Build 2013: Microsoft renews its relationship with developers

At annual conference, Microsoft put developers front and center, showing it's more open to working with partners to ease coders' work

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Azure remains at the heart of Microsoft's transformation. That's where Microsoft builds its own services and where it's running many developer tools -- including a set of tools that let developers quickly create and roll out the back ends needed by many mobile applications.

Azure now boasts deeper integration with many common authentication tools and services, allowing developers to build apps that integrate with many common enterprise cloud services, including Salesforce.com (and, coming soon, Google App Engine and Amazon Web Services). Microsoft has also taken both Azure's scalable websites and Mobile Services out of beta. Both of those services are quite friendly to other platforms -- scalable websites supports common open source Web tooling, and Mobile Services supports iOS and Android, as well as Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.

One thing is very clear about the new Microsoft: It's much more open to working with partners (and competitors) as well as with open source technologies. New enterprise IT companies like Box are providing integration points for Windows and Azure developers, while open Web technologies like JQuery and Twitter Bootstrap are first-class citizens in Visual Studio. Developers coming from the open Web to ASP.Net can bring familiar tools and technologies, sharing skills, and development practices.

In short, Microsoft knows it isn't the only choice. Its tools now support open development environments like Git, and they work with Xcode and Eclipse. They're also providing points of integration with other, competing development platforms, including Amazon Web Services.

Reaching more types of developers

One key point in the Azure tooling, and in Visual Studio 2013, is that Microsoft now understands that developers do more than just write code. They're involved with running their apps, and the Azure developer portal is as much about DevOps as it is about development. While Steve Ballmer didn't quite shout "Devops, devops, devops!" in his keynote, Microsoft's Server and Tools president Satya Nadella went out of his way to show the management tooling built into Azure's portal and reflected in Visual Studio 2013.

New profiling tools in the upcoming Visual Studio release will also help developers understand how their applications interact with hardware, showing power usage and helping them tune apps for low-power devices like smartphones and small tablets. Even Internet Explorer 11's new features include noninvasive debugging and profiling, allowing developers to work with running pages to understand performance and how it can be improved.

There's also tooling for hobbyist and informal developers in its Visual Studio Express and Web Matrix tools, while Windows 8.1's new 3D printing pipeline lets hardware developers make prototypes directly from their design tools.

Microsoft's devices and services model is about much more than just tablets and phones and Azure, and maker-friendly features like this are a clear sign that engineering teams in Redmond understand the shift to the Internet of things and ubiquitous computing.

Outside the world of code and servers, Microsoft recently announced improved benefits for its MSDN developer program that make it easier to take advantage of Azure, with lower-cost -- and often free -- access for development projects. Those benefits are designed to encourage developers to take advantage of the cloud, giving them the tools to bypass slow procurement and infrastructure deployments. Cloud-hosted infrastructure simplifies development, and with tooling for managing Azure built into the latest Visual Studio release, it's clear that Microsoft expects it to be a significant component of its developer relationship in the very near future.

Message: We still love you

Microsoft's message to its developer community is clear: The Redmond giant may be transitioning to devices and services, but it's not leaving the platform behind. Platforms are what made Microsoft successful in a world of closed computing environments, and that's what it intends to use to build relationships with third parties as it rolls out its devices and services strategy.

Build 2013 is more than a reset of Windows 8 -- it's a reset of Microsoft's developer relationship. The company is still recovering from the lows of its Silverlight and XNA changes, but a refocus on .Net and more context around new platform features has gone a long way to repairing the damage.

This story, "Build 2013: Microsoft renews its relationship with developers," was originally published at CITEworld.com.

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