Microsoft is expected to announce plans to release the source code for part of its Silverlight multimedia web technology at its MIX 07 web developers conference this week.
The move marks a new friendliness from Microsoft towards the open source community. Open sourcing will also boost the software giant’s promotion of Silverlight – a browser plug-in that allows rich video and interactive media to be provided from within websites – as a direct competitor to Adobe's Flash.
Microsoft will also release a beta of Silverlight, which uses Vista's new graphics framework, Windows Presentation Foundation, sources familiar with the company’s plans said.
But it is not yet clear which parts of Silverlight will be open sourced.
The final version of Microsoft's Expression toolset for building rich Internet applications (RIAs) may also make an appearance at MIX 07, sources suggested. The company has said Expression will be available before the end of June.
Microsoft is pitting Expression as an alternative to Adobe's recently released Creative Suite 3, and the toolset is also key to Silverlight because the company hopes designers will use it to create applications to be delivered through Silverlight.
Microsoft's rather unconventional move to embrace the open source community could be a response to Adobe System's announcement earlier this week that it would open source the software development kit for its Flex RIA development environment by the end of the year.
Adobe has a head start of several years on Microsoft in luring developers to its RIA tools, and open sourcing components of Flex should increase that base, users have said. Microsoft is under pressure to lure developers to Silverlight as quickly as it can if it wants to catch up with Adobe.
Microsoft hosted its first MIX show last year in a bid to appeal to web designers and developers of RIAs, an audience whose respect the company has yet to win. Microsoft has made several stops and starts in offering web authoring and design tools over the years, but the company has had far more success among developers building desktop applications because of its Windows and Office products.
Strategically, Microsoft is trying to make the necessary leap to the web as a platform for developing applications to compete not only with companies such as Adobe, but also web services companies like Google and Yahoo It is important for the vendor to make inroads with developers using the most cutting-edge Web and multimedia design technologies, Cutcliffe said.
Adobe is not the only competitor Microsoft had to contend with on the RIA front. A small company US firm, Laszlo Systems, also has a sophisticated tool to build RIAs, and has already made available an open source version of it, OpenLaszlo, which lets developers build both Flash-based and Ajax-based applications.
David Temkin, founder and chief technology officer of Laszlo Systems, said Microsoft's interest and entry into the RIA market was good for competitors, because it would stir up interest in related products.