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The genius of Microsoft's Minecraft acquisition

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry | Sept. 22, 2014
Beginners will be able to start creating Minecraft worlds before graduating to the programmable environments of Kodu and Project Spark. Users will be learning complex programming skills, while building distributed event-driven applications.

Yes, in case you were wondering, there is also a business angle: Microsoft has always been a platform company. The reason why Windows has been so successful is because Microsoft was fanatical in making Windows the best platform for developers. Joel Spolsky wrote about how Microsoft had an entire team devoted to helping Lotus developers make their software work better on Windows, even as Microsoft was trying to kill Lotus with Office, and about how for literally a decade, Microsoft kept and documented a specific Windows bug that a popular piece of software used, so that the software wouldn't break. Everyone talks about sales and strong-arm tactics and marketing as the key to Microsoft's success but, historically, it was about, first, execution, and second, understanding the importance of platforms (it was, in fact, marketing, but in the noblest sense). Mocking Steve Ballmer's monkey dance was always silly, because "developers developers developers developers" is what made Microsoft into a company that earned $21 billion in profits last year. 

Microsoft hasn't been able to pull off its platform magic on mobile because it was late to the game. But Minecraft is a platform par excellence. And Microsoft got too much in the habit, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, of getting its way by bullying, and not enough of its earlier, original habit, of succeeding by working with others. Meanwhile, Minecraft succeeds entirely through the strength of its community. 

If Microsoft is going to get turned around under Satya Nadella, it is because it has learned to play well with others. In many respects, it is well on the way. Minecraft is actually a great symbol for where Microsoft needs to go.


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