Microsoft adds toolkit to open-source list

Microsoft Corp. this week released its Windows Template Library (WTL) technology under an open-source license, marking the second time the company has turned one of its projects over to the development site.

WTL is a toolkit for developing lightweight Windows applications. It’s always been an under-the-radar project for Microsoft, a little-publicized and barely documented alternative to the Microsoft Foundation Classes (MFC) toolkit. Those programmers who use WTL tend to be enthusiastic about it, and it was their requests that led Microsoft to release WTL as an open-source project, according to Jason Matusow, the manager of Microsoft’s Shared Source Initiative.

“The last time WTL was released we had 90,000 downloads. We were hearing from the community that they really wanted the ability to get in and fix and improve WTL,” Matusow said. “They had expressed concern that we had not been putting forward the resources they would like to see attached to this technology.”

Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft has been backing down on its traditionally hostile stance about allowing others access to its code. It’s still no fan of Linux and the GNU Public License (GPL), but it’s been stepping up its Shared Source Initiative and taking cautious steps toward giving programmers more open access to code for its development tools. Last month, Microsoft turned to open-source project host for its release of a tool-set called WiX, for building Windows installation packages.

WiX and WTL both were released under the Common Public License (CPL), a license developed by IBM Corp. that does not require derivative works to be freely released, as the GPL does.

“We think it’s a well-written license,” Matusow said. He also said Microsoft has been happy with its experience working with and will consider the development site for future open-source releases.

“It depends on where a project best fits. If we did a .Net-related project, we’d make use of .Net workspaces,” he said.

Microsoft has previously released the WTL code. It first appeared several years ago on the Microsoft Developer Network, a subscription service for programmers offering content, code and product previews. This week’s release marks the first time WTL code has been available with modification and redistribution rights.

One developer who has worked with WTL, independent consultant and author Scott Robert Ladd, said he recommends the toolkit and is happy to see it available more publicly.

“It has not been something that they’ve promoted in any way,” he said. “It’s been one of those things that, if you program Windows, you’d come across. It didn’t have any real documentation — it was ‘here’s the code, take a look and figure it out.’ It was very much like an open-source project, except not freely available.”

Ladd, who is based in Clearwater, Fla., said he hasn’t used WTL in a while as he’s been doing less Windows work, but he prefers WTL as a smaller, faster alternative to MFC.

“MFC is a big, bloated library that’s not well designed,” he said. “WTL was developed internally for people at Microsoft. It’s small and fast. If you’re going to write pure C++ code, I recommend people go with WTL.”

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