Microsoft's Close Ties With This Mobile App Development Startup Shows How Its Culture Is Changing

Nat Friedman, XamarinXamarin co-founder and CTO Nat Friedman

Microsoft’s relationship with Xamarin, a mobile app development startup, is a great example of how it’s opening up to work with other vendors’ platforms. 

Xamarin’s software lets Microsoft developers build iOS and Android apps using Microsoft development languages and tools. 

Microsoft and Xamarin’s relationship has grown noticeably cozier in the past year, though it’s mostly been happening behind the scenes, three sources told us recently. 

That changed at Microsoft’s Build conference for developers last month. Xamarin threw a “big and well attended party,” had a bustling booth in the expo hall, and had “quite a few of their people mixing with the crowd,” as one source explained it to us. 

Several members of the Windows team came to Xamarin’s party, which was surprising because “that’s the Microsoft team that thinks other platforms don’t exist,” the source said.

Officially, Xamarin was at Build to talk about its partnership with Microsoft to bring Windows Azure Mobile Services, Microsoft’s new cloud-based back end tech for mobile apps, to iOS and Android, a Microsoft spokesperson told us.

Xamarin couldn’t be reached for comment on whether it’s working more closely with Microsoft these days. 

Xamarin, which launched in 2011, was co-founded by open source rock stars Miguel de Icaza and Nat Friedman.

Our sources believe Microsoft was initially wary of Xamarin’s intentions. 

Last December, after Xamarin released a tool that lets developers code apps for the Mac using Microsoft programming languages, de Icaza took a shot at Microsoft on Twitter: 

What de Icaza meant was that Microsoft, with Windows 8, has been pushing developers to use Java and HTML5 to build apps, instead of older languages like C# and .NET. Microsoft also effectively killed off Silverlight, a .NET based programming language. 

The thing is, developers prefer to use languages like C# and .NET, and Xamarin lets them do this. 

Visual Studio, the tool of choice for most Microsoft developers, can’t be used to build iOS and Android apps. So in February, Xamarin built a plug-in that does this. 

This is important, because Microsoft development shops are getting lots of requests from customers for non-Microsoft apps, and being able to build them without learning new languages lets them get that business. 

Microsoft is now aware of the role Xamarin can play for its developers. “Over the past year or so Microsoft has unofficially and behind the scenes been boosting Xamarin as a good option,” one source said. 

There are other signs of the deepening ties between the companies.

Microsoft was the lone Platinum sponsor for Xamarin’s Evolve developer conference in April and sent 25 of its people to the event, including Scott Hanselman, a program manager on Microsoft’s Windows Azure team, who gave a talk

With Microsoft transforming itself into a devices and services company, and reaching out like never before to non-Microsoft developers, its relationship with Xamarin is another example of how the culture at Redmond is changing. 

“Microsoft is starting to recognised that they live in a cross-platform world, and Xamarin makes that story make sense,” the source said. 

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