How Microsoft is courting developers to grow its cloud

April 30, 2015, 12:26 AM UTC

Forget about the old Microsoft. We’re in the new Microsoft era.

At least that was the theme at the tech giant’s annual Build conference for developers on Wednesday. Whereas it once locked up its prized products—like the Windows operating system and the framework used by outside developers to build their own software—Microsoft is now bragging about how many of its products can be used on other companies’ platforms.

Are you a business whose developers are making applications for Apple’s iOS and Android? Now you can easily tweak them for Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 10 operating system.

Do you want to tap into Microsoft’s new data-crunching services but want to keep some of that information in your own data centers? Well, Microsoft’s new Azure SQL Data Warehouse—which is essentially a giant virtual dumping ground for data from which companies can then analyze—might be what you’re looking for.

Microsoft (MSFT) is promising technology and tools that are free from vendor lock-in—the dreaded term that strikes fear in the hearts of executives who worry that they won’t be able to use alternative products. In doing so, Microsoft is trying to stand out from cloud computing rivals like Amazon Web Services.

During the company’s keynote presentation, Scott Guthrie, Microsoft’s corporate vice president, showed a slide to the crowd that compared the differences between Microsoft’s new data warehouse and Amazon’s, which it introduced over two years ago. Guthrie enthused about Microsoft’s version and its ability to work on both its cloud and a company’s own data centers, a slap at Amazon’s competing service that only works on Amazon’s cloud.

This sales pitch about technology that doesn’t have to run directly on Microsoft-controlled data centers is something the company has been preaching for the past year under CEO Satya Nadella. It’s no surprise that Microsoft continued to talk it up at a conference for developers.

These days, developers prefer to build software —like what’s used by ride-sharing startup Uber— in various programming languages, tools, and infrastructure. That software can live on a company’s own data centers or the data centers of a cloud service provider.

Microsoft has realized that to attract more business to its cloud, it needs to court coders who are typically the ones in a company trying out the latest new software and database technology. These developers hate the idea of being forced to use only one tool.

By appealing to coders who want flexibility, Microsoft is hoping to gain influence within companies that they can then convince to use its cloud—which Microsoft is betting will offset the shrinking revenue of Windows, its once reliable desktop software cash cow that is now in decline.

If you needed more proof, note that Microsoft trotted out Ben Golub, the CEO of the buzzy enterprise startup Docker, on stage during the keynote. The point: To talk about how much Microsoft and Docker have been working together over the past months to make sure Docker’s container technology—which allows for faster software development and more efficient management—can run on Microsoft’s cloud as well as Windows.

Docker’s container technology has been a hit with developers, and by appearing cozy with a developer darling like Docker, Microsoft seems to be hoping it can co-opt some of the startup’s massive user base and perhaps win over more customers.

And speaking of Microsoft’s cloud, news leaked out Wednesday during the company’s developer conference that Salesforce has hired an investment bank to handle an acquisition offer from an unidentified company. Microsoft is an obvious possibility. Although Salesforce doesn’t sell the same type of networking, storage and computing capabilities as Amazon and Microsoft, it does sell a lot of software used by sales teams via its own cloud data centers.

If the speculation is correct, Microsoft could adopt Salesforce’s family of cloud software and use it to significantly beef up its cloud business as it battles with Amazon (AMZN) and Google (GOOG) for supremacy as the leader in cloud computing.

With the possible acquisition of Salesforce (CRM), it does indeed feel like the days of Microsoft being resistant to change may be over. We’ll just have to wait and see if the company is changing too fast for its own good.

For more about Microsoft and the cloud, watch this Fortune video:

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