Microsoft Celebrates a Year of Open Source Success

The Open Technologies Group has open sourced ASP.NET, MVC 4, and the Entity Framework, among other technologies.

A year ago, Microsoft made its biggest commitment ever to open-source software (OSS) with Microsoft Open Technologies Inc., an independent subsidiary. A year later, it's safe to say the effort has been a success.

In a complete about-face from being reluctant participants or outright hostile to OSS, as has been the case in the past, Microsoft has actually assumed a leadership role in the space. Last week, a group of Microsoft executives and open source technologists gathered in Silicon Valley to mark the anniversary. The celebration took place at the Microsoft BizSpark Lab in Mountain View, Calif., and included champagne, cake and the unveiling of a new logo.

When it was launched last April, The Microsoft Open Technologies Group was billed by the company as "one more way Microsoft will engage with the open source and standards communities." The Microsoft Interoperability Strategy team, which was managed at the time by Jean Paoli, became the group's "nucleus." Paoli, who is one of the creators of the XML specification (with Tim Bray and Michael Sperberg-McQueen), became its president. A group of Microsoft executives and open source technologists gathered in Silicon Valley last week to mark the one-year anniversary of the Open Technologies group

Paoli was on hand for the celebration, as were Paul Cotton, leader of MS Open Tech's standards team and co-chair of the W3C's HTML working group; and Gianugo Rabellino, leader of the group's evangelism team and an Apache Software Foundation member.

"Many people ask me why we are doing this," Paoli told attendees during a Q&A. "It's very simple: we are doing it so we can continue competing ... The industry expects us to be competing: Azure is expected to compete with Amazon, Google, and other public clouds; our Windows 8 devices are expected to be competing with Apple and Android. But at the same time, we are in a business where collaboration and interoperability are also expected from customers."

Paoli said MS Open Tech has been pursuing that interoperability passionately over the past year. The group's greatest achievement so far, he said, was "making it easier for [open source] developers to create applications that work [on] Microsoft platforms." The group shipped more than 50 projects since it was established, Paoli said -- projects that included "real code working with real standards organizations and real technical specs. Code you can download today and start using."

That list of accomplishments includes supporting Event Tracing for Windows (ETW) and Performance Counters on Node.js; support for Redis on Windows; an open source Android SDK for Windows; the VM Depot catalog of open source virtual machines for Azure; the Windows Azure Plugin for Eclipse with Java; and the open sourcing of ASP.NET, MVC4, and the Entity Framework, among others.

The group is also working with the W3C Pointer Events specification, which will define "events and related interfaces for handling hardware agnostic pointer input from devices like a mouse, pen, or touchscreen," the W3C website states.

In fact, MS Open Tech is as interested in supporting standards as open source, said Rabellino. "It's no longer enough just to be open," he said. "You have to have standards to be accepted in the enterprise."

Cotton characterized the group's standards efforts, which he leads, as one leg of a three-legged stool: the other two being Rabellino's evangelism activities and the work of engineering team leader Kamaljit Bath.

"We want to shift bits," he said. "We want to work with the community to do that. But as well we want to be engaged in places like the W3C, DMTF, OASIS, and ISO ... We have lots of Microsoft customers who want those standards, because as developers they want specifications they can code to that are broadly interoperable across multiple implementations ... That's a pretty important part of what Microsoft Open Tech does, because it's those specifications that allow developers to have a simpler life."

Industry analyst Rob Enderle attended the event. He said that despite some early skepticism among Microsoft watchers, Redmond's efforts to find a place in the open source world are laudable, and even acting as something of a driver in the space.

An attendee asked Paoli why it was necessary for Microsoft to create a wholly owned subsidiary to pursue its open source goals.

"Our strategies are aligned, of course," he said. "We both want more open source developers making software that runs on Windows. But because we are separate entities, [MS Open Tech] can be more agile. When you are 70 people, you go faster from a pure execution point of view."

"We are proud of the fact that when we go to a community, we actually work with them and they accept us like any other developer that comes and wants to write code," he added. "We just speak code. If the code is good, it works; if not, it doesn't."

Microsoft's PR team was allowed to acknowledge the seeming contradiction of the world's largest maker of proprietary software investing in open source in the event invitation, which noted the "unlikely pairing," but one that found success akin to "chocolate and peanut butter" and "cats and the Internet."

The group's new logo, a colorful representation of a bridge, was reportedly completed and approved just minutes before the party started.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].

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