As we’ve written before, Microsoft’s attempt to tackle the mobile market by making it easier to port apps to Windows Mobile from other platforms has fizzled somewhat. However, the company has moved on from last year’s strategy by acquiring Xamarin. The freshly wholly-owned Microsoft subsidiary offers developers a way to create apps for essentially any mobile platform using C#.
The acquisition deal closed just days ago, and Microsoft announced today at the second Build 2016 keynote that Xamarin would be a free addition to Visual Studio. That includes the Enterprise Edition and Professional Edition, but also the free Community Edition of Visual Studio. There’s also a free Mac edition as of today, and Microsoft open sourced the Xamarin runtime.
Unlike the Android and iOS porting projects Microsoft pushed last year, this Xamarin business isn’t just about goosing Windows Mobile adoption. It’s bigger than that. More than anything, it’s a key part of Microsoft’s overall mission as a productivity and platform company. Yes, Microsoft wants to do well in the smartphone OS space. And yes, Xamarin can make that happen more easily because it gives devs a way to build native mobile apps for multiple platforms with shared code. But what it’s really designed to do is pull developers into Microsoft’s ecosystem of services.
It’s not only free, Xamarin in Visual Studio is designed to be user-friendly. There are built-in templates for iOS and Android, as well as premade bits of code devs can use as “exercises.” From the stage, we saw how you can make a change in the code and see it immediately take effect in a live viewer.
Part of the value of Xamarin is in its test cloud. A Xamarin rep told me that the company runs tests constantly on actual devices--they have a sea of them in a facility. Using the test cloud, devs can easily see any test errors, keep an eye on CPU and memory usage, and even see a “video” of how the app is running on the device for which they’re programming. And it supports “any language, any platform.”
Microsoft also announced that Xamarin’s core platform is now part of the .NET Foundation, meaning that it’s now fully open source and cross-platform. Unity, Red Hat, and JetBrains all joined the .NET Foundation, too.