MIX - Microsoft cited for open efforts, eyes Eclipse

Microsoft to collaborate with open-source Eclipse Foundation projects

Microsoft received plaudits and criticism for its openness efforts at the MIX08 event this week with a Microsoft official also citing an overture toward the Eclipse Foundation for open-source tooling.

During a panel session, officials from Microsoft, Mozilla, and Microsoft business partner Zend Technologies debated issues ranging from patents to open source and the planned Linux version of Microsoft's Silverlight multimedia plug-in technology, called Moonlight. Novell plans to release Moonlight in June, although a beta release already has been available.

Microsoft's Sam Ramji, director of open source and Linux strategy, said after the session that in two weeks, Microsoft will reveal plans to collaborate with open-source Eclipse Foundation projects. Those details are to be aired at the EclipseCon conference in California on March 19. Microsoft has been one of the industry's few holdouts from Eclipse participation. (The foundation declined to comment afterward.)

"I think Microsoft has made tremendous progress," in becoming open, said Andi Gutmans, CTO at Zend Technologies, which offers software for running PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) applications on Windows platforms.

"Microsoft's business was built out of open APIs," Ramji said. But in the last decade, the bar in open source has been raised beyond open APIs, he said. (Separate from Tuesday's panel session, Microsoft offered on Monday Silverlight 2 controls via open source; these controls provide different capabilities for developers.)

Ramji also noted the company's recent decision to open access to various Microsoft technologies. "Obviously, we did announce the interoperability commitment that the company has made in opening the specifications," he said. The company also has made moves to work better with Firefox. "Piece by piece, I think we're transitioning to [increasingly] support open development," Ramji said.

But questions were raised about Novell's arrangement with Microsoft pertaining to Moonlight. Novell's Miguel de Icaza, a Novell vice president in charge of the open-source Moonlight project, said Novell gets access to the regression test suite and codecs from Microsoft as well as to technical people inside Microsoft.

Novell has a patent covenant with Microsoft pertaining to Silverlight. As far as whether these covenants would be extended to third parties, that is something Microsoft would have to discuss, he said. "I wish they were different and anybody could get them, but that is not the case," de Icaza said.

Ramji said persons who download Moonlight from Novell do not have to pay for it. But Mozilla Vice President of Engineering Mike Schroepfer raised the issue of complicated IP patent restrictions and known patents pertaining to Moonlight. De Icaza cited Microsoft's history of not suing anyone over this issue.

Schroepfer noted Mozilla's own shunning of patents. "We don't hold any patents. We don't have any form of indemnification from anyone," Schroepfer said.

One of the longstanding tensions in open-source development has been the existence of patents and settling these issues, Ramji said. "[This] becomes a question of US business law," said Ramji.

Panelists also cited benefits of open development. "What open allows is someone in Mexico can meet up with someone in Boston and, by sharing a common interest, say, hey, we can build this thing together," de Icaza said.

But issues were raised about security and open source. Schroepfer said openness helps with security by enabling as many people to look at the project as well. "I think in general, having more people look at the source code is a way to bulletproof that source code," he said.

De Icaza also stressed obstacles of a pure open-source business model. "What you need to do is have a mixed strategy," and use open source as a tool," he said.

Microsoft officials also cited reasons for wanting to buy Yahoo including its personnel and assets. Microsoft has proposed acquiring Yahoo for US$44.6 billion. Gutmans stressed that Yahoo is focused on PHP. "It's really going to force a lot of PHP into Microsoft," he said.

Also at MIX08, Microsoft released a preview version of its Express Blend 2.5 interactive design tool, which is geared to work with Silverlight 2.

Move Networks at MIX08 announced plans to partner with Microsoft to enable Move's video-streaming technology to work within Silverlight. Move's technology allows for fast start times, smooth playback with no buffering, and high-quality video resolution, Move said.

Combining the Move product with Silverlight will give media companies and developers the ability to deploy online television offerings, said Move. Developers within one environment can provide unique branding and navigational elements with online video on the Internet.

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Paul Krill

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