Microsoft Buys Xamarin to Boost Cross-Platform Development

Microsoft on Wednesday announced that it has reached an agreement to acquireXamarin, a platform provider for mobile app development.

Xamarin’s platform will be used in conjunction with Microsoft’s Visual Studio, enabling developers to build apps using C# to deliver fully native mobile app experiences across platforms, including Android and iOS, said Scott Guthrie, executive vice president for the cloud and enterprise group at Microsoft.

Its technology could further allow developers to take advantage of the productivity of .Net in building apps that utilize C# to write a full set of native APIs, he added.

Xamarin, which was launched in 2011 and employs more than 350 people, has more than 15,000 customers in 120 countries. Its relationship with Microsoft already has allowed for Xamarin integration into Visual Studios, Microsoft Azure, Office 365 and the Enterprise Mobility Suite.

Microsoft will provide more information on how Xamarin’s platform will be utilized at the Microsoft Build conference in the coming weeks, Guthrie said. The closing of the acquisition is subject to regulatory approval.

More for Windows

Microsoft was quick to tout how the acquisition would allow greater cross-platform app development, but the heart of it likely is supporting Microsoft’s own platforms.

“This acquisition is all about getting more apps on Windows Mobile,” said Roger Entner, principal analyst atRecon Analytics.

“Xamarin has worked with Microsoft already for quite a while, and they helped Microsoft and other companies to port their applications to other OSes,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“In order to make it easier for developers to develop once and deploy in multiple environments, Xamarin has been a good solution,” Entner added.

Leveling the Playing Field

Microsoft has struggled in the mobile space, and the Windows Phone platform trails those of Apple and Google in terms of OS market share. The acquisition could give Microsoft an advantage in what it does best — namely software.

“Now that Windows faces competition from Apple and Google in the mobile arena, Microsoft is rapidly evolving into a platform-agnostic software developer,” said Josh Crandall, principal analyst atNetPop Research.

“The Office suite is a still a mainstay for enterprise productivity,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“As business becomes more mobile, it’s critical for employees to be able to access and collaborate whenever and wherever they are, and Windows-based laptops are only one access point,” Crandall added.

“Today, employees are expecting the ability to access their apps through their smartphones, iPads and Android tablets,” he noted. “By purchasing Xamarin, Microsoft is able to accelerate cross-platform development of the Office suite.”

Supporting the PC

The acquisition also reaffirms that Microsoft remains the dominant desktop player, suggested Paul Teich, principal analyst atTirias Research.

“In the short term, this is less about Microsoft’s mobile vision and more about Windows 10 app momentum,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“Microsoft Visual Studio is PC-centric; it’s difficult to port Windows 10 apps to mobile targets, and more difficult to port native mobile apps from other platforms to Windows 10,” Teich said.

Xamarin’s tool set could enable development of Windows 10 apps using Microsoft’s C# language, which in turn could be more easily ported to mobile platforms. That could help Microsoft accelerate native Windows 10 app development and keep some develop-for-PCs-first momentum in a mobile-first world, he noted.

“As a result of this acquisition, we might expect Microsoft to port more of its own apps to other mobile platforms,” Teich added.

Cross-Platform Porting

Xamarin’s primary benefit could be that it does allow for easier cross-platform development, enabling Microsoft to maintain its PC-first momentum but also support rival mobile platforms.

“Boosting cross-platform development knowledge has another benefit too. If Microsoft can simplify the process of porting an application that was created for iOS or Android to Windows, developers will enable more applications to run on Windows,” suggested NetPop Research’s Crandall.

“By adding a simplified porting process to the growing number of Windows 10 devices — remember that they are driving to 1 billion Windows 10 devices by 2017 — Microsoft is striving to make the decision to port an app to Windows a no-brainer,” he said.

One example is Office 365, which already runs on Android phones.

“That is a flagship Microsoft product, and their Android port took a lot of time and effort,” said Teich.

“This acquisition might also attract mobile developers on other platforms to Microsoft’s C# language and rich Visual Studio dev tools, which will then let them port their apps to Windows 10 opportunistically, also contributing to accelerating Windows 10 app momentum,” he added.

“It makes a lot of sense in a Windows 10 app development context — we’re not in a PC-first world anymore,” Teich said. “Plus it’s a good bridge to future Microsoft mobile plans.”

Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who has covered consumer electronics, technology, electronic entertainment and fitness-related trends for more than a decade. His work has appeared in more than three dozen publications, and he is the co-author of Careers in the Computer Game Industry (Career in the New Economy series), a career guide aimed at high school students from Rosen Publishing. You can connect with Peter on Google+.

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