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The real reason Microsoft open sourced .NET

Mary Branscombe | Jan. 28, 2016
DevOps, microservices, and the shift to containers and lightweight computing environments explain a lot about Microsoft’s position on .NET, open source and Nano Server.

With its engineers involved in more than 2,000 open source projects, you’d have to agree that open source has more than a foothold at Microsoft these days. Most recently, for example, the browser team made the Chakra JavaScript engine that powers both Edge and Internet Explorer open source, for a very practical reason.

Node, the popular JavaScript runtime, currently works only with Google’s V8 JavaScript engine. With Chakra now open source, Microsoft can take the fork of Node that it created to run on Chakra and contribute it back to the project – which means developers who use Node will have the choice of using it with Edge as well as with Chrome, opening up a much bigger market for Microsoft’s browser technology.

The shift in how enterprises want to do development explains a lot about the open sourcing of .NET and ASP.NET as well. Partly, it’s to get the community involved – taking advantage of the ideas and expertise of developers who embrace open source projects. Software companies like Fog Creek and Xamarin that have written their own .NET compilers have already replaced those with Microsoft’s open source Roslyn .NET compiler.

Microsoft also wants to bring these technologies to Linux, in large part because of Azure. Running a cloud platform gives Microsoft an interest in Linux that goes far beyond the open source contributions the Windows Server team has been making to the Linux kernel so that distributions run will on its Hyper-V hypervisor. As of September 2015, more than 20 percent of the virtual machines running on Azure IaaS were Linux, and Microsoft has even persuaded Red Hat to support Azure – in addition to AWS – with its CloudForms cloud management platform.

“As we pursue our vision of the fabric and the cloud anywhere, that is as much a story about supporting Linux workloads as it is Windows workloads,” says lead architect for Windows Server, Jeffery Snover.  

“Throughout our organization, each one of the teams now have Linux teams within them,” says Snover. “We have historically had the group in Windows Server doing Linux support for Hyper-V and they have made fantastic strides there; we have fantastic network support in Technical Preview 4.” There’s already a Linux version of the PowerShell Desired State Configuration tool, to make it easier to manage Windows Server and Linux with the same tools.

“And so too,” says Snover, “the .NET team is taking .NET and making it available on Linux.”

That suits customers like the FiOS team at Verizon, which is using Linux clusters for Docker containers deployed with Mesos, to run .NET and ASP.NET 5. It makes sense that Microsoft would rather keep Verizon as a customer at least for its development platform and not just so they can sell them tools like Visual Studio. In future, when Windows Server 2016 brings support for Docker, containers and the lighter-weight Nano Server option, Microsoft has hopes of winning them back; that’s far more likely if they’ve stayed with .NET, even on Linux.


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