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Stuffy, boring, insular. These are three adjectives that have been used to describe the Microsoft of yesteryear. But that Microsoft is gone. They’ve changed. Radically.

Microsoft now produces interesting, innovative products. Products you probably want to use. They’ve entered interesting, cutting edge new fields, like the Internet of Things. Perhaps most interestingly, they’re producing software for their old adversaries, Apple and the Linux community.

In particular, the frosty relationship between Microsoft and users of Apple’s products has thawed, and in the past year, they’ve launched a number of significant and beautiful products for the Mac and the iPhone. Here are five of the most significant, and why this matters.

Microsoft Xim

Launched towards the end of 2014, Microsoft Xim makes it easy to show your friends your photos Share Your Photos, Not Your Phone With Microsoft Xim Share Your Photos, Not Your Phone With Microsoft Xim Sharing photos with a group of people just got easier. One person controls the show, everyone can join at their own devices via a link, and when all was seen, the presentation self-destructs. Read More , without huddling around the same, four-inch screen.

Released for Android, Windows Phone and iOS, Xim makes it trivial to share photos and create beautiful image slideshows which can be remotely controlled by a user.

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Given the stratospheric rise of Instagram and Snapchat — and the enduring popularity of Flickr — it makes sense that Microsoft would want to launch their own photo sharing service. Although curiously, Xim wasn’t launched under the Microsoft brand. The only other Microsoft app launched in such a manner was Sway; a media editing app.

Xim was designed by the FUSE team within Microsoft Research, who specialize in building innovative consumer technology products, with a focus on media-rich applications. FUSE are also well known for their analogue, Android Wear keyboard, and So.cl, a social networking search engine.

Visual Studio Code

Microsoft Visual Studio is an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) used to build Windows applications, and web applications using Microsoft’s family of web technologies. Since it first launched in 1997, Visual Studio has built a die-hard user base of developers, many of whom insist it makes them more productive and efficient at work. It is regarded among the very best in developer environments.

Visual Studio’s killer app is Intellisense; a highly sophisticated code completion tool that can anticipate what a developer is about to write, and write it for them.

But Visual Studio has never made the jump from Windows, despite the protests from developers in the Apple camp. That is, until now. At the Microsoft Build 2015 conference, held last month in San Francisco, Apple announced Visual Studio Code.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 12.05.27

Available to download for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X, Visual Studio Code is Microsoft’s first foray into the world of non-Windows developer tools. With it developers can build websites using node.js What is Node.JS and Why Should I Care? [Web Development] What is Node.JS and Why Should I Care? [Web Development] JavaScript is a just a client-side programming language that runs in the browser, right? Not any more. Node.js is a way of running JavaScript on the server; but it's so much more as well. If... Read More , as well as Microsoft’s own ASP.Net framework. It also allows developers to build applications for Azure; Microsoft’s cloud computing platform.

Interestingly, Visual Studio Code is built on top of two pieces of open source software; Github’s Atom Editor, and Google’s Chromium web browser engine.

Microsoft Office 2016 for Mac

Okay, I’m cheating here.

Microsoft has produced versions of Office for Mac since the late eighties. But they’ve always felt like an afterthought, that lacked the polish and finesse of their Windows siblings. Indeed, they’ve never quite reached the polished standard set by Apple’s iWork suite, on the OS X platform at least.

mac-powerpoint

Office 2016 for Mac is perhaps the most significant revamp to the suite. Gone is the much-loathed Ribbon. It now feels like a crafted, native Mac application, rather than a hastily-made Windows port. And it’s a good job — the last version of Office for Mac is dated 2011.

It finally feels like Microsoft is taking the Mac world seriously.

.NET Framework

The .NET framework is something that is often taken for granted. It runs in the background of Windows computers, chugging away silently and imperceptibly. But despite its lack of visibility, it does a crucial job.

The framework powers a startling number of Windows applications. These run on the Common Language Runtime — a highly optimized virtual machine — and are built using the Framework Class Library, which provides the basic building blocks for developers to make Windows applications.

mac-github

This was recently ported to OS X and Linux A GNU Beginning For Microsoft: What An Open Source .NET Framework Means For The Rest Of Us A GNU Beginning For Microsoft: What An Open Source .NET Framework Means For The Rest Of Us Microsoft just released a significant part of its code under a permissive open source license. This move breaks with years of tradition. But why and what does it mean for you? Read More , and has been licensed with a permissive, open source license.

Of course, there has been an open-source version of the .Net framework for Mac and Linux. The Mono Project has allowed Mac users to build C#, VB.Net and F# applications for a long time already, but there has never been feature parity. Until now.

Office Lens

Office Lens is a popular Windows Phone that lets users scan documents, business cards, whiteboards, and turn them into electronic files that can be shared over email, and uploaded to the cloud. It does this through the same Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology that powers Microsoft OneNote Microsoft Updates OneNote With OCR, Camera Scan, Share Charm Microsoft Updates OneNote With OCR, Camera Scan, Share Charm Microsoft OneNote has now had a major update on the desktop OS that brings some cool new functions, including ‘Camera Scan’ for smart scanning and the ability to read and search scanned items. Read More .

Until recently, this app was exclusive to Windows Phone, but has since been ported to Android and iOS as a free download.

Bonus: Run Android and iOS Apps on Windows 10

As a bonus, Microsoft is about to make it vastly simpler for developers to port their Android and iOS apps to Windows 10. These will be able to run on the desktop and on the mobile, since Windows 10 is a “One OS to Rule Them All” kind of affair.

The steps taken to port Android and iOS apps differ wildly. Android apps run in a self-contained, simulated environment, while iOS apps written in Objective-C are natively built for Windows 10, giving them a more coherent experience.

mac-iphones

The Android porting system, codenamed Project Astoria, and the iOS porting system, codenamed Project Islandwood, are yet to be publicly released. But there have been some demonstrations behind closed doors.

The first cross-compiled Windows Phone app has already been released. The Windows 10 port of Candy Crush Saga was built with an early version of Project Islandwood, with the code based upon the iOS app and will come pre-installed as a bundled game.

Why This Matters

To say that Microsoft has historically been seen as an anti-competitive bully is gross understatement.

Over the years, they’ve been accused more than once of enforcing an unbreakable homogeny, and of elbowing competitors out of the market. Their recent corporate history is filled with lawsuits brought by the governments of Europe and the United States, concerned about their immense domination over the computer market.

But in recent years, Microsoft has seen its position as the dominant power in the technology world challenged.

Since the launch of the iPhone in 2007 and Android in 2008, they’ve seen their dominance of the smartphone market disintegrate. Windows Mobile, which at one point represented a huge chunk of all smartphones sold, has effectively been killed off, and its successor in Windows Phone hasn’t come close to the adoption seen by Android and iOS.

mac-timeline

Similarly, their control of the browser market has virtually evaporated in the face of stiff competition from Google Chrome and Firefox.

Microsoft know they can no longer rest on their laurels and their deeply entrenched position. They’ve had to radically and fundamentally reimagine themselves as a company. To their credit, they’ve done that and more.

They’ve started launching products people actually want to use — like Windows 10 — and have seemingly learned the painful lessons from Vista and Windows 8. Microsoft is also set to launch a swathe of products people never knew they wanted, but are actually deeply compelling. Stuff like the impossibly futuristic Hololens Five Questions About Microsoft's "Project HoloLens" Five Questions About Microsoft's "Project HoloLens" Microsoft's new Augmented Reality headset is very exciting -- but can they solve the fundamental problems of AR? Read More , which is one of the most sophisticated augmented reality systems, and can display three-dimensional holograms in your field of vision. Stuff like Windows 10 for the Internet of Things Windows 10 - Coming to an Arduino Near You? Windows 10 - Coming to an Arduino Near You? Read More , which makes it simpler to build rich, Arduino-powered What is Arduino: Everything You Need to Know (In Video) What is Arduino: Everything You Need to Know (In Video) What is an Arduino and why should you care? In this video, I attempt to answer that question, and more. Read More robotics systems.

Crucially, they need to bring back the people who ‘jumped ship’ to Linux and Mac OS X.

Perhaps the best way to make die-hard Mac and Linux users reconsider their stance on Windows is by drip-feeding them Microsoft software they’d want to use.

Why Stop There?

Personally, I’m thrilled Microsoft is engaging with the Mac and Linux world. But why stop at Visual Studio and the .NET framework? Why not Cortana, which by all accounts, gives Apple’s Siri a run for its money. Why not Microsoft Edge; their tantalizing new replacement to Internet Explorer?

What would you like to see Microsoft bring to the Mac? Let me know in the comments below.

Photo Credits: r.nagy / Shutterstock.com

  1. Mango Pickle
    June 2, 2015 at 12:56 am

    Microsoft Project. As a project manager and long time Mac User I have yet to find anything for the Mac with the same level of functionality and ability to plan projects

  2. Mark Davis
    June 1, 2015 at 10:02 pm

    Windows 10 fixes most of what MS broke with Windows 8. I am loving it and just got my invite for the "real"(production) Win10, even happier. Now I can upgrade from Win7.

  3. Bob Russell
    May 31, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    How about adding Publisher to the MAC so we get the full suite we payed for and I can ditch my pc laptop.

  4. thanlite
    May 31, 2015 at 11:56 am

    Apple announced Visual Studio Code?

    • Jeremy Kennedy
      June 1, 2015 at 7:04 pm

      Nevermind, misread what you were referring to.

  5. Tracy Scrano
    May 30, 2015 at 5:12 am

    Uhm its looks like Microsoft sold those shares years ago, when I was 2 years old. Satya Nadella is awesome!! Microsoft will rise from the ashes, like a phoenix from the flames!

  6. Tyler Miranda
    May 29, 2015 at 5:11 pm

    MS does not own 30% of Apple. Get your facts straight before you go around calling people idiots. Yes, MS invested $150 million in Apple in 1997. In 2003 MS sold their shares back to Apple.

  7. Aaron Stackpole
    May 29, 2015 at 4:27 pm

    I still don't understand what people complain about Windows 8 for. I've been running it since it was released and in the history for using Windows since the 80s, it's the first time I actually installed an OS prior to the "Service Pack 1" release. It was a change, and there was a learning curve, but the OS, overall, was and still is far superior to anything that came before it. UEFI boot and recovery support, substantially faster on all fronts, additional features and functionality, unified cloud content support across devices, Live ID with two-factor authentication enhanced security, the list goes on. People complaining about the missing Start Button always struck me as odd. Not like you don't have a start button on your keyboard...

    • Matthew Hughes
      May 30, 2015 at 8:56 pm

      No complaints here! Sure, it's not really for me, but it's not that bad.

  8. Aaron Stackpole
    May 29, 2015 at 4:19 pm

    Hey, Microsoft still owns 30% of Apple, why wouldn't they want to do this? Ballmer was an idiot when it came to these things. Nadella, however, isn't.

    • Matthew Hughes
      May 30, 2015 at 8:56 pm

      Actually, they sold their stock in 2003! Big mistake, IMHO. If they held on to it, it'd be worth tens of billions of dollars right now.

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