At Microsoft’s Build conference on Wednesday, Satya Nadella, the software giant’s recently appointed CEO, fielded questions from developers.
It wasn’t quite as brave as it sounds, since the questions were selected in advance by Microsoft employees. But they were nonetheless tough questions, starting with the first one, asked by a young coder: “Why should I build for Windows?”
Microsoft Challenging Itself
“You should build for Windows because we’re coming at this with a challenger mindset,” Nadella said. In other words, the company is trying to shed its legacy of arrogant treatment of partners, developers, and consumers, and make itself an attractive platform for all of them.
That includes—logically, for a conference where Microsoft is mounting a charm offensive on developers—pointing to Microsoft’s history of serving software creators.
“Microsoft was a tools company before it was an Office company, before it was a Windows company,” Nadella said.
That’s also a big part of Nadella’s resume: Before becoming CEO, he ran the company’s Server & Tools division and then its cloud businesses, which host computing power and resources and rent them out to developers over the Internet.
A Cross-Platform Company
By re-gearing Microsoft around the interests of developers, Nadella wants to have Microsoft cater to them, which means embracing open source and helping them develop apps not just for Windows but for Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS operating systems as well.
At the same time, Microsoft is hoping to bring along the large number of developers who work with Windows.
“It’s crazy to abandon what you’ve built, and it’s crazy not to want what you’ve built across the broadest set of devices,” Nadella said.
Ultimately, though, Microsoft’s future lies in the cloud—from Xbox games to mobile apps—accessed through cheap, pervasive computers like smartphones and tablets.
“The entire back end of Titanfall was built on this app called Thunderhead which runs on Azure,” Nadella pointed out.
When the software logic of apps resides on servers Microsoft runs in an Azure data center, it matters little whether the consumer experiences them on a Windows PC, an iPad, an Android phone, or other devices.
Windows And …
So this is Microsoft’s strategy going forward: not “Windows Only,” but “Windows And … .” Windows and the cloud. Windows and search. And competitors’ operating systems. And so on. By offering development tools that pop out Windows, Android, iOS, and Web apps, Microsoft hopes to persuade developers to at least give Windows a chance.
Only Microsoft will make it easy to build software that does Windows and the rest of the computing universe. It seems unlikely, after all, that Google and Apple will help developers do Windows with the same vigor.
The threat, of course, is that developers will ignore Microsoft’s come-ons, and simply develop for the Web and for the most popular mobile platforms. If that’s the case, Microsoft will have to double down on its Azure offerings—about which it’s expected to reveal more tomorrow.
Photo of Satya Nadella by Owen Thomas for ReadWrite