A blog for the enterprise open source community
Microsoft’s stance on Ajax: openness or ‘openness’?Vishwanath Venugopalan, March 23, 2007 @ 2:13 pm ET
Having worked with Microsoft’s excellent development tools while simultaneously being bombarded with harsh invective by open source advocates, who can’t view the giant as anybody other than a convicted monopolist, my position on open source is simultaneously cynical and optimistic. I don’t see any obvious moral high ground to open source, yet I strongly believe that as an economic force, it can bring considerable benefit to enterprise software market. I’ve been reading about Microsoft’s increasingly charitable stance on open source for a while now, but Brad Abrams’ recent talk about Ajax at AjaxWorld made it particularly vivid to me.
First, Microsoft announced that it was joining the OpenAjax alliance at the conference. While it is ultimately fitting that the originator of Ajax (before it was even called that) has joined a consortium to advance interoperable Ajax standards, the optimist in me saw a new openness from Microsoft at the conference. On Wednesday morning, I attended “Ajax in the Balance“, Brad Abrams’ talk at 7:30am. It was the earliest I have woken up in a while, but I felt even worse for the presenter’s body clock because he is ordinarily based in the Pacific timezone, three hours behind New York time.
After the customary recap of all of computing history, Brad went on to demonstrate development in ASP.NET Ajax (formerly codenamed ‘Atlas’) and WPF/E using Visual Studio Express Edition. All through the presentation, he kept emphasizing that Microsoft wants to bring to Ajax developers the most important lessons it has learned from the open source toolkits that are so prevalent in the Ajax universe. He said that there were three lessons of open source that Microsoft took to heart: community, the easy availability of free (as in beer) tools and a permissive license. His Web application demos during the talk were run on Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari on Windows Vista, Mac OS X and Ubuntu (no really!). He also explained how the MS-Permissive license that applies to the Microsoft Ajax Library allows one to view, modify and redistribute its source code for commercial and non-commercial purposes. The WPF/E demos were extremely well executed and drew some audible gasps from the audience. They say any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo, but I have to say I was suitably impressed.
The cynic in me was amused as to how much Brad stressed the interoperability of the platform among operating systems and browsers. Where was the old Microsoft swagger of ‘it works on IE, so it’s good enough for us’? To his credit, Brad also explained why he thought the archetypal cathedral and bazaar approaches were both too extreme for enterprise realities. All in all, I thought it was a pragmatic approach to open source; there was something in the talk to amuse both the optimist and cynic in me. With so many competing open source implementations, Ajax is one area where an open source-friendly approach from Microsoft does not seem very out of place. Let’s wait and see if any other Microsoft product areas get infected with this new openness.
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