There’s an old saying in Silicon Valley: “nobody ever got fired for using Amazon Web Services.” And among SV startups there are three business models that are en vogue: get bought out by Facebook, get bought out by Google, and get bought out by Apple.
Typically missing from this conversation is anything to do with Microsoft. Sure, it’s one of the largest IT companies in the world; sure, it has a huge cloud platform of its own; sure, it has popular and capable development tools, but ya know, it’s just not very cool, is it?
Microsoft’s successes—and it certainly has them—tend to feel rather corporate. Take Azure. It’s probably behind only AWS in terms of customers and adoption, but generally when Microsoft talks about how widely Azure is being used, the company normally talks about the number of Fortune 500 customers, and it doesn’t get more uncool and boring than that.
And so it’s AWS that seems to be the cloud platform of choice among new companies. While Azure outages are starting to be felt, it’s still AWS outages that cause popular new services to break, not Azure ones. When those same companies build new apps, it’s always iOS that they care about, with Windows, and even Android, as secondary or tertiary considerations.
But Microsoft is changing, and one might almost think that it were a deliberate effort to court a market that’s seen as not just trendy but trend-setting, a hotbed of innovation.
The language is starting to change a little. At its Azure event in San Francisco (where else?) last year, on top of the surprising statement that “Microsoft (heart) Linux,” those Azure numbers gained a little diversity. Yes, Fortune 500 got a mention. But CEO Satya Nadella also told the world that 40 percent of Azure revenue was coming from startups and Independent Service Vendors. The message: it’s not only chosen by suits and megacorps. It’s a little bit cool.
Likewise, the decisions to open source .NET and make Visual Studio a cheaper and more versatile development environment are things that appeal to a different kind of computer user—one that previously might very well not have had a great deal of interest in Microsoft or its products. A Microsoft that’s not reflexively opposed to developing for other platforms? A Microsoft building great tools that you can use on other platforms? That’s a little bit cool.
Excitement around hardware such as the HoloLens augmented reality headset, and even the much more open and humble approach being taken to the development of Windows 10, similarly make Microsoft look a bit more interesting, a bit more innovative, a bit more cool than it once did.
Other recent moves show that the company is more overtly courting the world of startups. Last year, Microsoft bought startup Acompli for $200 million. Acompli has developed an Outlook-style mail, contacts, and calendaring app for iOS and Android which has already been transitioned to use the Outlook branding. Today it was announced that Redmond has bought Sunrise, developer of an iOS and Android calendaring app, with the price rumored to be $100 million.