The software giant said it has enlisted Corel to build shared-source-code versions of Microsoft's C# language and associated programming components called the Common Language Infrastructure (CLI). This software, which Microsoft hopes will become a standard used more widely than just with Windows, underpins the Microsoft.Net software-as-a-service strategy.
The companies will produce two versions of this software that researchers and others may scrutinize and put to noncommercial use, said Tony Goodhew, product manager in charge of marketing the software. One version will run on Windows; the other, with Corel's help, on the FreeBSD version of Unix.
The software, to be released in a beta trial version in the first half of 2002 and a full version in the second half, is the first example of Microsoft's shared-source plan that compromises between Microsoft's proprietary methods and the comparatively unconstrained sharing that characterizes the open-source movement.
Microsoft and Corel will work together to build a shared-source version of C# (pronounced "see-sharp"), a Java-like programming language Microsoft introduced with Visual Studio.Net and the CLI, which lets programs written in C# or other languages run on operating systems other than Windows.
"Anyone who wants to sign up will be able to get it, build their own implementations and deploy stuff, as long as it's in a noncommercial sense," Goodhew said.
The move was motivated not just by Microsoft's hope to spur developer interest in the foundations of Microsoft.Net but also to demonstrate that Microsoft is committed to the standardization of the Microsoft.Net foundation, Goodhew said. In other words, Microsoft is trying to position Microsoft.Net as being based on a neutral technology.
The work with Corel is the result of a $135 million investment Microsoft made in Corel in October, Goodhew said. Though that investment paved the way for a Corel contract that could bring Microsoft.Net software to Unix clone Linux, Microsoft opted for FreeBSD instead.
But if Microsoft truly wanted to spread Microsoft.Net software beyond Windows, it would have done better to choose Linux, which is in more widespread use than FreeBSD, said Miguel de Icaza, chief technology officer of Linux software maker Ximian.
"I think it would have made more sense to (get) this stuff working for Solaris and Linux," said de Icaza, who describes himself as a fan of the Microsoft.Net technology. But he noted that since FreeBSD and Linux are so similar, "porting the BSD version to Linux would be trivial."
Through .Net, Microsoft envisions making software available over the Internet as a service, whether to PCs, Web tablets, handheld devices or cell phones.
Gartner analysts Mark Driver and Daryl Plummer say 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.
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates told CNET News.com last week that while he has no objection to open-source development efforts, he is concerned about the "Pac-Man-like nature" of the license that governs the distribution of such software.
Craig Mundie, senior vice president of advanced strategies at Microsoft, has spearheaded the attack against open source while advocating a shared-source approach. He unleashed his assault last month during a talk at New York University's Stern School of Business.
"This shared-source implementation of these standards demonstrates Microsoft's commitment to open standards in .Net and will provide a native Extensible Markup Language (XML) Web-services programming environment across operating systems," he said in a statement released Wednesday.
Microsoft's investment in Corel helped keep the Canadian company from running out of cash. Corel sells business applications and created a version of the Linux operating system that it later decided to sell off.
Some analysts have speculated that Microsoft will use its relationship with Corel to forge a strategy for expanding Microsoft.Net to Linux. As part of the terms of the Microsoft investment, Corel executives said their company would agree to port the Microsoft.Net framework technologies to Linux if Microsoft desired. Neither Microsoft nor Corel has been willing to comment on whether Microsoft is interested in exercising this option, however.
"By selecting Corel to assist with this initiative, Microsoft is recognizing our development strengths, particularly in the multi-platform arena, as well as our demonstrated commitment to open standards," Rene Schmidt, Corel's chief technology officer, said in a statement. "The combined strengths of our development teams will help lay the building blocks for the next generation of Internet technologies."