Microsoft opens .Net code to academics

Microsoft Corp. will allow academic researchers to view the nuts and bolts of some of the .Net source code the company will use in its wide-ranging initiative to supply applications and services over the Internet, Microsoft announced Wednesday.

More than 1 million lines of source code for .Net will be made available under Microsoft’s previously announced “Shared Source” licensing program to academic researchers in university computer-science departments. Shared source is Microsoft’s response to the open-source software movement and the growing popularity of the Linux operating system. Open-source software such as Linux typically is developed by programmers collaborating and freely sharing code updates.

Under Microsoft’s shared source license, developers have been able to view source code, but not modify it as they can with Linux. The shared-source implementation for .Net and Microsoft’s Common Language Infrastructure for academics will run on the Windows XP operating system and the open-source FreeBSD derivative of the Unix operating system.

Windows source code is also available to academics under shared source licensing, allowing noncommercial modification for academic and research purposes.

Microsoft’s source-code announcement Wednesday came as Sun Microsystems Inc. handed developers more pieces of its Java programming technology designed for building and deploying Web services, at the JavaOne Developer Conference in San Francisco. Sun Tuesday said developers will be able to submit some changes for Java under open-source licenses and receive financial support from the company for their projects.

Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., has made a number of moves recently that have been seen as a reaction to both Sun’s Java efforts and growing momentum for open-source projects. For example, Microsoft has submitted some of the underpinnings of its .Net initiative to a European standards body. Those technologies, which include the C# programming language and a component of its .Net Framework called CLI (Common Language Infrastructure), were approved as standards by the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA) in December.

Microsoft also funded an effort by software maker Corel Corp. to implement the ECMA standards and create the version of the .Net Framework for FreeBSD and testing. That implementation is what Microsoft will hand out under its latest academic deal.

“It’s useful to validate specifications as they go through standardization,” said John Montgomery, a Microsoft product manager, on why the company first created the FreeBSD version of the .Net Framework.

C#, a component-oriented programming language Microsoft developed, has been compared to Java in that, among other things, it is intended to allow developers to write code and reuse pieces of it when building various applications. CLI is the underlying technology for enabling developers to write .Net applications in more than 20 programming languages.

Microsoft’s implementation of those technologies is called the .Net Framework. The company intends to use .Net Framework as the common platform for Web services and software that link business processes together over the Internet with XML (Extensible Markup Language).

Microsoft’s new move to open up its .Net technology to academia will allow the company to gain vital feedback from engineers who are able to study the code for purposes other than making commercial technology. It is a move that is intended to expose students and researchers to Windows technology in addition to the Unix and Java programming that are also prevalent in the academic community, Montgomery said. Microsoft has been giving academics greater access to its code in the past few months, recently allowing its academic licensees to publish some Windows code in text books.

Also last month, Microsoft permitted about 150 systems integrators with partnership agreements to have saource-code access under the shared-source initiative, ostensibly to aid partners’ security analysis, troubleshooting, customization and privacy verification tasks.

In addition to the work done by Corel, various open-source efforts are under way to develop alternative versions of the .Net Framework based on the code Microsoft has submitted to ECMA. The Mono Project, lead by Miguel de Icaza, chief technology officer of Ximian Inc., has been using the ECMA standards to develop a version of .Net for Linux, Unix and the Mac OS X operating systems.

“Without Microsoft’s submissions it’s not possible to implement the technology,” for other platforms, de Icaza said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the U.S. judge overseeing the ongoing antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft ordered the company to reveal its well-guarded Windows source code to the nine states and the District of Columbia that are pursuing remedies in the case. Neither Wednesday’s announcement nor the February announcement for systems integrators mention the ongoing litigation.

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