Achieving Vendor Lock-In Through Open Source

There seems to be a renewed interest from proprietary software vendors in the use open source to create vendor lock in.

This week, add Microsoft’s Silverlight 1.1 and Dynamic Languages Runtime to the mix alongside Adobe’s Flex SDK.

Jeff Gould argues that open source has “jumped the shark,” and that:

the magical words “open source” have come to function as the software equivalent of carbon offsets. . . . some software vendors are cleverer than others, and have learned to buy indulgences for their sinful profit-craving ways by selectively building open source components into their stack. . . . Their own software remains every bit as proprietary as the Microsoft products they compete with.

Interestingly, his argument comes the same day that Microsoft announces the Dynamic Language Runtime at MIX 07.

The DLR will enable developers to code .NET applications in Python, Ruby and other dynamic languages to come (alongside JavaScript and VisualBasic) in addition to C# and VB.NET.

Adding in Silverlight 1.1, which will be a browser plug-in, this means that “developers building browser-based applications can now use their preferred language even for client-side code.”

How does this relate to Gould’s argument? The DLR, along with IronPython and IronRuby, will be made available under the Microsoft Permissive License, which they characterize as their “BSD-style” license. (For now code is available as part of IronPython ).

What isn’t clear is what this will mean in terms of deploying applications. Silverlight so far has only been described as “cross-platform” – and a specific version of cross-platform at that. As Gavin Clarke notes in his reporting from MIX 07:

. . . while Silverlight works in Safari, Firefox, and Mac versions 10.4.8 or higher on PowerPC and Intel in addition to Internet Explorer and Windows, support for Linux and Opera – to name just two other popular alternatives – is missing, with little prospect of support coming from Microsoft

In other words, you can develop with whatever dynamic languages you like, so long as you are working on a .NET platform. You can even deploy those dynamic language applications to browsers, so long as it is IE or Firefox on windows or Safari for Mac OS X, and using the Silverlight 1.1 plugin, which itself may or may not be open source.

(Elizabeth Montalbana at IDG says here that “Microsoft will release the source code to part of its Silverlight technology at MIX 07 this week,” but the Silverlight site merely says “Microsoft will make the Silverlight browser plug-in freely available for all supported platforms.” It looks to me like some of the DLR will be under the Microsoft Permissive License, but not the Silverlight plug-in itself).

This resembles / echoes Adobe’s recent move to open source parts of the Flex SDK, and portions of the ActionScript interpreter used in the Flash plug-in, but without opening the key portions of Flex (Flex Data Services, for example) and without opening the Flash player itself. (As well as not open sourcing Apollo, though they have promised Linux support at some future date).

While I think it will be interesting for .NET based developers who want the ability to flex their Ruby or Python skills on the platform on which they arleady develop, I don’t see any vast migration of open source developers into the Redmond camp, any more than I see Adobe’s gestures in the direction of open source moving those accustomed to open source ajax frameworks and libraries.

In fact, perhaps this becomes a way to expose even more .NET developers to joys of Ruby on Rails, Slingshot and Django.

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  1. Well in the case of Silverlight there is no open source yet to be seen. In the case of Adobe the business model seems to not so clear yet either. But the approach would be:

    approach #1:
    open source the development tools, but keep the player under wraps (adobe flex)

    approach #2:
    open source the player, but keep the development tools under wraps (microsoft sliverlight?)

    Looking at how things are playing out with Flash one can see that both players and authoring is now possible in open source, though a lot less shiny and complete.

    I did not look at silverlight in detail yet, but anything that turns web applications into black boxes you cannot look into and thereby enable to do so many things the author did not intend for himself (deep linking or even niftier stuff like Greasemonkey) tries to work against what made the Internet so successful. I wouldnt hold my breath about stuff like that. The only reason for Flash to exist these days is to stream video.

  2. Thanks Lukas – you’re absolutely right about the challenge of “black box” web applications.

    I often talk about this as “integration with Web 1.0” though that’s not entirely fair, since it’s really just “integration with web standards” or “working with web expectations” or something like that.

    Having content that lives in a structured way in the DOM and is accessible programatically is part of what has made Web 2.0 possible. There is the Flash/Ajax bridge to mitigate some of those problems, but most web apps leveraging Flash don’t take the time to make it accessible in that way.

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