10 represents the culmination of our platform convergence journey with Windows now running on a single, unified Windows core. This convergence enables one app to run on every Windows device--on the phone in your pocket, the tablet or laptop in your bag, the PC on your desk, and the Xbox console in your living room. And that’s not even mentioning all the new devices being added to the Windows family, including the HoloLens, Surface Hub and IoT devices like the Raspberry Pi 2. All these Windows devices will now access one Store for app acquisition, distribution and update.”

Retriever Communications’ Grange sees this as a very promising sign.

“While we’ve heard some of these promises before, it does seem that this time Windows 10 will go much closer than anything before to unifying the Windows development ecosystem, and that will certainly create some excitement in some developer circles.”

“Open” for Business

Based on feedback from many in the development community, Microsoft must continue on its open journey if it is to do more than just catch up with the competition.

Sean Canton believes moving to an open-source model is the one sure-fire way for Microsoft to climb back to the top—of every platform.

“It is the only way to get developer buy-in for their platform, said Canton, who has been programming for 20 years. He also runs his own consultancy, Eight Eyes Creations, and is technical research lead for AdMobilize. “Microsoft has some of the best researchers out there. If they were able to contribute more of their work to the open source community vs. remaining private assets of the company, that would move Microsoft alongside Facebook and Google, which have contributed so much to the computing community.

With that said, Microsoft has already shown shadows of its former predatory self with Windows 10, much to the dismay of some users. According to reports, the Windows 10 upgrade process overrides a system's default browser setting if it was previously set to Firefox, favoring Microsoft's new Edge browser instead. As the company looks to lure developers with the perception of good citizenship within open circles (that is, participation and contribution to open source projects like Node.js), it is exactly moves like this that will alienate them instead, suggesting Microsoft is a leopard that can't change its spots.

Of course, everything is relative, and for those who have been in the computing industry for the last couple of decades, the changes that Microsoft has gone through in the last couple of years are stunning. But for the company to compete effectively with Apple, Google and the like, it has to build a platform that users want to be on fueled by apps they want to use.

Who will build those apps? Developers.

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Topics:
microsoft ,windows 10 ,.net ,windows phone ,mobile

Published at DZone with permission of Brett Kittle. See the original article here.

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.

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