The .NET announcement from Microsoft

Contrary to some of the headlines I am seeing, Microsoft did not Open Source .NET. To be fair, they didn’t claim to in the announcement, but many people seemed to misunderstand what they actually did. From the announcement:

One of the things my team has been working to enable has been the ability for .NET developers to download and browse the source code of the .NET Framework libraries, and to easily enable debugging support in them.

Today I’m excited to announce that we’ll be providing this with the .NET 3.5 and VS 2008 release later this year.

We’ll begin by offering the source code (with source file comments included) for the .NET Base Class Libraries (System, System.IO, System.Collections, System.Configuration, System.Threading, System.Net, System.Security, System.Runtime, System.Text, etc), ASP.NET (System.Web), Windows Forms (System.Windows.Forms), ADO.NET (System.Data), XML (System.Xml), and WPF (System.Windows). We’ll then be adding more libraries in the months ahead (including WCF, Workflow, and LINQ). The source code will be released under the Microsoft Reference License (MS-RL).

You’ll be able to download the .NET Framework source libraries via a standalone install (allowing you to use any text editor to browse it locally). We will also provide integrated debugging support of it within VS 2008.

Not only is the Microsoft Reference License not Open Source, it’s not even one of the three that Microsoft submitted to the OSI for potential approval. It’s a “look but don’t touch” type license. whurley puts it well:

The license indicates that developers can “see” the source code, but Microsoft’s not providing any means of copying it. If a developer finds a bug in the code, rather than fixing it themselves and submitting a patch to the community they’ll be encouraged to submit feedback via the product feedback center. They’re showing us the man behind the curtain, but we’re not allowed to speak to him in person just yet. We’re still stuck with the giant, disembodied green head. And since community involvement is essential to most open source efforts, well . . .

One has to assume that this is the first step in a broader plan. Could that plan include something similar to the JCP Java community process? We’ll see. I’d guess some people inside Microsoft had to work hard enough to get this far, so it may be a while before the next step in the plan in revealed. This brings us to the next question. If you’re an Open Source developer, should you be taking advantage of this opportunity to look under the .NET hood. Under the current license, I’d say absolutely not. I’m not a lawyer though, and this is one of those cases where you really should consult one. What, if anything, this means for Mono remains to be seen.

–jeremy

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