Born of the cloud: for developers Windows 8 is the ‘write stuff’

15 Sep 2011

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer: '350m Windows devices will be sold this year'

With 500,000 copies of Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system already downloaded, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says this is a time of unprecedented opportunity for developers. He would be right.

There was a moment in Ballmer’s key note yesterday where it became clear to me just how confident Microsoft is about this new forthcoming OS. It has a software development community like no other. You see, it’s easy to think the software giant that dominated the PC era is at a loss in the post-PC era because players like Google with Android and Apple with its iOS ecosystem have stolen a march on certain fronts.

But you have to realise Microsoft is a broad church. Its last OS, Windows 7, has been its most successful so far. And the term post-PC is a misnomer – there are hundreds of millions of PCs in the world right now that can be switched to Windows 8 – 500m or so, according to Ballmer.

Last night, Ballmer revealed there have already been 500,000 downloads of the new Windows 8 OS, which will make devices instant-on and capable of running on a single charge. New features include a “Metro style” user interface that is equally at home on a tablet computer or a mouse and keyboard.

“(Some) 350m Windows devices will be sold this year. No phone, tablet – nothing – on the planet, no OS on the planet will ship 350m units of anything other than Windows and that creates opportunities for developers. When we ship Windows 8, there will be an installed base of 500m PCs that can be updated to Windows 8. Hundreds of millions of people will be the target for your innovation from day one.”

What struck me most about Ballmer’s words this time around was the fact he and many others at Microsoft are realising the developer community we know of today is about to expand beyond anything we can imagine.

The write stuff

Microsoft wants to see the most loyal and longstanding members of this community benefit materially from the explosion in apps, big data, open data and cloud-based services. It then wants to broaden its church to include new categories of developers – people who develop apps for fun or as a hobby, entrepreneurs who create to build businesses and ordinary people who create something that may be of intrinsic value to others or be for the good of society.

“Big data, data as a business, business intelligence and massive analytics and new services in the cloud – all of this needs to be invented, put in the market and made available and put in as developers as we move forward.

“We are taking a look at every one of our cloud apps and asking what aspects of this app might be interesting to developers. In Office 365, we’re making SharePoint general purpose. We’re looking at making an extensible version of Bing and general purpose CRM apps from Microsoft CRM.

“The push on our cloud services through apps, Windows Live and Azure, is a fundamental part of the rethinking and re-imagining going on at Microsoft,” he said. “We’re in several businesses – phones, PCs, tablets, TV devices, cloud platforms, productivity, search, ERP and CRM. Each and every one of these groups, not just the one you heard we are redesigning … we’re retooling all of what we do.

“This is a time of unprecedented opportunity for developers,” he said.

This is where it got really interesting. Ballmer, et al, see that the development community globally is about to explode. And he’s right, we’re really very early in the development of the cloud.

“Evangelising software developers … it’s in our blood, it’s how we’re programmed and what we think about. There’s never been a better time to have software development as a core skill.

“The developer community is multiplying from the hard core developers that may be 10m people to over 100m people around the planet writing apps, and the chance to do more and profit economically is growing.

“Betting on us and the work we are doing will be an essential part of what you do.

“Some 350m Windows devices will be sold this year.”

Ballmer said developers will be able to target the data marketplace, the Windows Store: “We want you to be able to sell apps, services, content and data, single transaction or subscription, to consumers and enterprises and make money from the work you’ve done. We will be taking the cost and complexity out of deployment – so you can put your apps and services in front of customers and charge correctly. It is super important to us – you can bet on that.”

Ensuring nations can take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity

Ireland is home to some amazing software talent – but not enough of it. Policy makers have failed time and time again to bring software programming into the school curriculum, let alone resolve the ongoing maths issues.

What I gleaned from Ballmer’s words is a sense of foreboding if we fail as a country to vastly increase software development capabilities among the Irish populace.

Earlier this week, I spoke to software entrepreneur Bill Liao, co-founder of European business social network, and he pointed out that the 50 secondary teachers that graduated from a Department of Education initiative were skilled up in Scratch, a software language for under-10s. Not good enough.

Here (in Liao’s words) is the opportunity: “You are throwing all your kids at sectors like law with no job prospects at the end of it. Yet I could find work in about two seconds for anyone who can programme software. I can find work for them globally, not just here but anywhere on the planet and they could stay and live in Ireland. What other job allows you to stay in your home country and yet work globally?”

Liao is working with an 18-year-old technology entrepreneur called James Whelton (famous for hacking the iPod Nano) and they have concocted a worthy programme called the Coder Dojo that aims to get kids to teach other kids vital programming skills. A nationwide movement, the Coder Dojo is going from strength to strength.

The key now will be for a rich tapestry of skill bases to emerge, allowing thousands of young Irish developers to target all platforms with innovation, whether it’s a Facebook app, something for Windows Azure, an iPad app or a Windows 8 app for a PC or tablet. There’s also an opportunity in the open data movement, where products and services for the common good could be created based on State data being opened up to developers.

Ballmer is right. This is an unprecedented opportunity for coding talent to thrive financially in this emerging, on-demand economy. Liao is right. Entire industries could grow up here or anywhere and software goods can be sold right across the planet via the cloud.

The leaders of any country in the world today need to be formulating plans to ensure that a greater proportion of their population can write code. The jobs of the future will depend on it. As Ballmer says, you can bet on that, too.

Photo below: We were chuffed that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gave a shout out in his keynote yesterday. See video:

Steve Ballmer quotes Silicon Republic at Windows 8 Developers Conference 

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years