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Linux duo land $54m VC Xamarin cash bag

A 'pretty strong signal,' says CEO

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Two leading lights in open source and mobile have landed $54m in funding for their company.

Xamarin, founded by Nat Friedman and Miguel de Icaza in 2011, announced today that it has been awarded the cash in its third funding tranche since July 2012.

VCs have now poured a total of $82m into Xamarin, which lets devs build native mobile apps for Windows, iOS and Android using a single, shared C# code base.

Xamarin was the subject of buyout rumours by Microsoft in March. The firm has a plug-in for its tools into Visual Studio, letting you build Android, iOS and Windows apps all within Microsoft’s trademark Integrated Development Environment (IDE).

Chief executive Friedman would not comment on the acquisition rumour but told The Reg “fundraising is a pretty strong signal” the company plans to continue on its own.

Friedman claimed the $56m is the single largest round ever handed to a mobile platform maker and called it a “major milestone” for his company, which has just shy of 200 staff and claims a user community of 700,000 developers.

The cash will be used to open new sales offices in Europe, already responsible for 30-40 per cent of the company’s business, and hiring sales people.

It will also be used to extend Xamarin’s cross-platform roadmap through developments and - yes - possible acquisitions to fill gaps where necessary.

The company is already doubling the size of its engineering staff of around 100.

Friedman would not say where the Xamarin roadmap is headed, but reckoned one area of growing interest in devices is the ability for devs to access specific onboard sensors and features within them – things such as location awareness, camera, geolocation and accelerometer – rather than using generic APIs.

“What developers want is native access to the device capabilities,” Friedman said, “things like autofocus instead of lowest common denominator API to access the camera.”

Xamarin has already added the ability to build apps for Android Wear, Google Glass, Amazon FireOS and FireTV.

“We don’t think the phone and tablet are the end, be that watch or voice… we jumped to the new form factors because we do believe in that future,” Friedman said.

The idea behind Xamarin is devs can target different platforms without needing to completely re-build their apps, improving the economics of mobile for anybody from an app shop to a business with a mobile strategy.

Using Xamarin means there’s no need to use vendor-specific tools or code, so the app can run without being re-written time for each different platform or form factor.

The re-write is in the UI, with devs keeping the core of the database, back-end and workflows. Xamarin claims up to 70 per cent code re-use.

That’s important: any business with a mobile strategy The Reg has spoken to will have an iOS version of their app and version of Android.

Android makes sense, given it’s the world’s biggest smartphone platform, but for those selling goods or services, iOS matters more because it is Apple fans who spend the most online. The Android set are either cheapskates or do all their shopping on a second Apple device.

Crucially for Xamarin, the company has managed to remain neutral while working on different vendors' platforms without violating its role.

The biggest issue, pioneered by Apple and Steve Jobs, is that code must be native – not precompiled or ported.

In the Java era, we’d have called what Xamarin does "write once, run anywhere".

But Friedman reckons this is too reductive, and says Xamarin takes a different angle: “maximum portability.”

"Write once, run anywhere was overarching, you ended up with mediocre applications," he says. "Our approach is maximum portability. You still need to write platform-specific code but you have maximum portability so you have to write less.”

Xamarin looks to become another successful Friedman and De Icaza venture.

De Icaza began the GNOME Linux project in 1997 with Federico Mena and founded GNOME apps company Ximian in 1999 with Friedman. Friedman and De Icaza sold the company to Novell in 2003 and worked for the Linux company. De Icaza then began the Mono Project, a open-source version of Microsoft’s .NET that was supported by Novell. Xamarin began as a company to support Mono after Novell was bought by Attachmate. ®

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