In February, Miguel de Icaza and Nat Friedman finally sold their company, Xamarin, to Microsoft for a reported $400 million to $500 million, a sale that many thought was almost destined to happen.
The two founders are legends in the open source developer community with a long, close but sometimes rocky relationship with Microsoft.
Xamarin was founded in 2011 after the two lost their last jobs, where they were building open source tools that helped Windows developers write internet apps. (They had worked for Novell, and were laid off when Novell was sold to a company called Attachmate.) This was during the years when Microsoft was at war with the open source concept and open source developers disliked Microsoft in return.
But Microsoft “a different organization,” these days than it was back in those days under former CEO Steve Ballmer, de Icaza just told The Register, saying (emphasis ours):
“Microsoft by being so opposed to open source ended up rebuilding things that the community was building, and meanwhile Google, Apple, Facebook, they were able to have their engineers solve different problems and just reuse solutions that existed. So yes, 15 years ago they were not very open source friendly, but the people that are now there are a different crowd.“
As to why Microsoft bought Xamarin: it allows programmers to easily write mobile apps that work on any popular operating system: iOS, Android, Windows and then host them on their cloud of choice, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, others.
Rumors had been circulating forever that Microsoft wanted to buy Xamarin, or at least invest in it. In the meantime, Oracle tried to swoop in, striking a deal with Xamarin to put Oracle’s enormous salesforce behind Xamarin. In exchange, Xamarin encouraged programmers to try Oracle’s cloud to host their apps.
Some months later, Microsoft announced the deal to buy the startup for a healthy multiple over its revenues, which Friedman reported as in the “tens of millions of dollars.”
de Icaza says there’s been almost no other change to the company since Microsoft bought it because Scott Guthrie, the VP in charge of developer tools and the cloud, is taking a hands-off approach.
The one thing that is changing: Xamarin’s new mission is to encourage developers to use Microsoft’s cloud instead of competitors, but not insist on it. Like all big software makers, Microsoft’s future rests on growing its cloud business. The more apps its cloud hosts, the more money it makes.
“Our goal is to help developers go mobile, and hopefully with Azure. What Scott told me was, your mandate is to give developers what they want and your space is mobile, so go make it happen,” de Icaza told The Register.