The Windows Marketplace and the Race to Woo Developers
Microsoft has been in the ISV recruitment business to bolster support and market acceptance of its operating system(s) for nearly three decades. Remember the launch of Windows v1.0 in 1985?
OK, I’m dating myself. But the company’s promise of an open software development platform around which developers could build a broad set of applications for a wide variety of devices has remained consistent for nearly 30 years.
But, boy has Microsoft weathered many tough battles in defending that value proposition to ISVs during that time. Not the least of which were IBM‘s and Sun Microsystem’s attempts to own the desktop combined with the Linux and open source community and, more recently, the rash of web-enabled development environments requiring only a web browser. And then there’s Apple: The cool contrarians of Cupertino who Microsoft nearly put out of business at least once are now the darlings of the modern-age application developer. The breadth of ISVs Apple has cultivated actively building applications for iOS and the iPhone and iPad is quite staggering.
Now, Microsoft will argue (and did this week at its Worldwide Partner Conference 2012) that the vast majority of those iOS developers (supposedly currently 500,000 strong) are building simple, consumer-focused applications and that Apple’s community does not begin to extend to the B2B market, especially at the enterprise level. In retort, Apple argues that the whole BYOD phenomenon is changing that. The company argues the grass-roots effort of users driving the need for user-friendly and mobile-aware applications has got corporations changing their mind about what environment in which they might be developing their own cloud applications. Don’t we love a good fight of the titans in the IT industry?!
Microsoft clearly has some distinct advantages over Apple in its conquest to dominate as the primary platform for corporate cloud application development:
- Sheer breadth of ISVs today writing business applications either from scratch or on top of their existing applications;
- The forecasts for new Windows-based devices to be sold in the next couple of years (375 million) – especially tablets and small PCs outside the holy wars currently raging for domination of the smartphone market between Apple and Microsoft (and now Google as well);
- The size of the Windows PC installed base of users, proving the most fertile ground for ISVs to realize a broad market opportunity for their apps;
- Sophisticated co-marketing programs to help its Tier One and (to a lesser extent) smaller channel partners market their applications to the huge business users; and
- Microsoft’s promised enterprise device management functionality in Windows Phone 8 (I think dubbed “company hub”) allowing companies to provision and manage cloud applications privately, outside of the Windows Marketplace.
In Apple’s defense, it continues to dominate in branding and market-making campaigns. Its single App Store for all mobile iPhone and iPad apps is simple, clean and easy to navigate. Microsoft will have some challenges replicating that marketplace simplicity; I think there are three locations today you can find cloud applications for Windows. Clearly, Apple and Google have the “cool factor” to their advantage today, driving BYOD device issues into corporations of all sizes. But, that huge market lead at the device level is being whittled away very slowly every day.
The issue isn’t who will win the cool-device battle, as that war will rage on with price/feature for the foreseeable future, and likely with the Japanese consumer electronics manufacturers the winners. The real battleground is — as it was 25 years ago — which vendor represents the biggest market opportunity combined with the lowest development investment model for ISVs as a whole.
Will the consumer and small-business applications on the Apple App Store be “good enough” for public cloud consumption for midmarket companies? Will these companies be happy to let their users just use Internet Explorer to access these apps directly? Or will Microsoft be able to turn the tide and rapidly activate its sizable ISV community to port their B2B-focused Windows apps using Azure or write new ones to take advantage of all the cool Windows 8 features? Of course, these two scenarios are not mutually exclusive, and it’s likely that three years from now Apple will be stronger with consumer and small-business applications, while Microsoft will be stronger with B2B apps running on Windows 8 and Windows phones.
The only major unknown at this point? Will Microsoft become a major player in the mobile device market (more tablets or a line of smartphones), potentially changing the playing field against Apple, but also against its large community of hardware OEMs driving Windows Phone adoption? Hmm … I didn’t hear Microsoft talk much about its new Surface tablet during the conference.
Beth Vanni is VP of PartnerPath, which helps IT vendors elevate the impact of their partnering efforts. For more information on PartnerPath’s research or partnering development services, contact Beth at firstname.lastname@example.org.