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Q&A with Shaun Walker: Welcome to Bat Country

"We can't stop here. This is bat country!"

Few lines of prose not written by Douglas Adams have made me laugh out loud the way this brilliant scene from Hunter S. Thompson did. The quote, of course, comes from the epic desert driving scene in Thompson's novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The author and his attorney are barreling down a desert highway, so pumped full of drugs and chemicals that the author begins hallucinating badly.

I thought of this moment, remarkably enough, while talking with Shaun Walker, the creator of the popular DotNetNuke open source Web application framework for .NET. Back in 2001, Walker had started tinkering with a Microsoft sample application, called the IBuySpy Portal, designed to illustrate to developers the value of the then-nascent .NET Framework.

Walker shared his work -- which he called the IBuySpy Workshop -- with other developers on the ASP.NET community forums, quickly drawing an active following. It became clear to Walker, and to Microsoft, that he was onto something big.

"I released the original IBuySpy Workshop on Christmas Eve 2002. Within a couple weeks, there were 5,000 downloads," Walker recalled. "I realized, 'Oh, there is really a need for this kind of application here.'"

Three months later, Walker was in Redmond, meeting face-to-face with Scott Guthrie, who's now the corporate vice president of Microsoft's .NET Developer Division (DevDiv). That meeting, five years ago, illustrates that Microsoft is no stranger to leveraging open source development.

"The DevDiv division at Microsoft is very open, and specifically Scott Guthrie is very innovative and kind of visionary when it comes to emerging software development trends," said Walker, who recalled that Guthrie was working hard to build "a larger, more loyal, more passionate developer community around the .NET platform."

The message to Walker in 2003 was clear: Bats or no bats, we can't stop here.

Today, DotNetNuke is the largest open source project for the Windows platform, and among the most popular open source projects on any platform. Walker credits the active partnership with Microsoft's DevDiv group for helping keep his project rolling. But he's ambivalent about Microsoft's treatment of .NET open source developers overall.

"Microsoft has a lot of divisions in the company and I think each division treats open source differently," he said, describing Sam Ramji's Open Source Software Lab group as "a marketing division" that seems to ignore .NET-based OSS developers while working overtime to lure Linux projects to Windows.

By the same token, Walker noted, the Office division responsible for SharePoint development seems to largely ignore DotNetNuke, despite its competitive threat in the arena of Web publishing, collaboration and document management.

Walker's experience is enlightening. As Microsoft struggles to adapt to open source development, services-based software and cloud computing, it's important to keep in mind that Redmond is no monolith. Far from it, the company can be stubbornly, frustratingly, diverse.

"I don't think we're being treated as a threat," Walker said. "We're being ignored. Embraced by some, ignored by others."

Posted by Michael Desmond on 07/22/2008 at 1:15 PM

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