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Xamarin links mobile apps with Microsoft cloud services

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Xamarin, the mobile app dev company founded by the creators of the open source Mono project, have partnered with Microsoft to bring support for Windows Azure Mobile Services to apps that are running on Android and iOS devices.

Redmond announced its Mobile Services offering in August as a quick and easy way for mobile app developers to connect their apps with cloudy backend services without doing any server-side coding.

At the time, however, the only way to write a client-side app that used the services was to use Microsoft's Mobile Services SDK, which of course meant you had to develop on Windows using Visual Studio 2012.

Even worse, the version of the SDK that Redmond made available at the Mobile Services launch could only be used to build apps based on the WinRT framework – that is, Metro-style Windows Store apps that run in Windows 8's new Start Screen UI. Not much of a user base for those, as yet.

Microsoft said it would eventually release SDKs that work with additional platforms, including Windows Phone 8, Android, iOS, and "others". What it didn't say is that it would rely on Xamarin and Mono to do it.

Xamarin co-founder Miguel De Icaza originally developed Mono – an open source implementation of Microsoft's .Net platform – while an employee at Novell. When Attachmate shut down the Mono division after acquiring Novell in 2011, however, De Icaza resurrected it as a new company, Xamarin.

Since then, Xamarin has focused mainly on using the Mono technology as a means to enable cross-platform mobile app development. While the Mono work has always been done with Microsoft's tacit approval, however, Xamarin's tools for Windows Azure Mobile Services mark a new milestone in the company's relationship with Redmond.

"While we have long enjoyed a productive relationship with Microsoft, we are excited to collaborating with Microsoft at a new level and to help Windows Azure Mobile Services and Microsoft reach additional platforms," a Xamarin rep wrote in the company's official blog on Thursday.

Xamarin's new client SDK allows developers to access the data storage and authentication features of Windows Azure Mobile Services from Mono-based applications in the same way they would using Microsoft's Windows-based SDK. Because Mono is portable to a variety of platforms and Mono apps are written in C#, the same Mobile Services client code will work seamlessly across Android, iOS, and Windows apps.

There is one catch, however. Xamarin's Mobile Services client SDK can be downloaded for free from GitHub, and it's licensed under the permissive Apache open source license. To use it, however, developers must also have Xamarin's MonoTouch for iOS or Mono for Android installed – both of which are commercial products. Pricing for either one starts at $399. ®

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