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Microsoft-Xamarin deal to fuel Windows app development

Xamarin app development tools could help boost Microsoft's Windows app ecosystem, which currently lags behind other OSes.

Microsoft's acquisition of Xamarin Inc. gives enterprise developers a reason to build apps for all current Windows operating systems, which isn't usually at the top of their lists. 

Microsoft will integrate Xamarin, a San Francisco-based app development startup, with its Visual Studio development toolkit. Xamarin's multi-platform tools are Microsoft's ticket to enticing more third-party developers to build Windows apps, which have been sorely lacking, compared with the number of Apple iOS and Google Android apps, said Wes Miller, research analyst at Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Wash.

"One of the biggest problems that Microsoft has had so far is getting developers to put Windows in their sights," Miller said.

Typically, when developers build applications, they have to write code for each mobile operating system (OS) they want to support, which usually starts with iOS or Android, Miller said. But with Xamarin, developers who use the C# programming language can build an app for one OS, and then port it to other OSes. 

The ability to create and push out an app to iOS, Android and Windows all at once is very useful for developers, said Emmanuel Mathew, president of Agiline, a custom software development firm in Ontario, Calif. 

"For one app that we work on, I have one team building it for iOS and another for Android," he said. "But we would invest in Xamarin, and their platform lets you go to multiple devices."

Often, third-party development firms don't dedicate a team to work on a Windows version of an app, because it's an extra expense, Mathew said. Now, instead of dedicating a group of developers to each OS, companies can have one team focused on one app for multiple mobile OSes, including Windows, he said.

Mathew's developers already use Xamarin occasionally, but plan to use it frequently once Microsoft integrates it with Visual Studio, because they rely on that toolkit for many of their apps.

"We might have done more development on Xamarin if it were owned by Microsoft before," Mathew said. "If I do a lot of work on a third-party platform, and the company goes away, then you're in trouble. But now that Microsoft bought [Xamarin], you know it will be here for a long time."

Microsoft-Xamarin a long time coming

Xamarin started in 2011, and has been a close partner of Microsoft's.

This deal had to happen, and it's a really good move for both sides that's almost overdue.
Wes Millerresearch analyst, Directions On Microsoft

"This deal had to happen, and it's a really good move for both sides that's almost overdue," Miller said. "Xamarin fills a hole for Microsoft that no one else could ... and it's a great move for Xamarin, because it makes them the tool set of choice for the Microsoft ecosystem."

Still, Xamarin will not fuel Microsoft's app ecosystem to the point where it will be able to catch up with iOS or Android anytime soon, Miller said.

"It's not something people choose to develop for," he added.

Plus, it's not likely that developers who work exclusively with one platform, such as iOS, for instance, will stop working with their usual languages -- Objective-C or Swift -- and start developing Windows apps with Xamarin, said Paul DeGroot, principal consultant at Pica Communications LLC, a Microsoft licensing consultancy in Camano Island, Wash.

"How many third-party apps are being made that only run on Windows 10?" he said. "Not many. [Microsoft needs] to build a huge, popular platform that developers get in on and fight to develop for."

The Microsoft-Xamarin deal will close before the Microsoft Build Developer Conference in March, when both companies will provide more details on the acquisition, according to a blog post by Xamarin co-founder and CEO Nat Friedman. Neither company has disclosed the price of the acquisition.

Ramin Edmond is a news writer with TechTarget's End-User Computing Media Group. Contact him at [email protected].

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