Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and the race to woo developers

With Microsoft Build and Google I/O happening now and Facebook F8 just concluded, here's a look at why it's important to court developers, enhance platforms, and keep the base happy.

Microsoft, Google, Facebook aim to woo developers

With Facebook's F8 conference in recent memory, and Microsoft Build and Google I/O taking place this week, TechRepublic's Dan Patterson and ZDNet's Larry Dignan got together to talk about the tech giants' war to win the attention of developers.

Watch the video above, or read the transcript of their conversation:

Patterson: Larry, these tech conferences are all about pleasing the base, and the base is developers, right?

Dignan: Yeah, if you don't win the developer war, and you don't keep the people involved with making applications for your platform, if you don't keep them excited and on board and feeling good about the platform they're developing for, you're really losing the war over time, and we saw this at F8 where Zuckerberg was kind of like ... It was sort of like a plea almost. It was actually almost a little awkward when he was basically telling developers, "Stick with the platform, et cetera." And then there was some artificial intelligence news, they open sourced some things, et cetera. It's nice bread and butter, meat and potatoes so to speak, for the developers.

SEE: Google I/O vs. Microsoft Build: Dueling yet similar visions for developers (ZDNet)

And then this week we have Build and Google I/O happening at the same time. So, what's interesting there is that Microsoft started to lose that developer war a little bit, but basically our checks, we've talked to a bunch of independent software vendors, and they just say Microsoft's really upped their game with developers in the last year or two.

Part of that is it's not only Windows per se, but that whole cloud ecosystem, and they're just doing interesting stuff, and they also ... Office is on Android and iOS, and Microsoft's footprint's kind of expanded due to that since they've actually moved beyond just being a Windows thing, and then you look at things in the cloud. Microsoft's done hookups and hook ins to Linux, and they've even open sourced some things, so from a developer perspective, Microsoft's really done a lot of good moves.

And then Google. I mean, it's a huge developer largely based on Android and all the other things they've tied to that like Android Wear, and then that gets you into Google Cloud platform, so these conferences, they're very artificial intelligence and machine learning heavy, for sure, but you get out of the week and you get out of these dueling conferences is you get sort of their developer strategy and how they can provide platforms to basically keep developers busy for the foreseeable future with some future proofing.

So, if you look at augmented reality. All the platforms have something for that now. So, it just keeps the developer base interested.

SEE: Microsoft Build 2018: The 3 key takeaways for business leaders (TechRepublic)

Patterson: Yeah, so it's kind of easy to laugh at Steve Ballmer's speech that was more than 10 years ago right now, but he sure saw the future. Before we dive into Facebook and Google, what about Facebook's APIs? Prior to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, there were a ton of different APIs that allowed developers to do a lot. After the scandal they said, "Well, we're gonna shut down a lot of different application programming interfaces." Is what Facebook doing ... Will this harm the developer community, or are they simply readjusting to the new normal?

Dignan: I think it's more of a readjustment. I mean, I don't think any developer can look at what happened to Facebook and think that it can be business as usual, right? But this is the other interesting part of the developer thing. As long as there's money to be made and as long as you can reach people and get that sort of scale on a platform, they're always gonna be interested, so the API access is probably an issue for more than a few developers, but the reality is there's billions of dollars of ads, there's billion dollars of people, there's billions of people ... There's just a lot of money coursing through that platform, so it's pretty much impossible to ignore.

Patterson: I'm glad you mentioned this emphasis on machine learning, predictive analytics, artificial intelligence. What kind of APIs and access can developers expect from I/O and Build?

Dignan: I/O especially, it's all about ... They've been opening up a lot of their machine learning technologies as part of their Google Cloud platform, so there's likely to be lots of stuff about that, right? And not only ... The last two Google I/O's has really been about, "Here's how we're using AI internally, and now we're opening that up to you." So, if you're a developer, I think you're looking at those AI and machine learning technologies and thinking, "Okay, how do I embed this into my applications?"

SEE: How Microsoft wants to turn every developer into an AI developer (TechRepublic)

The other thing with Google that's gonna be interesting is just those progressive web apps. I've had a working theory for years that apps are sort of done. I've been proven wrong for years, by the way, but Google's really in the forefront of combining the web with apps, and these web apps are getting as good as the apps, and it's all starting to look native, so that's a very interesting development for anybody on the mobile web, which is basically everybody.

Patterson: It's very interesting that the web app Steve Jobs really longed for 10 years ago is being perfected with Google and the progressive streaming web applications. What other things can we expect from I/O and from Build? I know we talk a lot about AI and developers, but we should see some updates to the Android ecosystem, and Microsoft, we should see a ton of stuff with Office and business focus. What other stuff are you tracking?

SEE: Facebook F8: The breakdown for IT pros (TechRepublic)

Dignan: Well, on the Microsoft front, look for a lot of integration with Windows. Microsoft's big on this idea of a Microsoft Graph where you're tying together all of their ecosystem and all their data and all that stuff, and it's kind of compelling when you think about it.

The other thing, Google I/O, we'll get some teasers for the new Android that'll be coming down the pike, and that'll be interesting to watch, too, so that's probably the big stuff. For the Microsoft ecosystem, I think it is about the AI, it's about the Microsoft Graph, and it's gonna be about tie-ins to Windows in terms of making that more of a hub for connecting disparate applications and things like that.

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Image: iStock/scyther5