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Microsoft embraces open-source scripting language

Company unveils first beta of IronPython, a .Net implementation of Python, in hopes of luring programmers to Windows.

Microsoft has released a beta of its .Net port to Python.

IronPython 1.0 Beta 1, which was , is "well integrated" with the rest of the .Net programming framework and allows all .Net libraries to be "easily" accessed by Python programmers, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft's support for Python could help the software giant attract Unix developers to the Windows platform, as it is a commonly used scripting language on the Unix platform, according to Salim Fadhley, who develops Python programs for Unix.

"If Microsoft embraces Python, it could be a big draw for Unix hackers--if our favorite language was supported as a first-tier language by a major software vendor, it would be a major draw to Windows. At the moment, most Python developers hack on Mac and Linux," Fadhley said. "IronPython could be a massive landgrab by Microsoft into the domain of traditional Unix scripting."

But Microsoft isn't the only organization trying to bring .Net support to other platforms--it will have to compete with the open-source Mono project, which aims to bring .Net support to non-Microsoft operating systems including Unix.

Microsoft has not said whether it will add IronPython support to its Visual Studio tools suite, but many believe that it will. These rumors were further fueled by the news in December that software vendor ActiveState is dropping support for its Visual Python product, a Visual Studio plug-in for the scripting language.

Fadhley, who is also an open-source developer for the Plone content management system and Zope application server projects, said open-source developers are more likely to consider using Visual Studio for software development if it supported Python.

"My opinion is that it's going to appeal to open sourcers who are normally very suspicious of Microsoft. I would never normally be seen using Microsoft Visual Studio, however, this might just tip the balance away from other products, like IBM's Eclipse," Fadhley said. "But for the foreseeable future, I shall still be using Eclipse on Linux or Mac, which are very mature platforms for Python."

Microsoft has not said when the final release of IronPython 1.0 will be ready, but the project team said there are unlikely to be more than 10 beta releases.

The IronPython beta can be downloaded from the Microsoft Web site.

Ingrid Marson of Builder UK reported from London.