Microsoft, Eclipse finally playing nice. What's in store?

Collaboration plan set to be unveiled tomorrow, but Microsoft likely won't open-source all of Visual Studio

Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, used last year's EclipseCon conference to criticize Microsoft's long-time lack of participation in the open-source community. Microsoft, he said, sent representatives to the conference every year who always agreed that the two camps should set up a meeting. Once the conferences ended, however, Microsoft didn't respond to Eclipse Foundation, requests to schedule a get-together, he noted.

That scenario is likely to change this year as Sam Ramji, director of Microsoft's Open Source Software Lab is slated to give a keynote speech Wednesday morning at EclipseCon 2008. This year's conference got underway Monday in San Jose.

Ramji already has confirmed that Microsoft and Eclipse are collaborating on some projects, but he declined to disclose any details of those efforts.

Milinkovich also declined to provide details of any forthcoming announcement, noting that Eclipse will leave it up to Microsoft to disclose any agreement. Microsoft did not respond to a request for comment on its Eclipse plans.

While Microsoft is unlikely to open source any core parts of its Visual Studio IDE, analysts said that the vendor could opt to offer its Visual Studio TFS (Team Foundation Server) to the community. Analysts also suggested that Microsoft may decide to work with Eclipse on its next-generation modeling language, which is slated to be part of Visual Studio 2010, code-named "Oslo."

Greg DeMichillie, an analyst at independent research firm Directions on Microsoft, said he would be "stunned" if Microsoft announced that any parts of the Visual Studio IDE would be available as open source. DeMichillie said that the company may be developing technology that would allow Eclipse plug-ins to work in Visual Studio.

"That would further establish Visual Studio as the default IDE," he noted.

DeMichillie noted that Microsoft could be announcing that it is collaborating with Eclipse in an application modeling effort during an EclipseCon session scheduled to discuss the future of Eclipse and Visual Studio 2010.

"Microsoft has been trying for the better part of the past four or five years get into application modeling," he said. "[It] has sort of been scrambling to fill out modeling as part of its product line-up. The general consensus has been that Microsoft really just doesn't believe in modeling to begin with, so most of its modeling products have been halfhearted."

Citing the effort to include a modeling language in the next generation IDE, DeMichillie said that Oslo marks a return by Microsoft to a focus on modeling. "Maybe they have a deal with Eclipse to support whatever this new modeling language is," he noted.

Jeffrey Hammond, an analyst at Forrester Research, said one obvious area for Microsoft and Eclipse to collaborate would be around TFS, which is designed to help dispersed development teams better work together.

"With Eclipse gaining share in the non-Microsoft IDE space, I often run into development shops that would like a single source control and change management solution to manage all their development assets," he said. "There no technical reason that TFS couldn't serve Eclipse developers equally as well as Visual Studio developers."

This, he noted, could lead to better consistency across development shops.

"Having two completely separate tooling stacks -- one for .Net and one for Java -- creates friction and frustration among developers," Hammond noted. "If you follow what Microsoft has already been doing with Silverlight -- making it portable across platforms -- you can imagine a scenario that opens the doors not only to '.Net anywhere', but also '.Net development anywhere.'"

But Michael Cote, an analyst with RedMonk, doubted that any relationship between Microsoft and the Eclipse community would include a direct link between the two.

"Microsoft's involvement with the open-source world has largely been around shoring up two way interoperation and platform coverage," Cote noted. "Rather than do open source or directly support the use of open source, Microsoft tends to partner with other people to do the open source work for them. I suspect that any collaboration will really be around making sure various pieces of middleware and software libraries can work together rather than using Eclipse Rich Client Platform to replace Visual Studio"

Cote added that while Microsoft constantly tries to court the open-source world, it also "manages to slip in a bad apple each time that further jaundices opens -source folks" to the company.

"While the interoperability push a few weeks back was encouraging, there was that little clause about along the lines of 'none of this applies to commercial use,' which doesn't really work out in the open-source world," Cote noted. "Hopefully, if Microsoft and the Eclipse Foundation end up being buddies, Eclipse can help Microsoft avoid such zingers in future efforts."

This story, "Microsoft, Eclipse finally playing nice. What's in store?" was originally published by Computerworld.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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