Microsoft to loosen reins on .NET code, snubs Linux

With its promise to selectively release source code to key pieces of its .NET software, Microsoft Corp. is seeding the academic market with its technology and thumbing its nose at Linux and Java, observers say.

Microsoft said recently it will work with Corel Corp. to build “shared source” implementations of its C# (pronounced C-sharp) programming language and the common language infrastructure (CLI), which is comparable to a Java virtual machine. Microsoft invested US$135 million in Corel last year, which was said to have rescued the company from near death.

The partnership is part of Microsoft’s Shared Source Philosophy announced in May, which provides source code but retains Microsoft’s intellectual property rights.

The implementations, which are for non-commercial use only, are designed for academic, research, debugging and learning purposes, and will be built for Windows and FreeBSD, a Berkeley Software Distribution Unix operating system for PCs. Beta version copies are expected in the first half of 2002, with shipment in the second half.

“In the advanced levels of academia this is huge because it takes leading edge stuff and makes it freely available,” said Peter O’Kelly, an analyst with the Patricia Seybold Group. “Fundamentally, this is about helping academics get into Web services faster and will get a lot of people hammering on Microsoft code.”

Microsoft officials also say they chose FreeBSD over Linux to avoid the General Public License, which governs sharing of code. Microsoft has long criticized open-source licensing.

CLI and C# are due for a vote before the full membership of the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA) in December, Microsoft officials say. ECMA is the standards body that Sun targeted in its failed attempt to standardize Java.

Microsoft hopes that the source code will provide a sample of how to build to the ECMA standard if CLI and C# are approved.

“We want to give people help to build their own commercial implementations,” said Tony Goodhew, product manager for shared source CLI at Microsoft.

But exactly what can be done with the source code is unknown because Microsoft did not release the wording for the non-commercial licence.

Microsoft said it chose to include FreeBSD to prove that the CLI could be implemented on Unix. Some Linux advocates called it another attack on their operating system.

“They are trying to help the weakest competitor in the open source field,” said Miguel de Icaza, CTO for Ximian, which is developing a graphical user interface Linux desktop. “In the long term, they want to compete against two divided platforms [Linux and FreeBSD] instead of just one Linux.”

C# is the programming language built for the .NET framework, a set of technologies for running Web services, which are chunks of reusable code that can be stitched together. The CLI is a subset of the Common Language Runtime, which lets Web services written in any of 23 languages run on Windows. However, the CLI does not include key features such as Windows Forms for creating graphical user interface client interfaces, ADO.NET for database connections and ASP.NET for dynamic Web sites.