.NET Goes Open Source
Written by Ian Elliot   
Friday, 04 April 2014

Microsoft has formed the .NET Foundation with the idea that the best future for the technology is open source. Is this a positive or a negative in the life of .NET?

It has been said that when a company is bored with a product the best way out is to open source it. It gets rid of the problem and, who knows, if enough people are taken in it might even get the applause for "doing the right thing". 




This is the cynical view of why big companies open source products, but of course there is the more generous view that it is the right thing to do because every one benefits.

Microsoft has shown itself in recent times to be quite keen on the open source idea. After years of keeping its software a commercial secret, and claiming that open source was bad for you, Microsoft has seen the light. Mind you it hasn't, as yet, open sourced Windows, not even Windows XP.

The great news from BUILD is that Microsoft and a few other companies, including Xamarin and Github, have formed the .NET Foundation. This has now become the home for 24 .NET open source projects and the jewel in the crown is the newly-announced open source Rosyln compiler.

This is no exaggeration, Rosyln is a compiler for C# and VB that runs as a service. By making it open source, with an Apache licence, Microsoft really has handed the keys to C# and Visual Basic to anyone who wants them.

This isn't a huge immediate gain for the average .NET programmer. Only programmers with the desire to modify the languages, or support then on some other platform, are instant winners. Miguel de Icaza of Xamarin already has it running under Linux, which is an amazing event. This is a Microsoft originated compiler that can run under Linux and I'm sure more platforms will follow. Indeed Xamarin has already extended the reach of .NET to iOS and Android and probably will be making good use of Roslyn in its future developments. 

If anything it is Xamarin that makes this move to open source a positive one. While Microsoft moved away from .NET and embraced C++, COM, JavaScript and anything but .NET, Xamarin kept the lights on by making it available on non-Microsoft platforms and generally pointing out to the world what a really good idea it all was. With Xamarin in the mix and with Microsoft not actually fighting against cross-platform .NET, it could be that .NET's future has been assured by this single act of open sourcing. 

When you look at the other .NET projects being managed by the .NET foundation things don't look quite as promising. 


.NET API for Hadoop WebClient .NET Compiler Platform ("Roslyn")
.NET Map Reduce API for Hadoop .NET Micro Framework
Composition (MEF2) Entity Framework
Linq to Hive MEF (Managed Extensibility Framework)
OWIN Authentication Middleware Rx (Reactive Extensions)
Web Protection Library Windows Azure .NET SDK
Windows Phone Toolkit WnsRecipe
Xamarin couchbase-lite-net Xamarin Mailkit
Xamarin Mimekit Xamarin.Auth
Xamarin.Mobile Xamarin System.Drawing


Microsoft likes to say that it has open sourced ASP.NET, but that's not really the case. It has open sourced Web Pages, the MVC and its replacement Web API, but classic Web Forms remains proprietary code.  The remainder of the projects are all sure to be dear to the heart of some programmer, but in the main look like a mix of the esoteric and niche.

It would be much more convincing if Microsoft were to open source systems that it has deprecated, such as Silverlight or XNA, or ones that it has more or less stopped work on like WPF - not to mention Windows XP (again).

So is the verdict good or bad?

The jury is still out.

Open sourcing Roslyn is a big step forward, but mostly for Xamarin and a few other companies wanting to extend .NET.

In that diversification of .NET ensures that it has a better prospect of a long and happy future. this has to be a good thing. but it would be wise not to read too much into Microsoft's motivation.

It could really be the dawn of a revitalization of .NET or it could be an easy way of passing the buck.

Let us hope this is the first sign of a new enthusiasm for the .NET project.





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Last Updated ( Friday, 04 April 2014 )