Microsoft's New Running Shoes

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When Ballmer famously said, "Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches," it was fair to characterize Microsoft's approach to open source as hostile. But over time, forces within Microsoft pushed to change this attitude. Many groups inside of Microsoft continue to see the customer and business value in fostering, rather than fighting, OSS.

Under the leadership of Scott Guthrie, the ASP.NET and Azure teams were trailblazers in this area. They were not the only trailblazers, but they were influential ones. Disclaimer, I'm a former employee of these teams so I am totally objective and devoid of any bias whatsoever.

While change carved its glacial path, its pace angered some who wanted to see more movement. The prevailing metaphor that folks like Scott Hanselman and I would use was this idea of "baby steps".

Here's a snippet from a post Scott wrote five years ago when we first released ASP.NET MVC 1.0 under a permissive open source license:

These are all baby steps, but more and more folks at The Company are starting to "get it." We won't rest until we've changed the way we do business.

Here's my use of the phrase in my notes about the release a year prior.

As I mentioned before, routing is not actually a feature of MVC which is why it is not included. It will be part of the .NET Framework and thus its source will eventually be available much like the rest of the .NET Framework source. It’d be nice to include it in CodePlex, but as I like to say, baby steps.

The point we tried to impress on people is that changes in momentum of a massive object (and a 90,000 person company is quite large) takes a lot of small forces that over time sum up to a big force.

However, Microsoft's recent remarkable announcements around the next generation of ASP.NET this week have made it clear that they've dispensed with the baby steps and have put on their running shoes.

David Fowler's summarizes some of the interesting changes in the next generation of ASP.NET which I've summarized even further:

  • ASP.NET vNext builds on NuGet as unit of reference instead of assemblies.
  • Roslyn-based runtime hackable compilation model.
  • Dependency Injection from the ground up.
  • No Strong-Naming! (See this discussion for the headache strong-naming has been)

But most exciting to me is that all of this is open source, accepts contributions, and hosted on GitHub. This isn't a project that just targets .NET developer. This is a project that wants all web developers to take it seriously.

In other areas of Microsoft they released Microsoft Office for the iPad and made Windows free for small devices. It's definitely a new Microsoft.

How did this come about?

Well breathless headlines would have you believe that Satya Nadella singlehandedly built a new Microsoft in his first three months. It makes for a good story, but it's clearly wrong. It's lazy thinking.

Look at this contribution graph for Project K's Runtime.

Project KRuntime commit

The initial commit was on November 7, 2013. Satya become CEO on February 4, 2014. Now I'm no math major (oh wait! I was a math major!), but I'm pretty sure February 2014 comes after November 2013. It's apparent this had been underway for a long time before Satya became CEO.

To be clear, I don't want to take anything away from Satya's importance to the new Microsoft. While this effort didn't start under him, he does create the right climate within Microsoft for this effort to thrive. His leadership and vision sets these new efforts up for success and that's a big deal. The appointment of Satya makes Microsoft a force to be reckoned with again.

But efforts like this started in a more grass roots fashion, albeit with the support of big hitters like the Gu. In a large part, the focus on the Azure business paved the way for this to happen.

Azure provides an environment that is not limited to hosting .NET web applications. Azure makes money whether you host ASP.NET, NodeJs, or whatever. This is analogous to how the release of Office for iPad is a sign that Office will no longer help prop up Windows. Windows must live or die on its own merits.

In the same way, ASP.NET must compete on its own merits and to do so requires drastic changes.

In a follow-up post I'd love to delve a little more into the history of the ASP.NET changes and my thoughts on what this means for existing customers and backwards compatibility. If you find this sort of analysis interesting, let me know in the comments. Otherwise I'll go back to blogging about fart jokes and obscure code samples or something.

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