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Should developers take another look at Microsoft?

By will-price In Community Stories, Help Articles

Posted March 31st, 2015

Let me start out by saying that I am not a Microsoft-hater. Before starting with Appirio I worked at a .NET shop for a couple of years and still profess that Visual Studio is the best IDE ever invented. Period. However, for the most part, Microsoft products, and Microsoft in general, does not excite me.

Before you start hating on Microsoft, let’s not forget that more than 85% of desktop computers run some version of Windows (according to NetMarketShare data) which gives it an installed base of nearly 1.5 billion users. That’s nothing to scoff about but the problem is that, as a developer, I don’t find much of what they do “cool”. I typically don’t read about a new Microsoft product or service and think, “I gotta get me some of that!”

For most developers Microsoft has been a distant fourth behind rivals Amazon, Apple and Google for a long time. Sure, they rack up obscene profits but the lack of developer mojo is palpable. However, a number of things have been occurring over the past year or so that are making me rethink my position. Is Microsoft worth a second look?

Innovation has been coming fast and furious from the Pacific Northwest since CEO Satya Nadella took over last year. His stated goal is to make people love Microsoft again and he’s making a pretty good run of it so far. Only time will tell but here’s how he’s change my perception of Microsoft.

Getting along on the Playground

In general Microsoft seems to be getting along better with everyone. Gone (hopefully) are the Scroogled advertising campaigns and nasty name calling. They’ve decided to allow competitors to attend their World Partner Conference for the first time in a number of years. They are also playing nicely with others in the open source sandbox. Earlier this month they collaborated with Google on Angular 2 to make Typescript the foundation for the upcoming framework. The presentation and accompanying “hugs and kisses” between the two giants at ng-conf was an eye opener.

You may not have noticed but over the past year or so but Microsoft has open sourced and moved a number of its .NET projects to github. Along with Google shutting down Google Code, companies are clearly realizing that to reach developers, they need to be on github.

Windows

I’ve owned almost every flavor of Windows with the exception of Vista but switched to Macs roughly the same time Windows 7 came out. I bought a Windows 8 laptop for my kids and instantly regretted the purchase. I’ve since switched them all to Chromebooks but I may have to take another look at the upcoming version of Windows.

Windows 10 looks interesting and some people are ready to love windows again. It will ditch the vehemently hated Internet Explorer browser for a new one codenamed Project Spartan, which is described as a “modern web platform built with interoperability and standards at its core.” Unlike previous versions, Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows Phone. What? Free software from Microsoft? Plus to make distribution easier, they will be supporting peer-to-peer technology to deliver updates.

Mobile Apps

You may not be aware of this but Microsoft makes some of the coolest non-Windows mobile apps. Last December they purchased Acompli and quickly rolled it into the recently released Outlook for iPhone, possibly the best Gmail replacement on iOS. I’ve been using it for a couple of months now and love its mail, calendaring and hooks into such services as Dropbox and Google Drive. Last month Microsoft announced that they had acquired Sunrise, a provider of a next-generation calendar app for iOS and Android. More cross platform apps could be on the horizon!

Microsoft Office is their bread and butter so to keep Office users hooked, late last year they offered, for free, Microsoft’s Office suite for iPad, iPhone and Android. Also, their Android keyboard for Excel makes editing spreadsheets on Android much less painful.

Azure

As developers we’ve all been conditioned to use AWS. But Microsoft’s Azure cloud service is a formidable cloud player. Azure generates roughly $4.5 billion in annual revenue for Microsoft and runs a number of enterprise sites. Now, when Azure goes down, people actually notice.

Azure signs up 10,000+ new customers per week and has 2 million+ developers on Visual Studio Online. An interesting topic is their love of Linux. More than 20% of the applications on Azure run on Linux. Azure offers development in .NET, Node.js, Python, Java, Ruby, PHP and more. The service runs over 1 million SQL databases, supports Docker, CoreOS, Hadoop and many other goodies. Azure is operational in 19 region, giving it a larger geographical footprint than either Amazon or Google.

Embracing Node.js

One thing that surprised me most is Microsoft’s longtime investment and love affair with Node.js. They’ve has been an active contributor in the Node.js community and recently joined the Node.js Foundation to advance engagement and oversee the language. Last week they released the Node.js Tools 1.0 for Visual Studio, a free, open source extension that turns Visual Studio into an awesome node.js IDE complete with IntelliSense, a REPL, npm integration, debugging, profiling and integration with other Visual Studio features.

Courting Startups

It’s almost a given that a new startup will choose AWS, but Microsoft want to change this “requirement” by getting in bed with developers early. They recently announced that they are going to shell out $500,000 in Azure credits to each of the Winter 2015 batch of Y Combinator-backed startups. Given that 40 percent of Azure’s revenue is generated from startups and ISVs this is a smart business move.

Geek Goggles

Earlier this year Microsoft unveiled their virtual reality-like headset, HoloLens, and the developer-world freaked out. Unlike other VR goggles that present a complete new 3D experience, HoloLens superimposes virtual “holographs” over real world objects. Imagine having your living room furniture as part of your virtual Minecraft game. That’s why people are freaking out.

Is it time to love Microsoft?

For me the verdict is not yet in but I’m keeping an eye on what Microsoft says and does. Will Project Spartan be awesome? Will Azure offer new services that make it irresistible? Will I soon be able to use HoloLens to tour National Parks? Who knows but it will be fun to watch.