Does Windows cost Microsoft opportunities?
By David Worthington
March 17, 2010 —
The evolution of the .NET Framework has won new users to the platform, and drawn its share of criticism from those who think Microsoft’s stewardship has often been off-target.
Among the critics is Novell vice president Miguel de Icaza, who said .NET's focus on Windows has come at the expense of opportunities for Microsoft, and its desire to guard its intellectual property is an impediment on the platform.
"Microsoft has shot the .NET ecosystem in the foot because of the constant threat of patent infringement that they have cast on the ecosystem," he said.
"Unlike the Java world that is blossoming with dozens of vibrant Java Virtual Machine implementations, the .NET world has suffered by this meme spread by [Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer] that they would come after people that do not license patents from them."
In practice, the Java community only uses two or three JVMs (IBM's, JRockit, and OpenJDK from Sun), while others are research efforts or smaller-scale open-source projects, said author and consultant Ted Neward. "Virtual machines are not something the open-source community seems to want to experiment with."
Microsoft submitted the Common Language Infrastructure (CLI) specification to ECMA International, which ratified it in 2001. Microsoft built technologies on top of the specification as .NET evolved.
Microsoft has made an open-source CLI implementation codenamed "Rotor" freely available, but it has had little or no uptake, Neward noted.
However, Mono remains the only implementer of the ECMA CLI specification outside of Microsoft, and that is a testament to the legal uncertainty surrounding some aspects of .NET due to Microsoft's statements about open-source software, de Icaza said.
"[Microsoft] would still be the No. 1 stack, but it would have encouraged an ecosystem that would have innovated extensively around their platform," he added.
Facebook, Google, Ruby on Rails and Wikipedia could have been built using .NET, de Icaza claimed. "All of those are failed opportunities. Even if the cross-language story was great, the Web integration fantastic, the architecture was the right one to fit whatever flavor of a platform you wanted, people flocked elsewhere."
"To say that Google could have used .NET is to undervalue both Google and .NET. Google creates value from things like distributed MapReduce and a brand-new system-level programming with concurrent coroutines," said Larry O'Brien, an independent analyst and consultant who writes the Windows & .NET column for SD Times. ".NET creates value from a fantastic IDE, great mainstream languages, and well-executed technologies like Silverlight, LINQ and the DLR [Dynamic Language Runtime]."
Despite the criticisms, customers are "making bets on .NET" all the time, said Brandon Watson, director of product management for Microsoft's development platforms. "The fact that we didn't get Google—I'll cry a little, but not a lot. I'm not certain that Google wouldn't have taken a bet on philosophy, wanting to beat us."
Further, developers can build languages on top of .NET 4.0's dynamic language runtime, which supports both Python and Ruby, Watson said. But it's the addition of new technologies on top of the ECMA specification, such as the DLR, that de Icaza believes impedes the CLI's adoption.
Microsoft's submission to ECMA has remained at a "core level," de Icaza claimed. "It never went into other areas like server APIs, GUI APIs, or even updating some of the core to include LINQ, the DLR and many others."
While it may not always submit everything it creates to ECMA, Microsoft is committed to standards as a company, specifically and especially as they relate to developers, Watson said. "Innovation doesn't happen in standards bodies, and customer demand doesn't slow down for standards bodies."
LINQ was just introduced in 2007, and Microsoft has iterated on it, Watson added. "C# 3.0 just came out, and WCF [Windows Communication Foundation] is compliant with standard network bindings."
Microsoft has also made some of its associated intellectual property, including XAML and its ASP.NET AJAX library, available under its Open Specification Promise or open-source licenses.
The OSP is an irrevocable promise by Microsoft to not assert its intellectual property rights for covered technologies.
(Note: This is a repost of an original article from the SD Times, which mysteriously vanished from the publisher's site soon after release)