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Interview: Xamarin co-founder Miguel de Icaza goes from outcast to insider at Microsoft

SAN FRANCISCO — There was a time when Miguel de Icaza couldn’t get Microsoft to give him the time of day, let alone a keynote slot, at its software developers conference.

More than a decade ago, as the leader of the Mono project, an open-source development platform based on Microsoft’s .NET framework, de Icaza had to resort to holding his session at a separate hotel to show developers how to use .NET skills to build Linux applications.

Times have changed. Today, at Microsoft’s Build conference, de Icaza was on stage during the main keynote, demonstrating the Xamarin technologies for building mobile apps for Android and iOS using Microsoft’s C# programming language.

Microsoft recently acquired Xamarin, where de Icaza was co-founder and chief technology officer, and today the company announced that it would start offering Xamarin for free to Visual Studio users — drawing the biggest cheers of the day from the developer crowd.

GeekWire caught up with de Icaza this afternoon to talk about his transition to Microsoft insider, and what’s next for him and Xamarin inside the Redmond technology giant.

Continue reading for edited excerpts.

Given the history, what did it feel like to be on stage today?

Miguel de Icaza: The change has been coming for a while. Scott Guthrie has always been an advocate for open systems, and Scott Guthrie went from ASP.NET to the guy in charge of .NET to Silverlight to now the guy in charge of all the cloud business. He’s brought his background of open-source and heterogeneous systems with him, so it’s been gradual. It’s a slow progression. Like being a frog in the boiling water. Not the best analogy. But it feels very incremental.

Q: Microsoft has a checkered history with acquisitions. Some have gone well, and some have not. How will Xamarin do? What are you doing to try to make it a success?

De Icaza: I don’t know about the history of acquisitions at Microsoft. It is very clear that our team is excited about our mission. Our goals are very much aligned with Microsoft. We’re very much a complement. We had a chunk of the story they didn’t have, but we’re in the same ecosystem, so it was perfect.

I don’t know how the integration is going to go. I can tell you that we are very excited. I am very happy. We’re working with a team that we’ve worked with for many years. The collaboration with the .NET team goes back, even in those PDCs, there were people that we were working with. So we have a lot of friends, a lot of respect for each other, so I think it’s going to go great.

Also, I think Satya (Nadella) is a great CEO. …

I think all these acquisitions that maybe went wrong happened in a different world, in a different dimension with different dynamic. This, I think, is a perfect match.

Q: How much will the Xamarin team stay intact, vs. being absorbed into the broader .NET team. 

De Icaza:  We’re staying intact. … We’re staying where we are. Nobody’s moving. It’s business as usual for the most part for us. We just have deliverables, and we’re going to deliver them.

Q: Could you see yourself building technology for Microsoft beyond Xamarin?

De Icaza: Yes!

Q: Like what?

De Icaza: Right now, my passion is Android and iOS, but .NET has morphed, and even the Mono project has morphed since we began. Initially it was about the Linux on the desktop. Then it was Linux on the server. Then it was Moonlight. Then it was Android and iOS. Then we added game consoles. So there’s a lot to do in this space. Automating applications, making it easier for developers to learn. The potential for teaching people to code, to build great solutions with C# is immense. We’re going to keep doing those things.

Q: How did it feel to hear the cheers from the audience today (when Guthrie announced that Xamarin would be free to .NET users)? 

De Icaza: I almost cried. It was very nice. Man, that was beautiful. It was very nice.

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