RealTime IT News

Microsoft Makes Academic Push

Aiming to make it easier for student programmers to work with Microsoft Corp.'s platforms, the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant Wednesday released the sourced code for its ECMA Common Language Infrastructure (CLI) and C# standards through its Shared Source Initiative (SSI).

The open source community has made tremendous strides in the halls of academia, where an operating system like Linux has great appeal for students because it is free and it can be taken apart and examined. This has the potential to become a big problem for a company like Microsoft, which is generally regarded with antipathy by the open source community for its perceived ruthless business practices and the jealous guarding of its secrets -- a practice that is at loggerheads with a culture that has grown up with the mantra "information needs to be free."

A future in which generations of young programmers are brought into the Linux fold and not trained to utilize Microsoft platforms could be a disaster. To combat this problem, Microsoft created the Shared Source Initiative, a program which gives access to the Windows source code to certain customers, partners, developers and academics.

On Wednesday, the company added to the SSI by making its Shared Source CLI source code -- key technologies in Microsoft's .NET Framework -- available for download through the Shared Source licensing framework.

The company is hoping the release will help drive research into XML Web services.

"The academic community plays a critical role in the software ecosystem as the launching pad for the next generation of developers," said Eric Rudder, senior vice president of the Developer Platform and Evangelism Division at Microsoft. "Academia has delivered many breakthrough innovations through pure research. With the Shared Source CLI implementation, we hope to see great innovation around .NET technology."

Microsoft said the Shared Source CLI implementation is designed to be used for academic, research, debugging and learning purposes. It will run on FreeBSD and Microsoft Windows XP.

Microsoft submitted the specifications for C# and CLI to ECMA -- the European Association for Standardizing Information and Communications Systems -- in October 2000 and collaborated with industry leaders like Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Intel in C# and CLI technical working groups to complete the specifications. ECMA ratified the specifications in December 2001.

"The Shared Source license, while not 'open source,' is a bold experiment for Microsoft," said Tim O'Reilly, founder and president of O'Reilly & Associates Inc. "It enables the academic community to study the code and share its ideas (even if they can't use it verbatim for commercial use). We need more experiments such as this to understand what's science and what's religion when it comes to the effectiveness of different types of software licensing in spurring innovation."

The company also announced that it is offering research grants to a limited number of academics who want to use the Shared Source CLI implementation for teaching or research purposes.