One of the most interesting companies in the exploding enterprise mobile app market is a four-year old startup called Xamarin.
Xamarin’s founders, who are legends in the developer community, created the company after getting suddenly fired from their jobs.
Now Xamarin has scored a big coup with the announcement of a partnership with an unlikely company: Oracle.
As part of the deal, Xamarin is launching a new tool that lets programmers easily host their apps on Oracle Mobile Cloud, a cloud that competes with Amazon Web Services, IBM’s Bluemix and Microsoft Azure.
In exchange, Oracle will be putting its mighty salesforce selling Xamarin’s services to a new segment of developers.
This is a win for both companies, but it might not make Microsoft too happy.
Xamarin offers a hugely popular service for writing mobile apps. Its claim to fame is that it uses C#, a language loved by developers in Microsoft’s enormous Windows and Web app worlds.
Write the app in C# and the Xamarin service creates an app for the iPhone, Android phones, Windows and Mac PCs. (That’s called “cross-platform development”).
Xamarin is one of the top three services for cross-platform mobile app development, according to a recent survey of 8,000 mobile developers by VisionMobile.
And its popularity is still exploding.
“Last quarter, we added 1 million new registered developers. We’re adding 50,000 a month, 1,700 a day. It’s crazy,” says Nat Friedman, CEO and co-founder, Xamarin.
“Xamarin has been the most fun ever, it’s just gone so well. If you look on Google Trends for Xamarin, it’s the No. 1 mobile platform now in terms of mindshare.”
It’s other claim to fame is that it’s mostly used by corporate app developers, as opposed to consumer app developers. That’s a segment that is also booming.
“Every company today is building an average 30-40 mobile apps used by employees, customers, business partners,” Friedman says. That stat comes from the company that uses his service, including over 10,000 corporate customer and over 100 of the Fortune 500.
Oracle playing catch-up in the cloud
Oracle is fairly late to the cloud game and is looking for partnerships that will jump start its cloud.
Oracle approached Friedman and de Icaza earlier this year and showed them Oracle Mobile Cloud at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
“We were really impressed,” says Friedman. And when they experienced a droplet of Oracle’s powerful salesforce at work, they were even more impressed. Oracle asked a handful of salespeople to try and land some marquee customers for the new partnership.
“We internally rolled it out to a few Oracle sales reps a week ago, and we already have a large pipeline of customers. Miguel and I said, OMG, why are we doing this? Trying to sell on our own?” he told us.
It’s worth noting that Oracle’s sales reps are being hugely compensated to sell Oracle’s various cloud products, sources tell us. Commissions on cloud are 5-7 times what they are on other products, we’re told (something Oracle doesn’t deny.)
Microsoft might not be happy
Xamarin, as you might expect, already has a close relationship with Microsoft and Microsoft’s app-hosting cloud, Azure. It’s the Microsoft eco-system of developers that tend to use its services.
Xamarin wasn’t exclusively in the Azure camp. Developers can use its tools with Amazon Web Services (the giant in this market) and IBM’s BlueMix, (another service popular with corporate developers).
But the company’s history is so closely related to Microsoft that de Icaza is a regular speaker during the keynote of Microsoft Build, its annual developer conference. Rumours have swirled for a while that Microsoft was trying to (or should try to) buy Xamarin, or at least invest in it.
Xamarin has raised $US82 million on the strength of this relationship in the Microsoft community, but Microsoft is not one of its named investors.
Still, this new close partnership with Oracle might not make Microsoft happy. When we asked Friedman about that, he diplomatically said: “For us, it’s driven by customer demand. We have customers in every camp” (meaning Azure, Amazon, IBM and, now Oracle/Java).
A complicated history with Microsoft
Friedman is used to dealing with Microsoft’s ire. Over a decade ago, he and de Icaza were at the center of a storm during the years Microsoft hated rival operating system Linux and was threatening legal action against companies who used it.
Microsoft turned those threats into a lucrative patent licensing business with all of the major, and many of of the minor, Linux/Android device makers.
Today, Microsoft “loves” Linux.
Friedman, 37, was a child programming savant who began coding at age 6. He and de Icaza met over an internet-chat program and became friends with a shared love of Linux.
They invented a program that brought the Linux operating system to the PC as an alternative to Windows, a project known as GNOME, which catapulted them to legend-like status in the open source, Linux world.
Then they took on Microsoft again with a highly controversial project, called Mono, that created a way for Microsoft web apps developers to write apps for Linux. (Mono still exists and is supported by Xamarin.)
Mono was sponsored by Novell, one of Microsoft’s fiercest enemies at the time. Novell sold a popular version of Linux and became one of the first companies to sign on to Microsoft’s patent licensing deal.
But things weren’t going well for Novell and it sold itself in 2010 to Attachmate for $US2.2 billion.
“Novell sold to Attachmate and laid off whole Mono team on Day 1,” Friedman remembers.
The well-known-but-now-jobless friends looked at each other and said, “Let’s start a new company and focus on mobile. Mobile is the hugest thing to happen in our lifetime,” Friedman says.
The next year, Xamarin was born and “Microsoft has been incredible supportive with Xamarin since day 1,” he says.
Even so, people told him they would fail.
“When started in 2011, we never guessed that we’d be here today. Everyone said ‘no one wants native C#, that’s a crazy choice,'” he says.
But there’s “a huge footprint, a large number of developers that use it,” he says and there’s a huge interest in learning it, he says.
When it comes to programming languages for mobile apps, developers these days are using several of them. “It’s not a winner take all environment.”
As to failing? Xamarin now has 300 employees and a new heavyweight partner, Oracle, in its corner, “and it has been so much fun,” Friedman says.