.NET Developments

Jan 28 2009   5:41PM GMT

Microsoft’s open source projects may help it sell software

Yuval Shavit Profile: YuvalShavit

If you’re linking to outside JavaScript code in your Web pages, you’re probably (hopefully!) aware that there are certain security risks. Microsoft’s Scott Isaacs talked about the problem at a session at PDC 2008 and said there are essentially two ways most sites handle this threat: some ignore it and hope for the best, while others bring in IFrames — which have their own problems, like clickjacking.

The problem remains unsolved, but one approach Microsoft is trying is a new technology called Web Sandbox, which it announced at PDC. The Web Sandbox is a server-side program that retrieves outside scripts, transforms them to make them secure and embeds them directly to the HTML. You can see Isaccs’ complete talk explaining how to use Web Sandbox on Channel 9.

Which brings us to today’s news: Web Sandbox is now being released as open source, under the Apache License 2.0. What’s interesting here isn’t just that Microsoft is continuing its overtures into OSS, but that it’s continuing to do so primarily on the Web front. Two of its other major flirtations with open source have been its support of jQuery and its release of the code for its business-oriented Silverlight controls.

I don’t think anybody is accusing Microsoft of being altruistic, so I won’t bother making the case that this is an obvious example of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” But it seems to me that Microsoft’s open source strategy hinges on being open on the Web and sticking with proprietary software everywhere else. Pricing for Windows 7 hasn’t been released yet, but I’m guessing it’ll cost more than Ubuntu.

That two-pronged approach makes a lot of sense. The Internet has always been free to use, and if people aren’t going to pay for your software, you may as well give away the source. Desktops and enterprise apps, on the other hand, still provide major sources of income for software vendors.

For Microsoft to stay relevant as a software company, it has to continue to attract top developers, both to itself and to the ISVs who develop for Windows. Playing nice with OSS on the Web may help Microsoft keep up with the cool new upstarts so that it can continue to make money where there’s money to be made.

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