The secret to Microsoft's rising fortunes

Windows 10 might still be a work in progress, and Windows Phone may be on the ropes, but Microsoft has enjoyed stunning success in one key area above all

The secret to Microsoft's rising fortunes

As we near the close of 2015, the technology world has grown boring, largely because it's so mind-numbingly predictable: Apple dominates mobile, Amazon owns the cloud, and on and on.

That's why I'm grateful for Microsoft -- yes, Microsoft. While Redmond has been gazing into the abyss for the past decade or so and continues to stumble in mobile -- the truth is that Microsoft is getting its mojo back.

Microsoft's winning strategy? While RedMonk analyst James Governor points out, "Not sucking has been really key," the heart of that "not sucking" strategy has been a consistent, relentless focus on developers -- so much so, in fact, that Google has said of Microsoft: "We share the same soul."

Signs of life

But first, some numbers.

It should be clear by now that workloads are moving to the public cloud much faster than many expected. While traditional IT keeps trying to stave off the inevitable with data centers thinly disguised as "private cloud," there's no question that the market is Amazon Web Services' to lose.

Microsoft, however, isn't far behind, at least not when measured by perception. An IDG Enterprise survey found Microsoft (36 percent) to be second only to AWS (43 percent) in terms of cloud thought leadership. Google was next at 26 percent, but IBM (18 percent), Oracle (6 percent), and others were way behind.

This perception is translating into real revenues for both AWS and Microsoft, according to a recent Forrester report:

cloud revenue

Pay attention to the cloud platform revenues, where AWS has a dramatic lead ($6 billion). But Microsoft, with roughly $1.6 billion, is at least doubling any of its enterprise competitors.

Part of this lead among the AWS-chasing pack comes down to Microsoft's strength with CIOs. Even in the bowels of its soul-searching, Microsoft never lost the affection of the C-suite. According to a 2013 CIO survey, 45 percent of CIOs picked Microsoft as their "most important vendor," roughly twice as many as the next nearest vendor (Oracle).

But the bigger reason Microsoft is a credible competitor to AWS is that the Redmond giant has rekindled its love affair with developers in a way that none of its peers have.

Speaking polyglot

It's easy for platform vendors like Microsoft to become fixated on the platform. Indeed, this is precisely what Microsoft did for decades, going so far as to use its dominance in one market to tie into other markets (operating systems, browsers, and so on).

But the Satya Nadella Microsoft is different. Perhaps the biggest offering Microsoft has thrown to developers in the last few years, according to Citrix CTO Christian Reilly, is "embracing different platforms (and providing tooling on them)."

This means, according to Nadella, that "every developer on every platform can build intelligent apps."

This isn't a Steve Ballmer developer dance. It's an earnest effort to speak the polyglot languages that today's modern developer must speak.

Of course, this is driven by self-interest, as is Microsoft's embrace of open source. Though roughly 50 percent of developers still use Windows as their desktop OS, according to a massive Stack Overflow developer survey, that number has been going down for years. Even those Microsoft Windows developers are building applications for other platforms (OS, database, and so on), many of them not invented in Redmond.

While Microsoft would love to have everyone using its proprietary software, the reality is that open source has become the lingua franca of developers. Microsoft isn't opening up out of any great love for freedom. But so what?

What it has managed to do is turn around a decade of waning developer affection and attention and convert it into an increasingly bright future for the company.

Microsoft hasn't needed to win on all fronts to resume its relevance. It has simply needed to regain developers' trust. Nadella has done that with a genuine willingness to color outside the Windows lines, giving Microsoft a key role to play in our developer-fueled cloud future.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.