Microsoft's open source .Net still can't match open source Java

Java has a major head start, and Microsoft's limited open source strategy could be too little too late

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Microsoft's open-sourcing of server-side .Net technologies is a big step for the longtime king of proprietary desktop software. But the move itself is of limited impact, and .Net has a long way to go to catch up to open source Java, observers agree.

In detailing the .Net open-sourcing plan, Microsoft Vice President S. Somasegar, talked about .Net as an alternative to Java development. Of course, .Net has been an alternative to Java, but Microsoft is looking to build a broad base of developers by open-sourcing some of its Windows technologies. To that end, it will also offer official distributions of Net Core for Linux and Mac OS, extending .Net development to the platforms, comparable to how Java can run on multiple platforms via the Java Virtual Machine. In addition, Microsoft will provide limited patent protection as part of its strategy.

But technologists in the Java and .Net realms are not convinced. "Just open-sourcing the technology itself does not mean they're going to gain traction and build an ecosystem around it," says Arun Gupta, director for developer advocacy at Red Hat, where he is responsible for advocating JBoss Java middleware. Previously, he was a Java evangelist at Java founder Sun Microsystems.

Rob Sanfilippo, analyst at Directions on Microsoft believes that open-sourcing the .Net components will have limited benefits. ".Net core becoming open source will be helpful to certain audiences -- current .Net developers, developers working on cross-platform solutions, and some ISVs, for example -- but it won't substantively change any of Microsoft's revenue dynamics or strategic offerings." Microsoft's paid .Net offerings as part of Windows will always be the most stable and best-supported version of the framework, Sanfilippo says.

Building an ecosystem around open source .Net will take time, Gupta said. "Their intentions are good, but by the time it really becomes an alternative or a threat to Java, in my opinion, that's still a few years out."

Miko Matsumura, vice president of marketing and developer relations at data management software vendor Hazelcast, which participates in the ongoing development of Java, concurs. There is a vast scale of open source projects written Java, Matsumura says. "By starting with an open foundation, the total size of the community and diversity of open source libraries and components available in Java dwarfs those available in .Net," he notes. "So this is a first step in the right direction for Microsoft, but it has a long way to go in terms of open source community support." Java was open-sourced eight years ago.

It also remains to be seen what role the community at large plays in .Net, says Scott Sellers, CEO at JVM software vendor Azul Systems. "They really need to take it to the next level," Sellers says. "Does the community with Microsoft involvement dictate the future of .Net, or is it really just Microsoft?" Many people work on the development of Java, he says.

Microsoft's open source efforts are limited to the server, Gupta notes. The company, he says, should open up client-side technologies like Windows Presentation Foundation, Microsoft's programming model for building rich interfaces. "Where Microsoft really excels is the tooling and none of that is open source," while Java tools like Eclipse and NetBeans are open source, Gupta added.

An open source .Net will create a "clear alternative to Java" and boost Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud, Matsumura says. "Microsoft continues to retain large numbers of dedicated developers, and this will continue to fan the flames of the platform by providing .Net developers with a cross-platform runtime strategy based on open source. This move will help popularize the .Net APIs, which will help Azure."

Microsoft's changing attitudes about open source are a work in progress, analyst Al Hilwa, of IDC, says: "The company's efforts to embrace open source date back to a few years but only recently have they been willing to put bigger things in open source. Directionally, they are on the right track and the acceleration is welcome, but there is still a lot to do." Open source is now pervasive among the developer community, he says. "This is something that Microsoft cannot ignore."

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