Microsoft Takes First Steps Toward Eclipse Support

Microsoft has added another nickel to its open source credibility bank this week with the announcement of its first collaboration with the Eclipse Foundation.

The world's largest proprietary software maker and the non-profit host of the open source Eclipse project will work together to allow the Eclipse Standard Widget Toolkit (SWT) to use Microsoft's Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), according to Sam Ramji, director of Microsoft's Open Source Software Lab.

Ramji made the announcement during his keynote presentation at EclipseCon 2008, underway this week in Santa Clara, Calif. He said SWT on WPF will make it easier for Java developers to write applications with the look and feel of native Windows apps.

"We found that there was little interest in being able to use Java to write native Windows applications that really use the power of the rendering capabilities of Windows Vista," Ramji told attendees. He added that the goal of the collaboration is to provide "a first-class authoring experience for Java developers."

This is Microsoft's first one-on-one with Eclipse, but it's not the company's first open source initiative, Ramji pointed out. That list includes, among others, Redmond's collaboration with Zend Technologies to optimize PHP on Windows, its agreement to provide documentation on Windows APIs to the Samba project, its efforts to tune Apache for Windows Server, its work with CollabNet on Subversion for Windows, and its integration of MySQL with Visual Studio. He also pointed to the more than 200 projects currently hosted on Microsoft's CodePlex open source hosting site.

"You're seeing a change in the company culture when [Microsoft CEO] Steve Ballmer talks about how good it is to have PHP applications running on Windows," Ramji said.

Anticipating skepticism about Microsoft's relatively recent conversion from chief FUD pusher to cautious supporter of open source software, Ramji gave attendees the same argument he presents to doubters in his own company. "When I want to open eyes," he said, "I say this: We make exactly the same revenue from an open source application as we do from a closed-source application: zero dollars. When SAP ships software on Windows, they don't send us any money for the SAP license. Our entire opportunity is in platforms. We make money by being a better platform to run applications on. We're the layer underneath. We're the batteries included."

He added, "Why is Microsoft investing in open source? Because we want to be the best platform for developing open source applications...We're seeing a lot of open source software written on top of Windows...It's a huge, sustainable market opportunity being the infrastructure of open source developers."

Ramji dodged a question from the audience about whether Microsoft will become an Eclipse Foundation member. The company is still not a member and, in fact, will not be supplying committers to the SWT-WPF integration initiative. The company's engineers will work with project committers, Ramji said.

Conference attendees were doubtful about Microsoft's budding relationship with the Eclipse community. "I don't believe they really get it," said software architect Jim Mackin. "They can't ignore open source -- they can't ignore the shift in the industry -- but they're still working under the old model. They still need to own and control the software. He [Ramji] gets it, but Microsoft as a company is behind the markets and culture in this regard."

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance journalist and author based in Palo Alto, CA.

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