Progress Report: The Open Microsoft Developer Platform

At Visual Studio Live! on Tuesday, Microsoft's Amanda Silver offered up a state of the Microsoft development stack, noting the gains made by open sourcing its tools.

The relatively recent and continued focus on open sourcing all the components of Microsoft's development stack was the subject of Amanda Silver's Tuesday morning keynote. Speaking at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Silver opened the first full day of Visual Studio Live! with a keynote entitled, "The Open Microsoft Developer Platform."

"Rather than talk about technologies, I'd rather talk about the Microsoft open developer platform," said Silver, the partner director of program management. "I'll walk you through what's happened since I joined in 2001ish with our approach to openness. I've found it satisfying to work on development tools that we give away for free." Microsoft has been aggressively moving to provide all its development tools as open source, even components of the Windows OS.

"Our mission for Visual Studio is to provide the best-in-class tools used by any developer, period," said Silver. "Visual Studio has had tremendous momentum over last year with 2.9 million active users. When I think about why we do openness, it's so we have such a large community upon which we draw. There are more than 6,000 extensions in Visual Studio gallery and marketplace. The point is with the extensions, no matter what you're building, there's someone else building what you're going to build and has an extension to make it easier for you."

Visual Studio Live! Live-Stream/On Demand

• On Demand: Amanda Silver Keynote
• Live-Stream: Wednesday Sessions

Silver then demonstrated Microsoft's new installer for Visual Studio. "So one thing we've been working on is Project Willow. This is a new acquisition experience. I will actually install Visual Studio while speaking," she says. "You will be seeing this in a couple of weeks. It's at preview four now. One thing you see here is we've added a whole bunch of workloads that support everything you expect from Visual Studio. The core installer is 395 MB ... and the average install time is about 180 seconds."

Using the Willow installer gives you a stripped down but functional version of Visual Studio. "You can install Microsoft and other third-party components at a later point, so you can really customize what you want with this. I can actually install and run it in about 2-4 minutes. Once it launches, you get everything you'd expect from the core editor. You get the Solution Explorer. You have the core text editor."  

This lighter version of Visual Studio is also part of Microsoft's program of more frequent updates. "We've released multiple updates over the last year," says Silver. "The agility of Visual Studio has increased. We aim to update every quarter. We've also started to release micro-updates, small but critical bug fixes. We can actually fix these things every couple of days. Visual Studio Team Services is also constantly improving. Visual Studio Code has daily insider updates. So we're doing very frequent releases."

Then Silver moved on to the whole philosophy behind Microsoft's new theme of openness. "Now let's start with openness," she said. "We wanted to bring more people into the industry. Back in 2001, we planned to share .NET, not open source, but shared the source from .NET so you could look at the entire .NET code base. You could see the sources and why things exist the way they do. It gives you a look at the motivation of why .NET is the way it is."

Now, of course, .NET Core and ASP.NET Core are fully released in open source. "We decided we had to release something that was public and open source. And we did it in a way that was not Microsoft-centric," she said. "The community has been tremendously responsive. We released first on Codeplex, and now on GitHub. We do all development in the open. Even the language design meeting notes get published there."

Silver said when Microsoft first released portions of ASP.NET as open source, it also opened the gates for outside updates and patches. "We open sourced a good portion of ASP.NET in 2012. That was the first time we allowed developers from outside Microsoft to submit patches," she said. That's apparently a more complex process than one might imagine, she noted: "We needed legal clearance and IP clearance. There's a lot of overhead to managing open source."

Integration and seamless cross-platform code sharing is another big part of Microsoft's move toward openness. "We've also been working on integration of Xamarin. That's now included in every version of Visual Studio, whether Professional, Standard or Community. We took the portion of Xamarin that targets Android and made that open source. The same code will work across Windows and Xamarin without modification."

Another of the components to make it to open source is Chakra. "We brought Chakra open source in January of 2016. That's the core Javascript engine that powers Edge. We decided in the summer, and six months later it was ready. That shows you how much Microsoft has changed with respect to open source over the last couple of years. As I said, Chakra is the Javascript engine that powers edge, and that's one of the most central components of Windows itself."

Silver said thaat positioning Windows as a primary OS to drive Internet of Things (IoT) devices is the motivating factors for this. "One of the places we want to take Windows is the IoT space," she added. "If Chakra is not open source, you can't peer in and see what's going on."

Silver closed emphasizing her goal for Microsoft's new open development stack. "We want to be for any developer and any app," she said. "We want to continue to provide the most productive tooling in the industry."

The next Visual Studio Live! event is September 26-29 in Anaheim, Calif. Check here for more information.

About the Author

Lafe Low has been a technology editor and writer for more than 25 years. Most recently, he was the editor in chief of TechNet magazine. He has also held various editorial positions with Redmond magazine, CIO magazine and InfoWorld. He also launched his own magazine entitled Explore New England, and has published four editions of his guidebook The Best in Tent Camping: New England.

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