Microsoft has really been on a tear lately, with their company direction and strategy. Love them or hate them, you can’t help but admire the radical changes and transformations their new CEO, Satya Nadella has done with the company.
Especially with their efforts in wooing more software developers to their camp.
They’re embracing the open source movement in a way I’ve never seen before. They recently announced the creation of a new UNIX based distribution based off classic BSD Unix.
My jaw couldn’t have dropped to the floor faster than when I read about this. It was like hell just turned into a giant ice skating rink!
You can only appreciate how mind boggling this single event is when you understand what Microsoft was like under the helm of its founder, Bill Gates and his successor, Steve Ballmer.
Back under their leadership, Microsoft’s ultimate “Prime Directive” company strategy was to protect the hegemony and monopolistic market dominance of their two flagship products … their operating system Windows, and their productivity software suite, Office.
These two flagship product have, for the better part of two decades, vaulted Microsoft to become one of the most powerful and richest companies on the planet during the 1990s and early 2000s.
Their dominance was so great that the US Justice Department launched antitrust investigations into their marketing practices of their Windows operating system and near monopoly of their flagship internet browser, Internet Explorer.
They ran roughshod over their competition and earned the ire of many software developers, especially those in the open source world of Linux, and many developers on the Macintosh.
Steve Ballmer once famously referred to Linux as a “cancer” … not exactly the best way to earn the trust of new developers!
Yet Microsoft still attracted lots of other software developers to the Microsoft camp (including yours truly).
As a software developer, it makes sense to build your career off a computer platform that you’re confident will stick around for many years and has the full support of a company like Microsoft.
The problem Microsoft is facing nowadays is their crown jewel operating system, Windows, is no longer essential to writing software that can reach millions and millions of end users and customers.
There’s a new operating system called … THE INTERNET.
And if you can write an application for the internet, you can reach an audience even greater than the millions and millions of users of Microsoft’s Windows operating system.
There’s another platform that’s growing as fast, if not faster than the internet … the rise of smartphones and mobile applications.
Ever since Apple introduced their revolutionary smartphone, the iPhone to the masses, the world has gone smartphone crazy.
It’s estimated that about two billion people on the planet currently possess ad use smartphones in one form or another. That number positively DWARFS the number of Windows users.
As a software developer, it’s a pretty smart decision to create and market software to a platform with the most number of potential customers.
The Linux platform continues to dominate the server and cloud infrastructure markets.
Amazon is making money hand over fist with their Amazon Web Services market. The biggest companies on the planet, are hosting their enterprise products and software on Amazon’s AWS platform and letting Amazon sweat the details of making sure everything works smoothly and efficiently, 24/7.
It’s proving that Microsoft can’t continue to rely on sales of Windows and Office to carry them forever. In fact, sales figures are already proving that we’ve already reached “peak PC”, that is the total number of customers expected to continue using traditional desktop personal computers.
People are increasingly using devices other than the big desktop computers … specifically the use of tablets and smartphones.
And unfortunately, Microsoft missed the boat on the popularity of these platforms. Apple and Google combined, completely own the smartphone and tablet market share on the planet with their iOS and Android platforms.
And neither of these platforms have anything to do with Microsoft Windows or Office.
The new Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, completely acknowledges and recognizes the fact that Microsoft can’t afford to rest on their laurels.
He knows that Windows and Office won’t be able to sustain and grow their revenue forever. He needs to find new markets to monetize and he needs to do it FAST.
He’s got to attract new software developers to the Microsoft camp, beyond the developer base they already have.
Software developers are the lifeblood of any company who wishes to dominate a particular software market. As Windows and Office grew in popularity during the 1990s, it attracted new software developers who recognized this popularity and began creating software which would work on Windows and/or in conjunction with Office.
Microsoft did this by creating what ended up becoming their flagship tool to enable software developers to write software for the Microsoft platform, Visual Studio.
Visual Studio’s popularity with software developers is unquestionable. They continue to update it on a regular basis and offer top notch support.
The only problem is Visual Studio will only allow you to write software either for the internet or for desktop or mobile based applications on the Windows operating system.
That alone, automatically limits the total number of potential software developers to those that are willing to write for the Windows platform.
But what if Microsoft decided to create versions of their flagship Visual Studio development tool for the two other biggest operating systems on the planet, Linux and Mac OS?
You’ve basically opened up the floodgates to pretty much every software developer on the planet.
But how feasible would this be?
Make no mistake, it wouldn’t happen overnight. The “secret sauce” to Visual Studio is a large set of APIs and software libraries Microsoft created called .NET.
The .NET platform allows a software developer to write software for the Microsoft operating system by using the giant set of libraries embedded in the .NET framework, so a developer doesn’t have to waste time “reinventing the wheel” … like how to draw a button on the screen…or move a window around … or resize it… all this “plumbing” code is already taken care of for you by the .NET framework.
This allows a software developer to concentrate on writing the pieces of software that pertain to the actual functionality they want to implement.
If Microsoft could port the .NET framework libraries to work on other operating systems, such as Linux and Mac OS, they could release versions of Visual Studio for those platforms and allows software developers to write software that could run on Linux, Mac OS and Windows.
So how could this benefit Microsoft?
It wouldn’t make sense for Microsoft to do this just out of the goodness of their own heart.
It would have to make sense from a strategic and financial standpoint.
Mr. Nadella, since the beginning of his reign as Microsoft CEO, has repeatedly said that Microsoft’s new direction is “cloud first, mobile first”. That is, recognizing that Windows and Office can’t sustain the company’s revenue forever, and that they must concentrate on monetizing products using the cloud and mobile platforms.
Microsoft really wants to compete with Amazon in the cloud space with their own version of AWS, called Azure.
If Microsoft released a truly cross platform version of .NET and Visual Studio, they could attract pretty much any software developer on the PLANET to write Microsoft software.
They could then lure those same developers to deploy and host their applications on Microsoft’s Azure hosting platform on a recurring, subscription based fee structure, which is one of the most lucrative type revenue models to make money from.
Just ask any telecom, cable tv or internet provider about how lucrative recurring subscription fee based businesses are, and they will readily attest to that. If Microsoft can get to that recurring subscription based revenue model for the majority of their profits, they’ve got a shot at shooting back to the top of the software food chain.