Those loud thuds you heard earlier this month were jaws hitting the floor all over Microsofts corporate campus. The Free Software Foundations announcement that it plans to back Microsofts .Net efforts by creating Unix versions of the .Net development environment and authentication services had to be about as expected in Redmond as a midsummer freeze.
Its certainly bizarre to see the torchbearer organization for the free software movement align itself with a company many in that movement see as evil incarnate, but perhaps Faust will get the better of "Microsofteles," if you will, this time. Talk about embrace and extend!
With this announcement, the FSF becomes the first organization, other than Microsoft, to commit to creating a .Net platform, putting Microsoft on notice that the .Net environment isnt Windows-only.
Given Microsofts legal battles, its unlikely the company will try to thwart such an effort. In fact, Microsoft officials welcomed this ringing endorsement of the technical attractiveness of .Net. "That was high praise from a little bit of an unexpected source. ... Were definitely happy its happening. Well be very willing to compete on implementation. We love doing that," said Microsofts David Stutz, group program manager for the Shared Source CLI implementation.
Whatever the politics involved, IT stands to gain by having greater choice as well as platform flexibility. The free software .Net components might usher in a new era of Windows/Unix interoperability, letting .Net programs, which are compiled to a portable, intermediate format just as Java programs are, run as is on Linux, Solaris and other Unix variants.
Microsoft hasnt released the licensing terms for .Net yet (that will happen in December after an ECMA vote), but the company has committed to doing so on a "reasonable and nondiscriminatory basis" and free of royalties. We call on Microsoft to stick to that pledge and do whats necessary to let the FSF, as well as anyone else, use those standards in an open and competitive way.
Microsoft got deserved kudos from us in this space when it submitted the .Net framework specifications to the ECMA standards body, something Sun wouldnt do with Java. We continue to be gratified to see the standards process do its job of helping level the playing field. Open standards mean IT buyers are able to choose technology on the basis of implementation quality, not vendor lock-in.
If .Net turns out to be the enterprise IT success Microsoft hopes it will be, strong Unix support will be a critical factor. And Microsoft, along with corporate IT, will have the FSF to thank.