The white smoke has risen from Redmond, and with the ascension of new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on Tuesday, so rise the hopes of the developer community that it depends on.
Nadella brings to the commander's chair a reputation for building community and fostering good third-party relations. While he didn't address developers directly in his first public comments as CEO, he did indicate that Microsoft was prepared to change.
As my CNET colleague Charles Cooper noted from those comments, Nadella envisions a "people-centric IT" that focuses on products and services where "the end-user gets the experience they want and IT gets the control that they want."
The developers I spoke with about Nadella say that although Nadella is a Microsoft insider -- he's held down several posts over his 22-year stint at the company -- they believe his ascension will strengthen ties to the developer community that have strayed or weakened over the past few years.
"Satya is a no-nonsense technologist with a reputation for unvarnished evaluation of situations and a no-bullshit policy," said Mark Chweh, the co-founder and chief technology officer of SweetLabs, which makes the popular alternative Windows launcher and marketplace Pokki. "This is the guy you need to actually build the Microsoft vision."
Chweh co-founder Chester Ng was equally enthusiastic for Nadella.
"It's refreshing to see Microsoft put a leader in place who actually has been a developer and built developer platforms, especially for a company like ours who has made a living helping developers on Windows," Ng said.
It's not just that Nadella is good with developers, but that he's got good relationships with the right kind of developers. Specifically, said Gary Kovacs, the former Mozilla CEO and current chief executive of security software stalwart AVG, Nadella is attuned to the Web community more so than the enterprise community.
"He's Web and cloud savvy in the way that comes from living it. It's the same as today's generation living in social media," Kovacs said.
Nadella, Microsoft, and standards: New BFFs?
One concern that developers raised almost unanimously was that there exists, for perhaps the first time in Microsoft's existence, an impetus to engage with and incorporate more open standards.
Neil Trevett, the president of the not-for-profit Khronos Group, which has encouraged open standards adoption for 14 years, is hoping that Nadella's background will improve the chances of Microsoft participating in more open standards development.
"Because of [Nadella's] technical insights into how software is built, and the fact that this is obviously a big change, hopefully some new insights and perspectives will allow Microsoft to participate in the open standards community," said Trevett.
Don't let the open standards mission statement fool you: Khronos is hardly anti-establishment. The group is supported by many major players, including AMD, ARM, Apple, Ericsson, Google, Mozilla, Nokia, Nvidia, Oracle, and Samsung -- but not Microsoft. While Trevett said that Microsoft's contributions to the development of the OpenGL computer graphics API were appreciated, he remained critical because they came late to the game.
"Microsoft raised some concerns about the security of WebGL, and those concerns were addressed," he said. "They would have been addressed faster if Microsoft had been involved from the get-go."
While acknowledging that Microsoft has a right to pursue proprietary technologies, Trevett thinks that the company would benefit from more fully joining the fray by identifying the standards groups that are relevant to their business, "and get involved," he said.
"The barriers to getting involved are very low. There are other companies at the table... it's a shame that we're missing Microsoft's input," he said.
Nadella: no mere engineer
AVG's Kovacs noted that Nadella takes a different posture than his predecessor. "He seems much more of a collaborator than he does a dictator. Hopefully, that will change the industry."
It goes with the territory for a new CEO of a company as big as Microsoft that people are long on ideas and short on specifics. But one thing's clear for Nadella: to stop developers from bolting for greener, more rewarding pastures, he must tend to once-fertile soil that to some degree has been salted.
Some of that will be tipping his hand toward collaborations. "What I don't know is [Nadella's] posture towards partnering versus building. I think galvanizing an industry will require some astute ways to partner," said Kovacs.
Whatever Nadella chooses to do, it must stabilize developer trust in Microsoft, Chweh said.
"I'm excited because this is what is needed to create the right product experiences," he said. "And maybe if Microsoft stops having seizures, we can all get back to work."