If you don't do Windows, Microsoft still wants to talk to you.
One proof point there: Windows Azure, its answer to Amazon Web Services, is now called Microsoft Azure. The name change may be superficial, but there are deeper changes afoot, including a host of announcements the company made at its Build conference for developers in San Francisco on Thursday.
Visual Studio Goes Online
The core of how Microsoft has catered to software creators over the year is Visual Studio, a desktop program that offers an integrated development environment, or IDE—in other words, all the tools you need to write, test, and fix software. It was, naturally, only available on Windows.
At Build, Microsoft executive Scott Guthrie announced that Visual Studio Online, a Web-based version of Visual Studio, had exited a period of testing and was now available to all comers. For groups of more than 5 users, it requires a paid subscription, and it still lacks some of the features of the desktop version, but it is a way developers who prefer Mac or Linux machines can get a taste of Microsoft’s code-building tools.
Another way Microsoft is courting those developers is through the partnership it unveiled last November with Xamarin, a San Francisco-based software company which offers code-building software compatible with Microsoft’s tools and frameworks, including the C# programming language and the .Net framework. Xamarin Studio is available for both Mac and Windows, making it another way Microsoft can broaden its reach among developers it has not traditionally courted. Xamarin cofounder Miguel de Icaza demonstrated Xamarin on stage at Build on Thursday.
At the same time, it is also clear that Visual Studio will also be more and more tightly integrated with Azure. For example, Microsoft now lets Visual Studio users increase or decrease the amount of computing power they wish to rent on Azure right within the program. This integration is meant to let developers move more quickly by adding extra servers or instances without having to leave their coding environment.
Ironically, Microsoft is catching up on its own turf. Amazon, Microsoft’s archrival in Web-based computing services, recognized the opportunity to court Microsoft developers and already offers a Visual Studio extension for managing the full range of Amazon Web Services offerings within the program.
Microsoft is now talking to developers beyond the Windows world.
MIcrosoft also added to its mobile back-end offerings, which allow app developers to focus more on designing an app’s user interface and worry less about how it will store data and run code.
A key back-end service is Azure Active Directory, a Web-based version of Microsoft’s authentication system for corporate networks. An executive from DocuSign, a document-management service, showed how its mobile app used Azure Active Directory to let users log in with the same credentials they might use for their company email—on an iPhone, no less.
Microsoft Azure Active Directory works on iOS devices, too.
At the same time it's making Visual Studio more attractive—or at least a plausible option—for non-Windows developers, it’s also letting developers use a wide variety of programming languages to access Azure’s computing services. And it's letting them use Visual Studio and Azure to create apps that run on Apple's iOS, Google’s Android, and the Web, not just Windows.
This doesn't represent a whole new strategy for Microsoft, which has been building towards this for years. But the collection of products and features Microsoft highlighted at Build shows that it now has a serious portfolio for developers of all stripes.
Photo of Scott Guthrie, Microsoft's executive vice president, cloud and enterprise group, by Owen Thomas for ReadWrite