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Commentary: Shared source needs commitment

Microsoft has created a formal process for community involvement in technological development. Whether or not it can transform its traditionally proprietary roots will be tested.

By Mark Driver and Daryl Plummer, Gartner Analysts

Microsoft has created a formal process for community involvement in technological development. However, the software giant will likely not be able to turn over a new leaf without first transforming its traditionally proprietary roots.

See news story:
Microsoft, Corel open .Net software

Shared Development Process (SDP), Microsoft's self-described framework for industry participation, cooperation and feedback on key technology development initiatives, could be an important announcement. For one, it is an indication that Microsoft realizes it won't be able to single-handedly drive the next generation of Web service models, best practices and standards. The success of any company offering Web services will depend, in significant part, on its ability to create grassroots, critical-mass support.

In its announcement of SDP, Microsoft stated that its first project will be the definition of an extended set of its recently announced HailStorm Web services framework. HailStorm is a natural first step given the emerging nature of Web services--and the need those services have, if they are to succeed, for widespread developer and independent software company commitments. Specifically, the proposed HailStorm SDP project will provide a structure for proposals for new HailStorm extended services, the creation of working groups to develop service specifications, testing, certification and ultimately deployment of services.

Microsoft's shared-source project with Corel will be tied to the evolution of its .Net framework--the core foundation of its next-generation platform architecture as well as the cornerstone of its future products and services and "software as services" mantra. While the Hailstorm SDP will serve, in many ways, as an early test of the sharing process, the degree to which Microsoft opens the .Net framework will genuinely measure Microsoft's commitment to true "community" involvement.

So far, Microsoft has opened the door only a crack because the initiative:

• Does not include the entire .Net framework, and its appeal will be limited to academic and research circles.

• Does not clarify Microsoft's intentions to support .Net on other operating systems. Microsoft continues to shroud this issue in uncertainty.

• Shows support for the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA) process, but not enough to make C# or .Net attractive to Java developers.

SDP draws an inevitable comparison to the Java Community Process (JCP) that Sun Microsystems is championing, and which has garnered widespread industry support among Java technology companies. When compared to JCP, SDP--as articulated--is much simpler and less exhaustive.

But is SDP a serious effort by Microsoft? While SDP represents a necessary first step for Microsoft, much more work is needed to lay the technical foundations for a workable shared (i.e., community) development structure. Furthermore, and most importantly, serious cultural changes must take hold within Microsoft to fully support this effort--Microsoft has historically benefited from nearly complete control over its own technology vision.

SDP will likely be either the dawn of a new era for Microsoft or an embarrassing misstep if the software giant retrenches to its former business practices, which is the more likely scenario. Gartner recommends that developers and companies should watch this effort closely over the coming months to monitor whether Microsoft shows any signs of reverting to its former behavior. On the other hand, if Microsoft is serious about its shared-source initiative, then SDP could represent a pleasant surprise for developers, businesses and other customers.

(For related commentary on Microsoft's .Net strategy, see registration required.)

Entire contents, Copyright ? 2001 Gartner, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.