Millions of Microsoft developers are now able to build decentralized applications using the Ethereum blockchain thanks to a collaboration between the software giant and ConsenSys, announced today.
By building Ethereum's Solidity programming language for writing smart contracts directly into Mircosoft's Visual Studio platform, developers will be able to build, test and deploy decentralized applications, or dapps, within an integrated environment they already know how to use.
But don't think this is a money play for either ConsenSys, or Microsoft, at least not yet.
In a conversation with CoinDesk, CEO of ConsenSys, Joe Lubin said that growing the number of developers using the distributed ledger technology was first and foremost about reimagining social, economic and political systems.
Lubin, who is also the co-founder of Ethereum told CoinDesk:
"It's in our best interest, and in our mission, to help with the adoption of Ethereum in all its different forms -- public, private, consortium -- and this just makes that that much easier."
The ConsenSys integration with Microsoft uses smart contract programming language Solidity to let developers run programs on the Ethereum network, also called the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM). Announced today at Microsoft's Build Conference in San Francisco, the new functionality was scheduled to go live this morning at 10am EST.
With Ethereum's Solidity language, developers will be able to write applications using self-enforcing smart contracts that can theoretically execute as wide a range of business transactions as the coder can imagine.
Ethereum's cryptocurrency, ether, powers the applications, and is currently valued at about $11.60, with a market cap of over $900m. By comparison, bitcoin's market cap is $6.3bn.
The EVM transactions -- or smart contract executions as they may be more accurately called -- can then be recorded on what ConsenSys described in a statement as a "non-repudiable and authoritative" record using either the public or private versions of the Ethereum blockchain.
Ethereum's room to grow
Until recently Ethereum adoption has been slow, even if it is accelerating.
For example, the number of Ethereum repositories on GitHub, a reflection of how frequently developers are using the distributed ledger in their projects has grown at an exponential rate since January 2014, from less than 10 to about 460 by the end of 2015, according to analysis conducted by venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
Using the same methodology, we calculated that number has more than doubled to 997 repositories, in the past three months alone.
But when compared to bitcoin, where there are currently 7,647 bitcoin repositories in GitHub, there's plenty room to grow before Ethereum becomes a serious competitor.
Marley Gray, director of business development and strategy for blockchain at Microsoft thinks his company's large pool of developers could change that. As of July 2015, when Microsoft launched its most recent version of Visual Studio more than 3.2 million developers were registered on the platform, and the gallery of tools had been downloaded 13 million times in the previous year.
"This integration with Visual Studio will offer developers enterprise-grade solutions with advanced capabilities for teams working on blockchain smart contract projects of any size and complexity," Gray said in a statement.
While ConsenSys' CEO said he doesn't plan on making any money directly from the collaboration, he was clear in his conversation with CoinDesk that the effort to make it easier for developers to build dapps was no act of philanthropy.
"We at ConsenSys are a for-profit entity and we are building products on [the Ethereum] platform. We are building professional services and consulting on that platform, so it makes it so much easier for us to offer that kind of an environment to our customers and using that environment we can offer further services.
Business of Ethereum
Based in Brooklyn, New York, the self-funded ConsenSys is currently generating revenue from deals it has closed with institutional clients. ConsenSys declined to share the names of its clients.
Currently, ConsenSys employs about 70 people around the world, 30 of which are based at their headquarters in New York City, Keys said. He estimates that 80% of the staff work on a full-time basis and are compensated through a combined equity and payment structure.
"Everybody's a stakeholder," he told CoinDesk. "It just depends on when they started." Other factors that play into compensation include experience, project, and revenue generation, Keys added later.
ConsenSys also isn't sharing its specific revenue numbers. But Keys said it has no intention of being profitable anytime soon.
"We just want to keep hiring people. We're at 70 now and if we find the right people we'll hire immediately," he said.
For an idea of the growth rate the company expects, it plans to more than double the workforce by the end of 2016, employing 150 people on a full-time basis, Keys said.
ConsenSys' deal with Microsoft is a true collaboration, with neither party paying the other to be involved in any way, said Lubin.
Both companies have benefited elsewhere by working together. In November 2015, ConsenSys was the first company to join Microsoft's Azure cloud-computing service designed to let other companies experiment in a sandbox environment with the distributed ledger technology.
As a result, Microsoft was able cut out its place in the blockchain industry as one of the largest early movers, and ConsenSys earned the credibility of partnering with a $427bn publicly traded company.
The relationship, Lubin thinks, will continue thanks in no small part to today's news.
Lubin described Visual Studio to CoinDesk:
"It's one of the best software developer tools on the planet, and this [collaboration] is like adding the vocabulary to build different kinds of programs to your development repertoire."
Image via ConsenSys