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Microsoft weighs next-phase in open-source support

Spring, PHP, and Apache sized up

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Microsoft's, shall we say, cautious engagement with open-source could mean frameworks like Spring and Hibernate are the next projects tuned to Windows.

Sam Ramji, director of the open-source development lab, in a recent interview pointed to the rise in what he called "micro frameworks" and their importance.

"It's something we have to be a lot closer to," Ramji told The Reg, noting Microsoft had held talks with the SpringSource company and "a couple of their other folks."

Ramji also hinted at deeper work in areas already visited by Microsoft, specifically in the realms of Apache and on PHP.

"There's a lot more work to do with Apache for sure. There are open-source communities like SpringSource we have to do a lot more work with - they have really rich Java and .NET sides. There's a lot more work to do with the PHP community. A lot of what we are into now is we've built up some great opportunities we can now cont to get deeper in," he said.

Ramji did not get into details.

Spring founder and SpringSource chief executive Rod Johnson separately pointed to areas for improvement between the ubiquitous Spring and Windows.

He highlighted Spring.NET, the open source application framework for .NET applications eclipsed by the main Spring open-source Java framework. "There are a number of ways we could work together to enhance that," Johnson said.

Also, improvements in the Spring Integration project on the extraction and synchronization of events and sources of data between Spring and Windows and making Spring work better with Microsoft's popular SQL Server.

"There's a good level of interoperability already, on REST and SOAP," Johnson said. "But there are things we can do that potentially go deeper around Spring. We've got a significant number of customers on Windows platforms so it's not something really I think there's a choice about."

Again, there were no specifics.

What does happen next, and how it plays out, is up to Microsoft.

The strategy so far has been tactical, with Microsoft working on specific projects and products rather than making what many would like to see: a wholesale, strategic commitment to support for open-source on Windows.

The tactical work has benefited Microsoft's Windows runtime, to stop developers building open-source applications on a PC but deploying to Linux. So, Microsoft's work in recent years has been to improve performance of PHP, MySQL, JBoss, and SugarCRM running on Windows.

It has also engaged selectively with the Eclipse Foundation. Last year saw Microsoft pledge resources to the Eclipse Standard Widget Toolkit project to help interoperability with its Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) while Microsoft also pledged funds, architectural, and technical guidance, and project management to help Eclipse4SL, a project to integrate Silverlight applications with Java applications and services.

But there are no signs Microsoft will join Eclipse. Quite the contrary, as Ramji seems to cite the sheer number of projects Microsoft could be working on.

To an extent he's right: Eclipse is a big organization. And working inside an operation - Microsoft - that's a red-meat eating, closed-source animal that sees Linux and open-source in hostile shades means that Ramji does have relatively limited resources and that those resources must be targeted.

However, Eclipse is home to number of companies that compete but that have also found it beneficial to co-operate. Eclipse is also home to Google, a company that talks the language of openness but that is shy about revealing the code running its own applications and servers.

Mike Milinkovich told The Reg he continues to work and talk with Microsoft, but that not a lot has changed since last year, meaning Microsoft remains committed to tactical engagements. "I'd love to see them do more of that [support Eclipse for Silverlight] and join Eclipse," Milinkovich said.

"Tactical engagement is the path to understanding a lot more," Ramji said of open source in general and of Eclipse in particular. "Eclipse is a pretty big and complex community. We have a ways to go before we know what do to more broadly. Although Mike Milinkovich never gets tied of pointing out we should join, I've told him, we're not ready yet."

The same selective approach is likely to happen on frameworks - in fact more so.

The frameworks arena is far more diverse and more subject to personal favorites, and with fewer stand-out leaders, than in the fields that were dominated by PHP, MySQL, JBoss and SugarCRM. And, don't forget, Microsoft does have a development framework of its own with .NET, and it's even getting into macro frameworks and runtimes with things like WPF and Silverlight.

Any decisions will likely be run through a slide rule of resources available and how much frameworks compete with Microsoft, and whether the competition is considered a good thing by corporate.

"We need to start by understanding what is the community is using and are there more things we can do as company to make the technology better, whether that just be technical support, provide MSDN licenses - often those steps," Ramji said. ®

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