Race To Linux a ‘Licensed’ Affair

The Race to Linux contest may also turn out to be a foot race in legal minutiae about software licenses.

Announced last month by a group called “The Code Project” and Mainsoft Corporation, the contest challenged developers to port three of Microsoft’s ASP.NET starter kits from Windows to Linux. The Race to Linux contest offered contestants the following cross-platform tools: Open source scripting language PHP , Mainsoft’s Grasshopper (a freely available plug-in to the Visual Studio .NET IDE , and SQL Server 2000) and the open source Mono project, which is sponsored by Novell.

Though Microsoft did not sponsor the contest, or endorse it in any way, it would not have been all that likely, or legally possible without Redmond’s Shared Source initiative.

After all, to port an application is one thing, but to do so in a way that can be used commercially — and legally, is quite another.

Chris Maunder, co-founder of The Code Project, a community site for .NET developers and one of the organizers of the Race to Linux, explained that the group wanted applications that were not commercial. It also wanted applications ported that are open to a developer community, which they are familiar with, and which followed best practices for the contest.

A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed for internetnews.com though that the ASP.NET Starter Kits are available under Microsoft’s Shared Source license. That license allows users to change and redistribute the code as they wish, including for commercial purposes.

Microsoft’s four-year-old Shared Source Initiative, which started by sharing source code with academia, currently includes some code aspects of Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, Windows CE 3.0, Windows CE .NET, the C#/CLI Implementations, as well as components of ASP.NET and Visual Studio .NET.

Licensing issues may well be a legitimate legal concern for developers that are looking to port or rewrite code from Windows to Linux. In Maunder’s opinion, however, developers are not as aware of licensing issues as they should be.

“There’s a lot of confusion and misinformation relating to terms such as Open Source and Free Software and developers should be very careful to read licenses before they choose to either work on software covered by a particular license, or license their own software using an existing license,” Maunder said.

Licensing concerns aside, contest sponsors stressed that the race served to highlight how certain tools can make code migration to Linux a simple and stress-free endeavor.

According to Laurence Moroney, senior architect and director of product evangelism for Mainsoft, a majority in the second and third races selected Grasshopper as their tool of choice, he added. Some of the winners used Grasshopper to successfully port a starter kit in about one hour.

“The Grasshopper winners won because porting with Grasshopper is largely invisible and in the background, handled for them by the Grasshopper binary compiler, which takes their C# or VB.NET code and recompiles it into Java Byte Code,” Moroney explained.

“The Mono winners won due to the inherently cross-platform nature of Mono,” he added. “They simply rehosted their code and recompiled the C# code using the Mono C# compiler, while preserving their existing codebase.”

And therein lies one the key lessons learned (or taught depending on point of view) from the Race to Linux, he added.

“ASP.NET code doesn’t have to be re-written to run on Linux,” Moroney said. “Mono and Grasshopper allow you to migrate your code without many changes.”

The winners:

  • Brian Hendrickson, president and lead developer of Oregon-based Megapump, using PHP and PostgreSQL to rewrite Microsoft’s Issue Tracker Starter Kit and deploy it on Linux;

  • Abishek Bellamkonda, an Australian software developer and consultant, who used Grasshopper to port the Time Tracker Starter Kit and Reports Tracker Starter Kit to Tomcat to run on Linux;

  • Ignacio de Paula, a software developer from Uruguay, who used Mono and Firebird to port Microsoft’s open source Time Tracker Starter Kit and Reports Tracker Starter Kit to Linux.

    The prize? Besides bragging rights, a Microsoft xBox 360 game cube.

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