Is .Net Failing to Draw Venture Capital Loyalty?

Open-source software could outpace Microsoft's .Net platform, some say.

Despite Microsofts claims that its .Net platform is sprouting its own ecosystem and is undergoing substantial adoption in the industry, some say the adoption of open-source opportunities appear to outpace .Net.

Indeed, if investors are any indication, it appears that some are more apt to fund companies based on open source technology than they are to fund .Net-based opportunities.

In fact, one venture capital firm headed and run by a bunch of former Microsoft executives has cast a wary eye on investing in .Net-based companies.

Brad Silverberg, managing partner of Ignition Partners, a Bellevue, Wash.-based venture capital firm that also employs former Microsoft executives such as John Connors, former chief financial officer and chief information officer; Richard Tong; Cameron Myhrvold; Richard Fade; Jonathan Roberts; John Ludwig; and Carolyn Duffy, said he thinks the jury is still out on .Net and Ignition is waiting to invest.

Silverberg, who was a senior vice president at Microsoft and helped build the Windows franchise, including overseeing the launch of Windows 95, leading the companys early Internet efforts and leading the Office division, said: "I think .Net is still nascent in the market. And if .Net presents a good opportunity for investment we will certainly invest. Unlike my previous position, at Ignition we have no technology agenda. "

More to the point, Silverberg added: "We havent made any specific .Net investments."

However, Ignition has made investments in open source start-ups, including SourceLabs Inc., a Seattle company focused on delivering services around integrated open-source software for enterprise customers.

Silverberg said he realizes the irony of a highly successful proponent of what might be viewed as the epitome of proprietary software marketing now being an avid backer of open source, but he said he is just being practical.

"Were technology agnostic here at Ignition," Silverberg said. "So we do make investments in proprietery software companies and we make investments in open source. And our driving principle is where do we see economic opportunity and to be able to produce returns for our limited partners.

"That irony has been pointed out to me, but I think Ill just stick to the fact that were just out there to invest in companies we think are going to be successful and wherever the opportunity arises. And its clear that open source presents a tremendous opportunity for people to invest."

Silverberg said he sees a few questions Microsoft has yet to answer regarding .Net.

"One of the questions that Microsoft faces as they roll out .Net is how do other people make money investing in .Net?" Silverberg said.

"And these are tough questions. When we developed the Windows platform in the 90s, one of the keystone principles was we make money by helping other people make money—that our success was a by-product of other peoples success.

"So there was a tremendous amount of investment at Microsoft in developing the platform and supporting third parties, whether they be hardware or software. And by helping them be successful Windows itself would be successful.

"Now I think there are legitimate questions in the software development community about investing in .Net.—such as to what extent will there be overlap with Microsofts own efforts and to what extent is Microsoft creating opportunities for others as opposed to creating opportunities for itself?"

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read more about the Microsoft development communitys reaction to Microsofts request that developers do more testing of the .Net Framework.

Silverberg said he hopes Microsoft chooses the former, because, "Wed love to create more billion-dollar companies by investing in .Net."

Mike Sax, founder of Sax Software Corp., Eugene, Ore., which makes components for Windows developers, said, "Adoption has been slower than expected for sure. I personally believe thats because for developers .Net is more revolution than evolution."

As for funding, Sax said he believes "the Google approach of running on thousands of cheap Linux boxes is very attractive to VCs because its so scalable when things take off."

However, he said the Mono project to produce an open-source version of .Net "could provide the best of both—developer productivity and [reduced] time to market and cost."

Next Page: On track with expectations.