Microsoft: doomed if they don’t; doomed if they do

! Warning: this post hasn't been updated in over three years and so may contain out of date information.

Scott Guthrie announced yesterday that the final release of VS2008 would have a new feature: access to the .NET framework source code when debugging.

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The reaction though from some has been fascinating. In my view it’s a really useful feature that is long overdue and Microsoft deserved to be thanked for providing the feature and chided for taking so long in equal measure. Others go further though. Gavin Clarke, over on the Register, suggests that “Microsoft is continuing its hesitant slide towards open source by releasing .NET code under a look-but-don’t touch license.” Well maybe; but I doubt it as a “look-but-don’t touch license” makes sense as Microsoft keep control of .NET; a true open-source “take-it-and-screw-with-it” license doesn’t make sense as Microsoft could quickly lose control of .NET. At the other end of the scale, Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols in an eWeek.com article argues that “Microsoft’s so-called opening up of .NET Framework is setting a trap for open-source programmers. Open-source developers should avoid this code at all costs.” I personally think that Steven is being downright paranoid in suggesting that Microsoft are seeking to destroy the Mono project with this move.

When we see Microsoft threatening patent action against Linux on the one hand and opening up their source on the other, it is easy to invent conspiracy theories and to fear the worst. I feel the reality is simpler though. The sales and marketing aspects of Microsoft fear anything that they perceive might hurt sales, so they fear Linux and love secrecy. The developer aspects of Microsoft recognise that the software world is too big, with too many opinions, for one company to control it all and that openness leads to bigger and better things for all. Developers will be developers; marketing people will be marketing people and the paranoid will see conspiracies where really there is just normal human behaviour.