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EclipseCon Microsoft has gone on a second date with Eclipse, this time around Windows Vista, but there's still no commitment to go steady.

Courtship, though, is part of a bigger strategy to improve the company's standing in the open source community by 2015, Microsoft said.

Sam Ramji, director of Microsoft's open source labs, announced Wednesday Microsoft will offer the Eclipse Standard Widget Toolkit project "direct" support from its engineering teams and open source software lab to help improve the technology.

The project, led by IBMer Steve Northover, is geared to help developers building Java applications on different platforms. Engineering support from Microsoft will, theoretically, help improve SWT's interoperability with the Windows Presentation Foundation. "This will give [developers] the Aero look and feel of Vista," Ramji told Reg Dev shortly after announcing the news at EclipseCon on Wednesday morning.

SWT backing is Microsoft's second endorsement of Eclipse. Engineers from Microsoft's CardSpace are already working with the Higgins Project on web single sign on.

Ramji, though, jokingly brushed aside the question of whether Microsoft would join Eclipse and why Microsoft employees aren't becoming formal SWT committers. Microsoft's strategy appears to be to work with Eclipse on a project-by-project basis to help advance Windows, without actually jumping into Eclipse.

Microsoft is evaluating support for other Eclipse projects. It is also looking at the possibility of an Eclipse project serving Silverlight, Microsoft's cross-platform and cross-browser player, possibly around the open source implementation that is called Moonlight. There are on-going talks with Eclipse, meanwhile, on a C# development environment that date from last May.

"There are others [projects] but we'll hold off until we have working technology with WPF," Ramji said.

Ramji told EclipseCon Microsoft is feeling its way, having mistakenly tried to divide the world between open source and commercial software in the past. Those who remember the use of the words "GPL" and "cancer" coming from the lips of Microsoft's upper echelons when talking about open source will know very well the world view that once prevailed at Redmond.

Ramji said Microsoft has recognized the same individuals working for commercial operations will also spend their free time serving the community, adding "not a huge percentage" of Eclipse code is used in open source products.

Microsoft now sees a business opportunity in improving Windows' interoperability with open source applications rather than simply ignoring them, in order to appeal to commercial and community developers. "We want to be the best platform for open source applications," Ramji said.

"This is the big change at Microsoft in the last few years. We are trying to figure out how to connect [with developers] and connect support for open source with ongoing business opportunity. We've seen it at Sun and IBM. Everything is connected," Ramji said.

"We are learning as we go," he said. "We are three years into a 10-year journey. By 2015 we will be there as a responsible member of the open source community."

He singled out the decision to remove the stipulation in Visual Studio's licensing that applications must target Windows, and fine tuning of Windows to PHP, MySQL and JBoss as steps Microsoft has so far taken in that journey. Future projects will tackle interoperability with Active Directory and systems instrumentation.®

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