Microsoft made a couple of announcements last week that are designed to win it new friends in the battle for the hearts and minds of the developer community and beyond.
DreamSpark is a college and high-school initiative that will reach out to students on a global basis and give them free access to the higher level development tools (the Professional editions, in contrast with the low cost, lower feature set Express editions) that will encompass: Visual Studio Professional 2008; Expression Studio; SQL Server 2005 Developer Edition; and Windows Server, Standard Edition.
This was followed with the announcement of new interoperability principles and actions that will impact the IT community from developers and partners to customers and competitors.
First, DreamSpark follows on from existing Microsoft initiatives of attracting students to the .NET and Office platforms through student editions, but now the emphasis is on nurturing future .NET-based businesses by targeting college students with higher-end tools.
Many web-based start-ups follow the rule of adopting open source software for the simple reason that upfront costs weigh heavily on budding companies. Microsoft makes clear its hope that students trained on free .NET tools will choose to launch web start-ups on .NET and follow through with commercial licenses when the business prospers.
The interoperability initiative spans four principles that will affect Windows Vista, the .NET Framework, Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007, and Office SharePoint Server 2007, and future versions of all of these.
The principles cover open APIs, access to Microsoft inter-product communication protocols, enabling portability of user data input into Microsoft products, and information on Microsoft's implementation of interoperability standards.
The new interoperability openness makes sense for Microsoft on two grounds: there is the immediate headache from the European Union and its ruling against the company for anti-competitive practices - this news should prove compliance with the EU judgments, but it also ensures that Microsoft plays its part in the new service oriented architecture culture.
This is certainly a benefit point for SOA adopters in that it is causing vendors to open up if they want their products to fully participate in the new services environment. Unlike previous IT waves where IT players attempted to lock-in and silo customers to their platforms, SOA by its very nature is about reversing this trend - one can argue this move was inevitable and the EU ruling made it an open-and-shut case.
There is also a promise that OSS developers will not be sued for distributing implementations of the newly opened protocols. This again is a welcome reversal by Microsoft and recognition of the part that OSS plays today in IT. The timetable for this initiative indicates the end of June 2008 for releasing the said information.
The DreamSpark initiative will undoubtedly attract take-up and is Microsoft's countermeasure to the in-roads that OSS development tools are making today.
The inclusion of Expression Studio in DreamSpark will in particular appeal to web developers. However, the next battle lines will be drawn around application lifecycle management tools, which are yet to enter into the mass market (and Microsoft's stake in this field, Team Foundation Server, is tellingly not part of DreamSpark), and business analyst oriented, non-programmer development tools - OSS is currently weak in these areas and vendors will seek to earn premiums. It is also an opportunity for the next wave of OSS development tools.