Amazon Web Services had a head start in 2006 when it offered software developers something they couldn’t refuse: access to virtually unlimited computing power in Amazon’s data centers.
And that’s how Amazon’s cloud got started. It quickly picked up popularity among developers and large companies as well. When Microsoft eventually decided it need to get into the cloud business, it played to its strengths and sold its service to its longstanding enterprise customers.
But that balance of power is now set to change, at least if Microsoft has its way.
Microsoft has begun an all-out charm offensive to woo the software developers that have traditionally flocked to Amazon’s AWS.
Through a combination of new products, high-priced acquisitions and public displays of affection for developer principles, Microsoft hopes to convince the creators of the next generation of apps and services that its cloud is the right foundation to build on.
It’s still early in the process, and there’s no guarantee that Microsoft will succeed. But embracing the developer community and incorporating open source projects — or, projects that any developer can use, download and modify for free —will benefit Microsoft in the long term, analysts say.
“Microsoft is working really hard at making a big tent for where all developers can contribute and take advantage of the tools that we had,” Jean Atelsek, analyst at 451 Research, told Business Insider.
Microsoft’s most high-profile effort to go after developers was its $7.5 billion acquisition of GitHub last October, bringing in not only the popular open source code hosting site under its fold, but also an entire community of more than 30 million developers.
When Microsoft and GitHub first announced this, there was some consternation among developers, as they worried that GitHub will become more closed off and leave developers stuck with only Microsoft technologies.
Previously, Atelsek says, Microsoft had a reputation for taking over a piece of software, adopting it to its platform, and essentially killing it. But with GitHub, the opposite has happened.
Since GitHub’s acquisition, it has launched unlimited private code hosting — something developers long asked for. And on Friday it launched the first major new product since the acquisition, GitHub Package Registry, to help developers manage software packages.
“Microsoft’s acquisition of GitHub does not seem to be pushing developers away,” Raimo Lenschow, managing director at Barclays, wrote in a note. “Microsoft is taking baby steps to cross-promote Azure without pushing its user base away, which makes sense to us.”
Microsoft has also made a host of other announcements to curry favor with developers.
Previously, Microsoft announced it would build its browser Edge to support Google’s open source web engine Chromium. For many developers, this was good news — it makes it easier for them to develop sites that are compatible with multiple browsers, rather than having to create separate versions.
“It’s a really good example of the new open mentality that Microsoft has,” said Ed Anderson, an analyst at industry research firm Gartner. “Microsoft will benefit from using Chromium. They’ll get the developer base. At the same time, [developers will] be able to contribute back to Microsoft innovations. I think it’s kind of a win-win for everybody.”
Microsoft also made a major announcement with the open source operating system Linux that’s popular with developers. The full Linux kernel will now be shipped with Windows 10. This lets Windows 10 users run a full-on version of Linux on their Windows desktops. It’s another sign of Microsoft’s strategy in cozying up to developers.
Finally, Lenschow said that when it comes to Microsoft’s products, “AI is being injected into everything.”
For example, Microsoft’s Visual Studio Code, or its widely used code editor, has become the top open source project on GitHub. And at the Build conference, Microsoft launched enhancements to make programming even easier, such as an artificial intelligence feature that suggests code alternatives to build applications more efficiently, based on data from GitHub’s top projects.
“To us, this is a positive change, as AI shifts from a talking point to something in practice. Microsoft enables the use of AI technology by making it easier for developers to adopt it through toolkits,” Lenschow wrote.
With all these announcements, this shows Microsoft embracing open source as a central part of its strategy — a turnaround from the past, when Microsoft waged a war on Linux.
The biggest takeaway, Lenschow writes, is that Microsoft has undergone a cultural change that focuses on developers.
“We got the sense from talking to developers that Azure no longer lacks the capabilities other public cloud platforms have and is increasingly viewed as developer friendly,” Lenschow wrote.
Welcoming more developers is a crucial first step to take on Amazon. Besides that, analysts say Microsoft should continue doing what it does best: capitalizing on its relationships with enterprise customers.
“I think Microsoft just needs to keep executing the way they are,” Sanjeev Mohan, an analyst at Gartner, told Business Insider. “The customers need to feel that they are being listened to and they can trust a partner, and Microsoft is demonstrating that.”
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