Bill Gates Reclining on Desk

Xamarin is today announcing a partnership with Microsoft through which members of the Microsoft Development Network will receive free or discounted access to its services. The partnership is a validation of sorts for Xamarin, which updated its service in February to make it easier for developers to easily make software that can run on a variety of platforms.

Microsoft previously partnered with Corona Labs, another cross-platform development service, to add support for its Windows platforms. But where that deal is meant to encourage developers to make software for Microsoft’s operating systems, this partnership with Xamarin is meant to help those using Microsoft’s development tools make software for other platforms. And if they happen to make something for Windows Phone while they’re doing so, that’s just gravy.

There is no other way for Microsoft to position Windows Phone to developers. The operating system represents just 3.6 percent of the smartphone market, making it the last priority for developers already tasked with supporting other, more popular platforms like iOS or Android. Besides throwing money at developers, partnering with cross-platform services like Corona Labs or Xamarin is probably the best way for Microsoft to convince them that developing apps for Windows Phone is worth the effort.

As Corona Labs COO David Rangel told me in October:

We have all sorts of developers using Corona, from indies to large studios. And especially on the indie side, they want more distribution. So if they can publish to another platform with just about the same amount of work, they will. There’s no easy way to get around the fact that right now there aren’t that many apps, but Microsoft has shown that it’s not going anywhere and will continue to fight for part of the mobile market. We’ll just have to wait.

Microsoft is basically supporting services that bundle Windows Phone in with other platforms in the hopes that developers will eventually decide that supporting the platform is worth the minimal effort it would require to use one of these services.

This isn’t Microsoft partnering with a single cross-platform development company simply because it wants to put its platform on the same level as the competition; this is a systematic effort to support and improve these platforms to kill the idea that building an app for a larger platform and porting it to Windows Phone isn’t worth the hassle.