Microsoft's Radical/Revolutionary/Evolutionary Moves (Pick One!)

Microsoft's Radical/Revolutionary/Evolutionary Moves (Pick One!)

With the comforting predictability of the approach to a major new release of Visual Studio, Microsoft has made a number of big announcements in the last few weeks, culminating with ScottGu’s keynote at the Connect() developer “event” in New York. In case you’re in the U.S. and were too busy getting ready for the big Thanksgiving feast, or absolutely anywhere and have been overwhelmed with cyber-thisday and black-thatday sale promotions, here are the three main announcements:

  • Microsoft is open sourcing the .NET core server-side runtime and libraries via the .NET Foundation and have published a public dotnet/corefx repository on GitHub to host the projects. Client-side libraries like Windows Forms and WPF won’t be open sourced.

  • Microsoft has expressed total love and devotion for Linux and OSX, announcing that the company would be releasing an official distribution of the .NET Core for these operating systems. (Separately, they’ve snuggled up to iOS and Android too, as demonstrated by their release of premier versions of Office on those platforms for free before even the Windows Phone.)

  • They’ve released an extensible Visual Studio 2013 Community Edition that is free for just about anyone except developers who are employed by enterprise organizations. This edition eliminates many if not most of the limitations of the old Express editions and is equivalent to Visual Studio Professional.

You can read more at Scott Guthrie’s post, Announcing Open Source of .NET Core Framework, .NET Core Distribution for Linux/OSX, and Free Visual Studio Community Edition from November 12th. Even our own Tim Huckaby shared his thoughts about the announcements in Microsoft Hauls .NET into Open Source and Cross-Platform. Microsoft has indeed come a long way since Bill Gates’s Linux-as-cancer comments!

Also, predictably, the commentaries have flowed fast and furious since the announcements (as I add my own to the flood). Most of the ones I’ve seen have been positive, seeing these announcements as inevitable moves for Microsoft, but many frequently express regret that it took the company so long, and often blame Steve Balmer for the delay while praising new CEO Satya Nadella for so quickly making it happen.

All of this got me thinking about just how big a thing these announcements are. Are they totally radical, representing a major earth-shaking redirection for the company and its development tools that fundamentally changes their nature? Are these changes more revolutionary, moves that were inevitable but represent a major political shift in the company’s priorities and tactics? Or are they simply evolutionary, just the next phase in how Microsoft supports development to help fuel growth in the sales of Windows and Office licenses? It seems like there is strong support for each view in the development community, or at least for those who comment publicly.

I suppose the context in which a person is operating will guide one’s opinion. Those who live and breathe technologies antithetical to Microsoft’s could see it as radical since they may reason the company has largely made relatively ceremonial open source moves up to now. Or perhaps they consider it revolutionary, taking a somewhat cynical stand that it’s just politics as usual at the company; they’ve probably figured out a way to profit from open source beyond even Windows and Office license sales.

At the other end of the scale, there are probably people like me who, particularly as an ASP Insider and MVP, have seen the hard work that people like Scott Guthrie and Scott Hanselman have done over the last few years to push Microsoft in this direction. The ASP.NET team seems to have largely led the way. In this context, I see these moves as relatively more evolutionary but certainly not in the random way that evolution can appear in the natural world. No, there have most certainly been some strong forces pushing the company in these directions for years (call it the Scott-force, although there have certainly been lots of others), and these outcomes are in reaction to those forces moving and shaping an organism that is already the result of years of evolution that got it into its present state. Plus, a healthy mix of fairly random chance, stars aligning, the right phase of the Moon, and so on.

In any event, I think these moves are simply brilliant, and get back to some of the core reasons for Microsoft’s early success and growth into the dominant force it is. From its earliest days, Microsoft has supported its developers like few or no companies had before. The resulting ecosystem of applications have long fueled the growth of its biggest successes over the years.

And now, to potentially support even more legions of developers on other platforms and lay bare the development crown jewels as open source. . . my mind is in awe at where all this may lead. For Microsoft, and for software in general.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.