Microsoft extends Windows 7, Azure to open source devs

Company works to boost interoperability between with Eclipse and Java

Microsoft has unveiled several open source initiatives to boost interoperability between Microsoft technologies, such as Windows 7, Windows Azure and Silverlight, and open source technologies that include the Eclipse tools platform and Java. Although the company has at times been viewed as the commercial opposite of the open source movement, these recent gestures to the open source community indicate Microsoft is willing to make moves to assist open source devotees build products that rely on Microsoft's products. Microsoft is working with Tasktop Technologies and Soyatec in projects and technologies.

"This is part of our ongoing efforts to make our products more open," says Vijay Rajagopalan, principal architect for the Microsoft interoperability strategy team.

In partnership with Eclipse solutions provider Tasktop, Microsoft is looking to enhance the developer experience of Eclipse on the newly released Windows 7 platform. Support is being extended to run the Eclipse IDE on Windows 7 and also to build Windows 7 applications.

The two companies will develop updates to the Eclipse IDE to incorporate features of Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2. The intention, according to Microsoft, is to ensure the "improved" productivity and user experience of Windows 7 will be available to developers using the Eclipse IDE, as well as to desktop applications built on the Eclipse platform.

Developers will be able to access Windows 7 functionality, such as with Jump Lists from the redesigned Windows 7 task bar. Jump Lists enable access to Eclipse-specific functions. Also, the project will extend the Eclipse Standard Widget Toolkit to integrate Windows 7 features such as task bar display of progress and search widget integration. Updates also will modernise the look and feel of Eclipse to match the Windows 7 user interface experience.

"We are working with Tasktop to improve the developer experience on Windows 7," Rajagopalan says.

Tasktop will contribute enhancements to the Eclipse that will be available under the Eclipse Public Licence for early access in the first quarter of 2010. General release is planned for the Eclipse Helios technology release train in June 2010.

Windows remains a critical platform for Eclipse users, stressed Mik Kersten, CEO of Tasktop. "Over three-quarters of Eclipse downloads are of the Windows distribution," he says.

"This joint effort between Tasktop and Microsoft is going to bring those new enhancements in Windows 7 into the hands of Eclipse IDE users," Kersten says.

Microsoft also now has an open source plug-in, called Windows Azure Tools for Eclipse, to give PHP developers more flexibility in developing web applications for the Windows Azure cloud platform. The plug-in, available as a free download, features wizards and utilities for writing, debugging and deploying PHP applications to Azure.

"Essentially, it's an open source plugin that will enable PHP developers using Eclipse to create PHP web applications," Rajagopalan says. The technology is available for download.

The existing Windows SDK for PHP is bundled into the Eclipse PHP project through the plug-in, which also includes a Windows Azure "storage explorer" to browse data contained in Azure tables, blobs, or queues.

Despite its Eclipse endeavours, Microsoft still has no plans to join the Eclipse Foundation. "I think we'll continue to explore opportunities to work with them," Rajagopalan says. "At this stage, we haven't made any decision to join the Eclipse community."

Microsoft has also unveiled the Windows Azure SDK for Java, providing tools to help Java developers use Azure. The SDK leverages Windows Azure Storage services for storing data and offers development methods for writing web applications.

"We are releasing the Java SDK for Windows Azure, so that Java developers who are running on-premise applications or other cloud applications can [also] use Azure storage," says Rajagopalan.

Soyatec partnered with Microsoft on both Eclipse Tools for Windows Azure for PHP and Windows Azure SDK for Java. Microsoft and Soyatec also have released a 1.0 version of Eclipse Tools for Silverlight, which is a plug-in for Eclipse-based developers to build rich internet applications that leverage Silverlight. Included in the project is support for Macintosh and guidance on interoperability between Silverlight applications and Java-based web sites and web services, including REST, JSON, and other standards, Microsoft says.

A Microsoft-Soyatec road map calls for mid-2010 availability of version 2 of Eclipse Tools for Silverlight, featuring support for Silverlight 3.0 and offline application capabilities.

With its initiatives, Microsoft is reaching over to the "other side" — the open source developers, says analyst Al Hilwa of IDC. "[However,] it's a question mark" as far as how many developers will take Microsoft up on its accommodations, he says. But Microsoft's efforts are commendable, even if the company does have its own self interest in mind, he says.

"This is not a charitable organisation per se. I don't expect them to be, but the important thing is there's different ways to interpret what may be in their interest," he says. "Now, they're taking a more open view of what is in their interest."

For example, Microsoft is trying to extend adoption of Azure to Java developers, Hilwa noted. "They're saying it's not necessary that you have to be a .Net developer to take advantage of Azure," he says.

Microsoft has been campaigning in recent years to make accommodations for open source. The company cited developments such as its Windows Azure for PHP effort and Restlet Extension for ADO.Net Services to bridge Java and .Net. The company also is working with Zend, IBM and others on Simple API for Cloud Application Services, an open source project for cloud interoperability.

The company in the past, however, has irked open source devotees with endeavours like forging an intellectual property agreement with Novell pertaining to Linux.

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