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Microsoft Is Courting New Developers, But Some Existing Ones Are Still Fuming Over Its Windows 8 Decisions

Kevin McLaughlin
James Whittaker, Partner Technical Evangelist at Microsoft
James Whittaker, Partner Technical Evangelist at Microsoft


James Whittaker, a Microsoft engineer who went to Google, then came back.

Microsoft has formed a new "deep tech" team of executives whose duties will include recruiting non-Microsoft developers to build apps using its products.

The idea is to get Microsoft closer to next-generation developers who are making tons of money building Web and mobile apps on other companies' platforms.

But according to some developers who've worked with Microsoft for years, the company will have to become a better listener in order to achieve this goal.

ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley was first to report on the deep tech team earlier this week.

With Windows 8, Microsoft started focusing on smartphones and tablets and pushed developers to use the "Modern" API to build apps for these devices. At the same time, Microsoft effectively killed off Silverlight and XNA, two popular programming languages that developers had spent years learning, and which can be used to build mobile apps.

Ziliang Guo, a third party Windows developer, told Business Insider that Microsoft alienated many developers with this decision. He believes this could cause long term damage to Microsoft's mobile ambitions.

"Microsoft has determined that continuing with its current strategy is more important than any inconveniences and pain suffered by third party developers, regardless of the severity of said pain," Guo said in an email.

In a blog post earlier this month about Microsoft's missteps, Guo put it more bluntly.

When Microsoft began focusing on mobile devices with Windows 8, it " systematically pissed off significant portions of their existing developer base, either by deprecating the platforms they relied on, treating them disrespectfully, or by outright trying to force them to write phone/tablet applications by imposing restrictions," Guo wrote.

Dave Meeker, a VP at digital agency Roundarch Isobar, who has worked with Silverlight in the past, in optimistic about the deep tech team but says Microsoft needs to do a better job of connecting with front-end developers, or ones that design Web apps.

"Microsoft evangelizes its platform and get devs up to speed, but Microsoft has its own principles in mind for the user experience. And they have not been as open to changing that based on feedback from developers," Meeker said.

A Microsoft spokesperson said the company is just as committed to bringing in new developers as it is to supporting existing ones.

" We have a continued, deep commitment to our existing developers combined with an increased openness to meet developers where they are, allowing them to use their technology of choice when targeting the Microsoft platform," the spokesperson said.

Microsoft's challenge will be to show that its culture is changing. And the deep tech team includes new blood. Patrick Chanezon, a former Sun and VMware exec, joined in April. The team also includes James Whittaker, a Microsoft engineer who defected to Google in 2009, then returned to Microsoft last year and wrote a blog post about why he came back.

Eric Schmidt, a 15-year Microsoft vet whose title is senior director of media evangelism, has what is likely the toughest challenge of anyone of the deep tech. According to Foley, he's tasked with luring iOS and Android developers to Windows Phone.

Tim Huckaby, founder and chairman of InterKnowlogy/Actus, a San Diego-based design firm that does Microsoft development, has had a front row seat to the turmoil Microsoft's development platform changes have caused.

But he sounds optimistic that Microsoft can turn things around.

"I can tell you honestly I have not been encouraged about the developer platform at Microsoft in a while and today, for the first time in a long time, I am," Huckaby said in a note to clients this week, which was viewed by Business Insider. "I see the culture changing. I hear people at Microsoft saying the culture is changing."

Microsoft is holding its Build developer conference next month in San Francisco, from June 26-28.

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