Just before Google I/O, Microsoft is making a big pitch for developers with a high-profile announcement about a new team that will focus on building outside interest in app development on the Azure platform.

The group,  which will have a base in San Francisco, is part of the Developer and Platform Evangelism (DPE) group led by Technical Fellow John Shewchuk.  As Mary Jo Foley wrote, the new developer team is part of Microsoft’s effort to be a platform provider more so than a software purveyor.

Here’s what Shewchuk wrote recently about the effort:

We’re building out the team by adding top-notch developers and evangelists from across the industry. Two recent examples: James Whittaker – a known industry disruptor and incredible speaker joins us from Bing where he has been leading the development team making Bing knowledge available programmatically – many people may know him from his viral blog post on why he left Google for Microsoft. And Patrick Chanezon just joined us from VMware where he was driving their cloud and tools developer relations – he has a ton of expertise in the open source space which will be increasingly important given our new Azure IaaS support for Linux.

Of particular note is the hiring of Chanezon, who recently left VMware to join Microsoft as its director of enterprise evangelism. In a blog post, Chanezon puts an emphasis on Microsoft’s Azure platform and its readiness. Interestingly, he says that Azure “is more open than people think.” I take that as he and the development team have some work in growing awareness about the Azure infrastructure.

Chanezon leaves a job at VMware where he managed developer relations for Spring and Cloud Foundry. Spring and Cloud Foundry were recently spun out into a separate company called Pivotal that is positioning as a platform for data analytics and app development. Chanezon worked at Google on the Cloud Platform Advocacy Team manager before leaving for VMware.

It’s apparent that Microsoft has built a world-class development platform but getting people to use it has posed its challenges. This is in part due to Microsoft’s past focus on its insistence that developers uses Microsoft technology at every level of the stack. That attitude has shifted as symbolized in the news today and a series of announcements over the past several months related to Azure. It has launched new mobile features for iOS and Android development. In March they offered support For PhoneGap, Dropbox and Hadoop. Arguably the most strategic move came last month with the news of general availability of Active Directory on the Azure platform.

Still, Microsoft has lagged in attracting developer talent to the Azure platform.  What it needs is not just good evangelists but a deeper ecosystem that will only come if it can build credibility  in the market.

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