A GNU Beginning For Microsoft: What An Open Source .NET Framework Means For The Rest Of Us

Matthew Hughes 16-11-2014

It’s a GNU beginning for Microsoft. They just released a significant part of the .NET Framework on Github under a permissive open source license.


This move breaks with years of tradition for Microsoft, which has previously taken a hostile stance on the issue of open source software. Former CEO Steve Balmer once described Linux and the GPL as a ‘cancer’ that ‘attaches itself… to everything it touches’.

What Is The .NET Framework & What Is Going On?

Microsoft launched the .NET Framework 12 years ago, and it has since become a vital component of the Windows operating system. It includes a framework for building applications for Microsoft Windows (known as the Common Language Interface), as well as a virtual machine (called the Common Language Runtime) for software to run on.

Redmond has also announced that in months to come, the .NET Core Runtime will be available for OS X and Linux, which will simplify the process of writing cross-platform software.

It came as a surprise to many that Microsoft uploaded the source code to .NET Core on Github; a popular collaborative code-sharing website What Is Git & Why You Should Use Version Control If You’re a Developer As web developers, a lot of the time we tend to work on local development sites then just upload everything when we’re done. This is fine when it’s just you and the changes are small,... Read More . Microsoft owns CodePlex, a rival to Github 8 Websites to Check Out The Buzz on Open Source Software Read More in the code sharing sphere, although it is nowhere near as successful.



Despite the (shameless) pun at the start of this article, Microsoft has not released the .NET Framework under the GNU license Open Source Software Licenses: Which Should You Use? Did you know that not all open source licenses are the same? Read More . Rather, they have opted for the MIT license, used by Node.js What is Node.JS and Why Should I Care? [Web Development] JavaScript is a just a client-side programming language that runs in the browser, right? Not any more. Node.js is a way of running JavaScript on the server; but it's so much more as well. If... Read More , JQuery jQuery Tutorial - Getting Started: Basics & Selectors Last week, I talked about how important jQuery is to any modern web developer and why it's awesome. This week, I think it's time we got our hands dirty with some code and learnt how... Read More and Ruby on Rails.

Curious as to what this move means for Microsoft, software developers and you? Read on for more information.

Microsoft Is Changing

Like it or not, Microsoft is not the same company Stop Bashing Microsoft: 5 Ways In Which They're Awesome Microsoft doesn't always get fair treatment. When it comes down to it, they're a pretty awesome company. There's been enough Microsoft bashing, now it's time for some love. Read More it was 10 years ago.

Back then, Linux was not yet ready for the mass-market, with Ubuntu still a far-away glint in Mark Shuttleworth’s eye. Apple was undergoing its Lazarine rebirth, and had only just started to experience growth after years of stagnation and decline. Microsoft was undeniably king. And they were arrogant.



Things started to change. They were challenged in spheres they once dominated, from smartphones, to web browsers, to productivity software.

The market was changing, and Microsoft had to change as a result. So they did.

At the end of Steve Ballmer’s tenure, Microsoft was already one of the top 20 contributors to the Linux kernel. Azure – their flagship virtualization platform – had long allowed users to create Linux Virtual Private Servers Learn All About Virtual Private Servers In Two Minutes With so many great web hosting services available, it's hard to decide the right one to suit your needs. Read More (VPS’s). They were even working with Xamarin on a Windows-based software suite that would allow developers to build apps for Android and iOS.



This change for the better accelerated further when Steve Ballmer was nudged out after the disastrous failure of Windows 8 and Microsoft Surface tablet, and Microsoft’s failure to keep up with the steady rise of iOS and Android. New CEO Satya Nadella was brought in, and Redmond continued its metamorphosis.

Microsoft has continued its engagement with the open-source community. It has released cross-platform mobile apps such as Xim; a photo sharing app Share Your Photos, Not Your Phone With Microsoft Xim Sharing photos with a group of people just got easier. One person controls the show, everyone can join at their own devices via a link, and when all was seen, the presentation self-destructs. Read More for iOS and Android. They even gave away their Office suite to users of Android Microsoft Office For Android vs. Google Docs: Which Is Better? Read More , iOS and Windows Phone. And yes, they have also open-sourced huge chunks of their technology portfolio. Microsoft is a changed company. But what does this mean for you?

.NET Everywhere

It’s safe to say .NET isn’t the sexiest software package in the world. Yet, if you’re a Windows user, it’s one you’re utterly dependent upon.


Software developers use it because it’s consistent. They can build apps targeting the .NET Framework with any supported language, and the results will be the same. The Common Language Runtime (CLR) is also exceptionally fast, and rivals the Java Virtual Machine in sheer speed.


And now, OS X and Linux users can take advantage of this.

Before I continue, it’s worth stating that there is an open-source alternative to .NET called Mono. The development tools for Mono are available on a variety of platforms, including OS X, Linux and Windows, while Applications built with Mono can run on a larger variety of platforms, including Android, Nintendo Wii, Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360.

However, Mono has always suffered from a lack of completeness, especially in comparison to the ‘real thing’.

Not any more. Soon, OS X and Linux users will enjoy the same .NET features as Windows users.

But what does that mean in real-world terms? Well, expect simultaneous cross-platform releases, and more commercial software and games. Linux and OS X will continue to march towards being gaming platforms, despite having traditionally struggled in these areas.

Porting Windows applications to OS X and Linux is about to get significantly simpler. Although – as Engadget saliently pointed out – some applications will still need significant modifications to run.

The release omits parts needed for the user-facing side of things, including the Windows Presentation Foundation that handles interface and document features, so many .NET apps and services will either need major changes or won’t run at all. Also, there are plenty of Windows apps that depend on other frameworks.
Source: Engadget

Microsoft is also hoping to recapture the attention of developers. In particular, web developers, many of whom have chosen to learn Python, PHP or Ruby on Rails, rather than Microsoft’s proprietary and restrictive technology stack.

With the open source release of .NET and ASP.NET vNext, Microsoft is hoping to restore some credibility in the web development world.

A Step In The Right Direction

Microsoft also announced the release of Visual Studio Community 2013. This is effectively the same as Visual Studio Professional, but with one vital difference. Instead of costing hundreds (or, in some cases, thousands) of dollars, it’s free.

Microsoft is changing, and their willingness to engage the developer community is proof of that. But what do you think? I’d love to hear about it. Drop me a comment below, and we’ll chat.

Photo Credit: Ken Wolter /,

Related topics: Microsoft, Open Source.

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  1. Mikla
    November 19, 2014 at 4:01 am

    The Cake is a Lie! :D

  2. RealNeil
    November 18, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    They want to be more adopted and this is how to do it. This is the new age of, "Not Balmer"

    • Matthew Hughes
      November 30, 2014 at 5:03 pm

      Pretty much. It's a new beginning for Microsoft.

  3. Mehdi
    November 18, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    It is very good for web developers like me.
    MVC4 and Entity Framework are very good. now you can use them on linux. it is wonderful
    I heard some news about an Android Emulator for Visual Studio. does anybody knows anything about that???

    • Matthew Abbott
      November 19, 2014 at 9:05 am

      Yes, after all the complaints of the standard Android emulator which is quite painful to say the least, Microsoft built there own emulator based off the same tech as their Windows Phone emulator, i.e. HyperV-powered. It's nice and quick!

    • Matthew Hughes
      November 30, 2014 at 5:03 pm

      Yeah, that's right. You can now build Android apps with Visual Studio Community 2013!

  4. ls
    November 18, 2014 at 6:46 am

    life is a growing and grasping to become attached to the infinite and all, that terminates in solitude and death. so life itself is a cancer, or a Microsoft.

  5. Ohgod
    November 18, 2014 at 6:22 am

    I was once a strong supporter of ms ecosystem but dint like the way they were treating their consumers and developers. Finally ms is going in the right direction. This was a much needed change. Just get rid of win 8 and bring back win 7 with it's all aero glory and I will be all into ms and also start developing again in .net.

  6. dragonmouth
    November 17, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    An attempt by Microsoft to extend their hegemony to other O/Ss. Looks like Microsoft is trying to become a "‘cancer’ that ‘attaches itself… to everything it touches’."

    • christian
      November 17, 2014 at 4:38 pm

      Yeah haha sounds like it...

    • Ohgod
      November 18, 2014 at 6:24 am

      Haha rofl. Ballmer must read this comment

    • LordRhys
      November 18, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      You mean like Apple, or Google, or even Amazon now

    • Csharper
      December 17, 2014 at 8:32 am

      Amazon IS a cancer though.
      Stop making crappy phones and ship my damn packages! D:<

  7. Tomislav
    November 17, 2014 at 10:26 am

    Maybe they are moving their focus from Windows to applications. And with quality MS apps on other platforms, not only on Windows, they can rise market share. I would love to use Office as a stand alone app on my Linux desktop.

  8. Isaac Walker-cox
    November 17, 2014 at 8:05 am

    Amazing News for me as a web developer. I must look up mono though!

  9. Zhong
    November 17, 2014 at 5:21 am

    So the results of releasing .NET framework open source would be able to port Windows programs into other systems?

    • aaron
      November 18, 2014 at 7:29 am

      No but if your wrote a program in .net it would be possible to port it without rewriting it from the ground, or having to try and fix it for mono

    • Dave
      November 19, 2014 at 8:28 am

      No, but in the future you'll be able to write server applications (like web applications, console applications) that can target Linux as well as Windows and Mac OS X. You can already do that today, to some extent, because of Mono, but it's a real hassle.

      Also, to those that relegate this to a footnote because WPF and Silverlight are not included here: in my 20 year career in software development, I've always felt that those frameworks aimed at creating a unified UI experience on all platforms were doomed to fail. I'm thinking of Java, Lotus Notes, GTK and so forth. You're always programming for the least common denominator in those cases.

      You're better off splitting your business code from your UI code and port the business code while adding a "native" look and feel to your app.

      Or use HTML5 *grin*

      • Frank
        November 20, 2015 at 6:27 pm

        This is a stupid and misleading article, begining with the title. Microssoft is not using the GNU/GPL at all ... So it's not a GNU day for them. They are not embracing GNU at all .. Preferring to use the "push-over" MIT license instead.

        • Matthew Hughes
          November 20, 2015 at 6:51 pm

          Ever hear of something called a pun, Frank?

          Also, literally in the article: "Despite the (shameless) pun at the start of this article, Microsoft has not released the .NET Framework under the GNU license. Rather, they have opted for the MIT license, used by Node.js, JQuery and Ruby on Rails."

        • frank
          November 20, 2015 at 11:50 pm

          Awesome disclaimer after the fact. It's not the "start of this article", it's the HEADLINE. Very misleading. So leave it out.

    • Chris S
      November 23, 2014 at 8:08 pm

      Excellent answer Dave.

    • Csharper
      December 17, 2014 at 8:31 am

      I cannot believe anyone is legitimately concerned about the WPF's lack of porting.

      *Stabs WPF voodoo doll*

  10. Doc
    November 17, 2014 at 5:17 am

    "Former CEO Steve Balmer ..." *Ballmer* - two L's.

    • Tina
      November 28, 2014 at 9:55 am

      Thanks Doc, fixed!

  11. stfu
    November 16, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    *Common Language Infrastructure

  12. DonGateley
    November 16, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    "The release omits parts needed for the user-facing side of things, including the Windows Presentation Foundation that handles interface and document features"

    Thus relegating it to a historical footnote.

    • Roddi Walker
      November 17, 2014 at 8:55 am

      There's much more useful stuff in the .Net framework apart from WPF. The C# language itself is very rich and is not stagnating like Java (and I say this as an ex-Java programmer who liked the language). There is also extensive server-side functionality like ASP.NET (which includes MVC 4) and the Entity Framework ORM that give a solid basis for writing enterprise applications, including Web applications. So not everything is about desktop apps, which are arguably past their peak.