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Thoughts on Microsoft History and OSS

Friday, April 23rd, 2010.

open sourceIt’s coming on 4 years now that I’ve been running NServiceBus. How the time flies. As it has worked its way into the critical infrastructure of many organizations, more and more managers have been asking me questions about how this .NET OSS thing works. In this post, I’ll try to answer that question based on the history of .NET.

Although I have been privy over the years to see behind the veil at Redmond, I will be focusing primarily on the externally visible actions of Microsoft and how the industry has reacted on average – specifically in the enterprise space, where I spend most of my time.

What managers are concerned about

When there will be problem with this technology, who will support us?
How will that change when the author of the technology moves on or loses interest?
How long can we expect to be using this technology?
How long will it take to learn it? When will we recoup our investment?

Traditionally, for companies on the Microsoft platform, choosing Microsoft as their primary technology vendor has been the safe bet. As a large company, Microsoft can afford to employ support engineers. These engineers are different from the ones who wrote the technology to begin with. Also, Microsoft has 10 year support guarantees. As a result, companies expected to use the technology for at least that long. With their size, Microsoft also had the ability to create copious amounts of documentation easing learning.

To turn the common phrase, nobody got fired for choosing Microsoft.

Open source seemed like risky business, at the time.

What changed?

It started with the Composite Application Block – CAB.

This technology was put out by the Patterns and Practices (P&P) group at Microsoft. After it came out, the gears of big marketing machines at Microsoft got to work, telling the industry about this great new thing at conferences, and the Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS) folks started using it with clients. CIOs at large companies sent developers to training on CAB by the dozen.

And then CAB was dead. Sorry. Microsoft prefers the word “done” to dead.
Just like Don Box said that COM wasn’t dead, it was done.

“What about that 10 year support thing?”, asked the CIOs (among many others).

You don’t understand, said Microsoft. You see, P&P are not a product group in Microsoft. They don’t have the resources to provide that kind of support. And the rest of the company isn’t obliged to support what they put out – since they’re not a product group.

You could literally hear the collective jaw of the Microsoft part of the industry drop.

This wasn’t supposed to happen (like housing prices in the US).

And then came .NET 3.0, and things seemed to go back to normal.

There were lots of wonderful things that came with it – like LINQ, and…

Linq to Sql

This was BIG.
Finally – after ObjectSpaces was promised at PDC ‘03 and later shelved, then WinFS (same story), it had arrived.
The object-relational mapper (ORM) from Microsoft.

The marketing machine went into high gear – it was the v3 promise. Linq2Sql (L2S) came from a product group. This was serious. It was shown at conferences and user groups all over the world. Developers were sent to be trained on it.

And then Entity Framework (EF) was announced – and L2S was done.

CIOs were rubbing their eyes in disbelief. “But this is from a product group – you have to support it, right?”

Well, said Microsoft, yes. We will support it with our support org. It’s just that we won’t continue to develop new features for it in the product org. We actually have a different sub-org that will be working on EF and they’re under a different division (SQL Server) than the sub-org that made L2S.

Jaws were hitting the pavement. All that investment erased. Just like that. It turns out that support without active development doesn’t mean very much, no matter how many support engineers are involved.

But the industry picked itself back up, and got back to work on the new foundational pieces that came with .NET 3.0. If Microsoft is calling it “Foundation”, that must mean they’re committed to it.

And then came Workflow Foundation

Workflow Foundation (WF) was a dream-come-true. At last, Model-Driven Development (MDD) had come to the Microsoft platform. Drag-and-drop on a whole new level. Imagine the reuse. Imagine the maintainability. Programming at higher levels of abstraction. A marketers dream. This was the culmination of previous efforts of Whitehorse in VS2005 and the Software Factories Initiative – or so we were told.

And then came .NET 3.5 – and the new WF wasn’t backwards compatible with the old one.
And then it happened again with .NET 3.5 SP1, and again with 4.0 (no more state machine – no wait, it’s back again, but not in the box).

All those companies that had long-running workflows in production needed to manually migrate them each time.

But this had become old news to the folks using Microsoft in the enterprise.
With Microsoft – you really can’t be sure any more.

What about open source?

Well, it was beginning to look more and more stable in comparison.
Especially the larger, more established projects. Those with active development.
Log4Net. NHibernate. Castle. etc.

There was also the fact that most enterprises were heterogeneous anyway – doing both Java and .NET development. Open source tools and frameworks were common in the Java space, politically greasing the wheels for .NET OSS in those organization.

Boasting features and capabilities several years ahead of what was coming out of Microsoft, more companies gave them a chance, and were pleasantly surprised. And the virtuous cycle of OSS gained speed. With more use, they become even more stable and got even more features, driving yet more use. Blog posts about them bloomed all over the web. User group presentations were given. At a presentation I gave at TechEd Europe 2006, I used NHibernate in my demo.

OSS had crossed the chasm. No, not everybody used it, or knew of it, but a critical mass of the industry had grown to depend on it.

Microsoft’s actions over the years had done more for OSS adoption than I think many would have imagined.

On Pub/Sub, Messaging, and SOA

Interestingly enough, when the first version of WCF was still in the oven (then called Indigo) there were discussions on whether it would support publish/subscribe messaging. Here we are, 3 versions later, and still no pub/sub, but the discussions continue ;-)

Message brokers were always important for enterprises in the Java space – IBM MQ; Tibco RV; Sonic; companies were paying millions for this stuff. Microsoft had MSMQ – finally at v3 with XP and Server 2003, but still with insignificant penetration to the market. BizTalk did have a good run, though, but not so much as a message broker, more as an integration and orchestration engine, unfortunately coming late to the Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) party.

Later, the SQL Server guys came with Service Broker – messaging in the database. But you could see that their heart wasn’t in it. The API was clunky. It still didn’t have pub/sub. There was no binding available for WCF.

After some time making noise in the SOA space with Oslo, that changed as well. Oslo is now Sql Server Modeling.

I imagine that some of the adoption pick-up with NServiceBus can be attributed to the vacuum Microsoft left behind when exiting the messaging/pub-sub/soa space. The way NServiceBus aligns with the principles found in the corresponding Java technologies makes it very palatable to enterprises working with both platforms.

The fact that there’s active development, a vibrant and growing community, and even training available definitely contribute as well.

In closing

I don’t fault Microsoft for any of this. There are a million things that they could have done. Choosing to do one thing means choosing not to do many others. The decisions they made were done with the best intentions. Hindsight is 20/20 of-course.

And that’s just it – we do need to take a look back.

If you’re a manager making a technology related decision, or are working with managers in those positions, knowing the history of today’s technology can give you a more accurate representation of the risk involved in each choice. Also, understanding the vector that Microsoft has decided to take in various areas is critical, especially if you find out that your architectural choices aren’t quite aligned with some of those vectors.

In this post, I’ve tried not to take a stance on whether a certain approach (ORM, Pub/Sub, etc) is good or bad, or even getting into which cases it’s appropriate or not – just to describe Microsoft’s externally visible behavior in that space.

I hope that this short history lesson can help your organization make the right technology decisions in the future for its specific context. Your comments and thoughts are most welcome, as always.

  
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14 Comments

  1. Mark Seemann Says:

    Nice overview of OSS, and why we should care in the .NET space.

    FWIW, CAB wasn’t the first thing to come out of p&p. Before it came out, p&p released several other Application Blocks such as the Data Access Application Block, etc. IIRC, even Enterprise Library v1 came out before CAB.

    These application blocks from p&p all shared a common trait: They very clearly stated that they were not products, and that they were not supported by the MS support org. On the other hand, you got the source code, etc. And no: this was not buried under a big pile of legalase. It was there for all who cared to read it.

    I’m sure that jaws were still dropping all over enterprise space when CAB was “done”, but that should have been from an inability to read more than from the event itself.

    The story about L2S isn’t that much different. EF was in the pipeline from very early on, so it was apparent that there were competing technologies. Still, I grant that it was a bit more surprising.

    The big surprises have consistently come from the WF part of the BCL, and those are valid points.

    I’m not at all disagreeing with you – I just wanted to provide a bit of extra detail :)


  2. Nicholas Piasecki Says:

    “Jaws were hitting the pavement. All that investment erased. Just like that. It turns out that support without active development doesn’t mean very much, no matter how many support engineers are involved.”

    BINGO. Amen, brother!


  3. udidahan Says:

    Mark,

    I didn’t mean to imply that CAB was the first deliverable from P&P – I know that the other application blocks came earlier. The thing was that there wasn’t nearly the same amount of marketing around the previous blocks as there was around CAB.

    Also, I think that many people in Microsoft haven’t yet internalized that decision makers in the enterprise space don’t know what’s in the MS pipeline, unless their local DPE guys tell them.

    This trust issue continues to be expanded with ASP MVC vs WebForms, and WPF vs WinForms.

    WCF seemed to rise above these issues in that it replaced 3-4 competing alternatives with a single stack, rather than the 1-to-1 replacements described above.

    Thanks for your comments.


  4. justasking? Says:

    It would be great to add to the list those OSS projects that failed and got CIO fired.
    that never happens right?


  5. udidahan Says:

    JustAsking,

    From my experience, CIOs that chose (some) OSS software were active in managing the risks in their technology portfolio – not trusting OSS and vendor technology in the same way.

    I suppose there might have been some people who blindly put their trust in anything, in which case, they will have to deal with the consequences of their choices like everybody else.


  6. Liam McLennan Says:

    Mark,

    When Linq 2 Sql was released we were not told that it would be a throw away product. I for one was burned when I built solutions with Linq 2 Sql and then it was abandoned. Part of the problem was that Linq 2 Sql was delivered incomplete (the designer barely worked). Developers all around the world were waiting for Linq 2 Sql to be finished and then it was unceromoniously dumped for EF.


  7. Steve Says:

    What Changed? CAB

    No way :) What changed was as .NET became more popular, and Java developers started to come to .NET they found .NET missing all the open source projects they had grown to love and knew worked.

    JUnit, Hibernate, Spring, Web mvc projects.

    That is what changed. It was either MS embrace the change or become the bad guy. And at first they were the bad guy.

    Out of that they released tools to compete in that space: first it was msunit, a clone of nunit. Then Unity, then LinqToSql/EF, then asp.net mvc

    I would not give so much credit to P&P, if anything they just built things the ‘MS’ way and it was turn off and through dialogue they have finally started to turn that ship. I’m thinking of Jeremy’s post on how you can create your own CAB. Even with the Microsoft lovers I work with , even they say CAB was hard to work with and heavy.

    Probably the best project out of Redmond has been Scott Guthrie and secondly is asp.net mvc. Scott was open, listened to feedback, and very active.


  8. Szymon Kulec Says:

    It seems, that you gave a shotgun to shot down the major “anti-OSS” manager arguments. Nice of you ;)


  9. Shrike Says:

    I agree that all this stuff is painfull, but..
    What do you think MS should do in all these cases? Not to build WPF because they have Forms? Nobody argues Java because there are several UI frameworks there.
    Build EF instead of L2S? They could’t because c# 3 with LINQ should be done much before. Actually I knew about EF in 2006 (there was public CTP even). So it was pretty obvious that MS won’t support two ORM.
    Shoudn’t they create Linq2Xml because they have System.Xml? I don’t think so. Btw how many XML stacks do we have in Java?

    Yeah, you can say ‘they must do all in the right way from the begging”. But it’s impossible.
    There are tons of OSS but you mentioned only really good projects. MS also has really good products.
    Just think of MS as a place where people build products, different products. They can’t be all briliant. And MS can’t and shoudn’t evolve they all (because some are bad).
    Yes, it’d be nice to know in advance which product is bad I agree, but they don’t know. We tell them which one is bad.

    It’s very easy to critisize MS. But look at Oracle. They just buy customers. Not people, not technology, but customers! Then stop evolve bought product and offer to migrate.


  10. udidahan Says:

    Looks like it’s time for a follow up post.


  11. jmorris Says:

    I wouldn’t exactly say that these API’s/products were dumped, they simply were no longer generating the demand required to be successful: people were leaving for more cutting edge solutions. Happens all the time to open and closed projects across all platforms; i am not sure it’s MS specific.

    Additionally, a bit off topic, but since you brought up pub/sub messaging in .net; Apache.NMS and Apache.NMS.ActiveMQ provide near seemless pub/sub messaging between .NET and Java as well.

    -Jeff


  12. udidahan Says:

    Jeff,

    From the perspective of a company invested in Microsoft technology, it was “dumped”. The fact that some people were leaving for more cutting edge solutions doesn’t change matters. I know that it happens all over, but it was a rude wake up call for those who believed that Microsoft was the safe bet.

    Now that more places are evaluating .NET technologies not coming directly from Microsoft, I suppose there will be more interest in things like Apache.NMS.

    Thanks for your comments.


  13. Kay Says:

    V2008 SCSF/CAB
    VS2010 PRISM/CAB

    I seriously do not think CAB is dead.

    By the way yes Steep learning curve but the developer experience was AWESOME once you pass peak :-)


  14. udidahan Says:

    Key,

    SCSF was built on CAB, Prism isn’t. Nobody at Microsoft is developing CAB or supporting it any more. It’s dead.


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Adam Dymitruk Adam Dymitruk, Director of IT at Apara Systems
“I met Udi for the first time at DevTeach in Montreal back in early 2007. While Udi is usually involved in SOA subjects, his knowledge spans all of a software development company's concerns. I would not hesitate to recommend Udi for any company that needs excellent leadership, mentoring, problem solving, application of patterns, implementation of methodologies and straight out solution development.
There are very few people in the world that are as dedicated to their craft as Udi is to his. At ALT.NET Seattle, Udi explained many core ideas about SOA. The team that I brought with me found his workshop and other talks the highlight of the event and provided the most value to us and our organization. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to recommend him.”

Eytan Michaeli Eytan Michaeli, CTO Korentec
“Udi was responsible for a major project in the company, and as a chief architect designed a complex multi server C4I system with many innovations and excellent performance.”


Carl Kenne Carl Kenne, .Net Consultant at Dotway AB
“Udi's session "DDD in Enterprise apps" was truly an eye opener. Udi has a great ability to explain complex enterprise designs in a very comprehensive and inspiring way. I've seen several sessions on both DDD and SOA in the past, but Udi puts it in a completly new perspective and makes us understand what it's all really about. If you ever have a chance to see any of Udi's sessions in the future, take it!”

Avi Nehama, R&D Project Manager at Retalix
“Not only that Udi is a briliant software architecture consultant, he also has remarkable abilities to present complex ideas in a simple and concise manner, and...
always with a smile. Udi is indeed a top-league professional!”

Ben Scheirman Ben Scheirman, Lead Developer at CenterPoint Energy
“Udi is one of those rare people who not only deeply understands SOA and domain driven design, but also eloquently conveys that in an easy to grasp way. He is patient, polite, and easy to talk to. I'm extremely glad I came to his workshop on SOA.”

Scott C. Reynolds Scott C. Reynolds, Director of Software Engineering at CBLPath
“Udi is consistently advancing the state of thought in software architecture, service orientation, and domain modeling.
His mastery of the technologies and techniques is second to none, but he pairs that with a singular ability to listen and communicate effectively with all parties, technical and non, to help people arrive at context-appropriate solutions. Every time I have worked with Udi, or attended a talk of his, or just had a conversation with him I have come away from it enriched with new understanding about the ideas discussed.”

Evgeny-Hen Osipow, Head of R&D at PCLine
“Udi has helped PCLine on projects by implementing architectural blueprints demonstrating the value of simple design and code.”

Rhys Campbell Rhys Campbell, Owner at Artemis West
“For many years I have been following the works of Udi. His explanation of often complex design and architectural concepts are so cleanly broken down that even the most junior of architects can begin to understand these concepts. These concepts however tend to typify the "real world" problems we face daily so even the most experienced software expert will find himself in an "Aha!" moment when following Udi teachings.
It was a pleasure to finally meet Udi in Seattle Alt.Net OpenSpaces 2008, where I was pleasantly surprised at how down-to-earth and approachable he was. His depth and breadth of software knowledge also became apparent when discussion with his peers quickly dove deep in to the problems we current face. If given the opportunity to work with or recommend Udi I would quickly take that chance. When I think .Net Architecture, I think Udi.”

Sverre Hundeide Sverre Hundeide, Senior Consultant at Objectware
“Udi had been hired to present the third LEAP master class in Oslo. He is an well known international expert on enterprise software architecture and design, and is the author of the open source messaging framework nServiceBus. The entire class was based on discussion and interaction with the audience, and the only Power Point slide used was the one showing the agenda.
He started out with sketching a naive traditional n-tier application (big ball of mud), and based on suggestions from the audience we explored different solutions which might improve the solution. Whatever suggestions we threw at him, he always had a thoroughly considered answer describing pros and cons with the suggested solution. He obviously has a lot of experience with real world enterprise SOA applications.”

Raphaël Wouters Raphaël Wouters, Owner/Managing Partner at Medinternals
“I attended Udi's excellent course 'Advanced Distributed System Design with SOA and DDD' at Skillsmatter. Few people can truly claim such a high skill and expertise level, present it using a pragmatic, concrete no-nonsense approach and still stay reachable.”

Nimrod Peleg Nimrod Peleg, Lab Engineer at Technion IIT
“One of the best programmers and software engineer I've ever met, creative, knows how to design and implemet, very collaborative and finally - the applications he designed implemeted work for many years without any problems!

Jose Manuel Beas
“When I attended Udi's SOA Workshop, then it suddenly changed my view of what Service Oriented Architectures were all about. Udi explained complex concepts very clearly and created a very productive discussion environment where all the attendees could learn a lot. I strongly recommend hiring Udi.”

Daniel Jin Daniel Jin, Senior Lead Developer at PJM Interconnection
“Udi is one of the top SOA guru in the .NET space. He is always eager to help others by sharing his knowledge and experiences. His blog articles often offer deep insights and is a invaluable resource. I highly recommend him.”

Pasi Taive Pasi Taive, Chief Architect at Tieto
“I attended both of Udi's "UI Composition Key to SOA Success" and "DDD in Enterprise Apps" sessions and they were exceptionally good. I will definitely participate in his sessions again. Udi is a great presenter and has the ability to explain complex issues in a manner that everyone understands.”

Eran Sagi, Software Architect at HP
“So far, I heard about Service Oriented architecture all over. Everyone mentions it – the big buzz word. But, when I actually asked someone for what does it really mean, no one managed to give me a complete satisfied answer. Finally in his excellent course “Advanced Distributed Systems”, I got the answers I was looking for. Udi went over the different motivations (principles) of Services Oriented, explained them well one by one, and showed how each one could be technically addressed using NService bus. In his course, Udi also explain the way of thinking when coming to design a Service Oriented system. What are the questions you need to ask yourself in order to shape your system, place the logic in the right places for best Service Oriented system.

I would recommend this course for any architect or developer who deals with distributed system, but not only. In my work we do not have a real distributed system, but one PC which host both the UI application and the different services inside, all communicating via WCF. I found that many of the architecture principles and motivations of SOA apply for our system as well. Enough that you have SW partitioned into components and most of the principles becomes relevant to you as well. Bottom line – an excellent course recommended to any SW Architect, or any developer dealing with distributed system.”

Consult with Udi

Guest Authored Books
Chapter: Introduction to SOA    Article: The Enterprise Service Bus and Your SOA

97 Things Every Software Architect Should Know



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