Microsoft and .NET

It seems that David's article on Windows strategy tax on .NET lacked enough context for my actual quotes in there.

When David contacted me, he was writing a piece on the evolution of .NET and since he was speaking to Microsoft, he wanted to get feedback from other people on what we thought Microsoft got right and what they got wrong. This is how my email to David started:

Well, I am a bit of a fan of large portions of .NET, so I might not be entirely objective. You might want to also get some feedback from a sworn enemy of Microsoft, but you should get at least the statements from a sworn enemy that has tried .NET, as opposed to most people that have strong opinions but have never used it.
David said:
Given your familiarity with the framework, are there any iterative changes that you find questionable or you feel require some explanation?
There are certain areas that I do not quite like about .NET, they are not major issues as they can be either worked around or ignored (to some extent), but here are some.

And this is where the quote on Microsoft shooting the .NET ecosystem comes from, I reproduce from my email for the sake of completeness, none of this is a secret:

The most important part is that Microsoft has shot the .NET ecosystem in the foot because of the constant thread of patent infringement that they have cast on the ecosystem. Unlike the Java world that is blossoming with dozens of vibrant Java virtual machine implementations, the .NET world has suffered by this meme spread by Ballmer that they would come after people that do not license patents from them.

Sun on the other hand said from day one: we will not sue you over patent infringement if you implement your own Java. Google does something similar with their APIs and Google's Wave: they are giving everyone access to their stuff.

As the only implementor of the ECMA standards outside of Microsoft, I sure would have hoped that they had given rights to everyone to implement. They would still be the #1 stack, but it would have encouraged an ecosystem that would have innovated extensively around their platform.

Instead, people went and innovated on Java or other platforms that might not have been as advanced as .NET, but at least they were not under Microsoft threat.

Google could have used .NET, Rails could have been built on .NET, the Wikipedia and Facebook could have been built using ASP.NET.

All of those are failed opportunities. Even if the cross-language story was great, the web integration fantastic, the architecture was the right one to fit whatever flavor of a platform you wanted, people flocked elsewhere.

This is their largest mistake, and it is perhaps too late to do anything about it.

It took Microsoft eight years, a new management and a fresh set of eyes to change some of these mistakes. The veil of threats that existed over the runtime in 2001 was lifted with the Community Promise announcement but it took eight years, and those were eight years of lost opportunity and FUD directed at all things Microsoft.

I still believe that Microsoft lost a great opportunity of having .NET become the universal runtime of the net, and they could still have the best implementation. I still believe that they should put the rest of .NET under the Community Promise or OSP and even with Mono as an open source implementation, they would retain their edge.

On Innovation on other Runtimes

David quotes Ted Neward (a speaker on the .NET and Java circuits, but not an open source guy by any stretch of the imagination). Ted tried to refute my point about Java and innovation but seemed to have missed the point.

The article attributed this to Ted: "Microsoft has made an open-source CLI implementation codenamed 'Rotor' freely available, but it has had little or no uptake".

There is a very simple reason for that. Rotor was not open source and it was doomed to failure the moment it came out. When Microsoft released Rotor in 2002 or 2003 they had no idea what they were doing and basically botched the whole effort by using a proprietary license for Rotor.

Rotor's license was "look but do not touch" and prohibited commercial use of it. This is a non-starter for anyone that wants to call their software open source. Had Rotor been open source, we would have just used that instead of building Mono and we would have invested in it.

The article also gets the facts on the interest on Java virtual machines wrong. Certainly only a handful are used for large server deployments, but minor Java VMs were part of the Java culture for years. Fine-tuned versions of the JavaVM are used for all sorts of embedded scenarios and it has also been used extensively in research.

The Jikes RVM Java implementation is still an important playground for researchers where new garbage collectors, code generator technology, large memory problems, and optimization have been prototyped and tested. The open source Kaffe was the first open source JIT engine and it lead to way for many developers to explore the problems of cross platform JIT compilation, Japhar lead the way for a full open source class library stack (this became GNU class path). The Cacao open source VM explored new code generation optimizations techniques that were eventually used by other JIT engines.

In the industrial world, variations on Java were used for embedded systems, the most popular one today is Dalvik, Google's runtime for a Java-like runtime.

The list above is by no means comprehensive and the above is merely the innovation that happened in the JavaVM world. What is clear is that .NET/ECMA CLI fixed a lot of the design mistakes in Java, improved in many areas and built on the knowledge that had been gained from Java.

But my point about the ecosystem goes beyond the JVM, it is about the Java ecosystem in general vs the .NET ecosystem. Java was able to capitalize on having implementations on Linux and Unix, which accounts for more than half the web today. The Apache Foundation is a big hub for Java-based development and it grew organically.

Had Microsoft been an open company in 2001 and had embraced diversity we would live in a different world. The awesome Mono team would probably be bigger, and the existing team members would have longer vacations.

But for everyone that missed the point, luckily, Microsoft has new management, new employees that know open source, fresh new ideas, is becoming more open and is working actively on interoperability with third parties. They even launched the CodePlex Foundation.

As I told David on that interview, I am still a fan of .NET, and we are going to continue working to bring Mono everywhere where we think we could improve developer's experience. We are actively working on improving Mono on Linux, Mono for MeeGo, Mono for OSX, Mono for the PlayStation, Mono for Xbox360, Mono for the Wii, Mono for the iPhone, Mono for Android and Mono everywhere.

Just like everyone that complains about Sun's tight control over the Java development process, I have my own regarding Microsoft's development process for .NET. But that is just business as usual.

The best C# and .NET days are ahead of us.

Posted on 25 Mar 2010 by Miguel de Icaza
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