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 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 a press 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.
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.)
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.”).