In this interview with Shawn Burke of Microsoft we asked him about:
- Shawn’s motivation for helping to make the framework source code available.
- Whether there are any limits on who gets access to the source code.
- Whether there was any internal resistance initially to providing the framework source.
- Why Microsoft doesn’t just provide a zip for the source.
- Whether Microsoft’s individual developers write code differently knowing that their actual source might be available for the world to see someday.
- Whether or not Microsoft is planning on making available other development artifacts such as test scripts, threat models, etc.
- Whether a closed source company or an open source company is better positioned to support external developers who need access to the source for a given project.
Scott: All right. So if you take a second and just briefly introduce yourself, that is probably a good place to start. Then we can drill into questions specifically around the source for the.NET framework 3.5.
Shawn: OK. I am Shawn Burke; I am a director here at the.NET development platform at Microsoft. I run a group that we internally call the agility team. We run small high value projects to try to help deliver value to customers in agile ways. Not necessarily using agile technology, but just being agile about how we deliver.
Scott: :So in other words, it sounds like you are looking for sort of low hanging fruit where you can do things that are a little bit outside of the norm but would not necessarily be an enormous effort, but would deliver a lot of value to the customers quickly. Am I characterizing it correctly?
Shawn: That is right. Our team works a little bit outside the bounds of the typical projects and we are not constrained by the same rules they are. We are able to do things that are more customer focused and a little less process focused way.
Scott: Just as a point of clarification, people have said Microsoft is “open sourcing the.NET framework.”That is not what your Microsofts intention is and not really what you are doing. You are making your source code available for reference. You are not really open sourcing it the way that, you know…
Shawn: Nope, some people in the community used characterization, that is definitely not what were doing.Were making the source available as a tool that helps people be more successful with the platform in its current state.
With this effort, my goal has been from day one, a simple scenario, which is you are debugging against an API, you are getting an exception from the API, and you cannot figure out why you are getting it. It is often very difficult to figure that out just from documentation. However, your ability to step into the API often makes it really clear what you are doing wrong.
Scott: Right. In the example that Scott Guthrie put up on his site, this is something I’ve run into,? At the point where you DataBind something, all kinds of stuff happens like down in the plumbing.
Scott: And the exception that you get, you know, you do not really have a lot of visibility and sort of what you did wrong in your code that caused the DataBinding exception. And so that’s like…
Shawn: Yes. That is like the thing that you are unableto do currently you know, because I work here I have the benefit of being able to do that a lot. Quite frequently, the amount of time it saved me , “Oh, Ill just grab the symbols” and you do and start to debug with them and immediately you’re like “Oh! Because I forgot to do this or that.” It becomes so clear that I really wanted to enable that sort of service for customers because its such a powerful thing
Scott: Yes. And just to back up another thing that you said, too. I never read it. I was not indicating that Microsoft was somehow trying to create the impression that they open sourcing this. I know when I looked at it, it was clear to me that Microsoft was releasing the source for reference purposes, you were not releasing it so that people could…
Shawn: Yes. I get it. I did not mean to sound defensive there!
I’m sure it comes up a lot.
Shawn: Yes. That was the first thing we saw on a large website that is often not terribly pro Microsoft
Shawn: Fortunately many people came on there and said, “No, no, no.” They never said that, that is not what they are doing. I think most people get that now.
Scott: So what you are enabling is a sort of step into debugging experience where normally, as soon as you call into the API, you could not continue to drill down and step in. Now you can.
One of the things I was not clear on is who gets this? Is this available to all versions of Visual Studio and all customers or is there a sort a subset? Who is this available to I guess?
As far as the Visual Studio integration, you need to have VS Standard or above. You cannot do it with Express versions. You know the express versions of Visual Studio?
Shawn: Express does not get it for some kind of fundamental reasons.The main reason there is it just simply because Express does not expose the UI that you need to set this up or have some of the other facilities internally to take advantage of it
Scott: Sure. Sure.
Scott: Yes. The only reason I ask is that some of the people in the Microsoft ecosystem have made their source available kind of under premium plans with their customers. However, that is not the approach that Microsoft is taking with this. This is not sort of a premium thing, this is just generally available.
Shawn: Yes, that is Code Center Premium (CCP), this works similar to that CCP , but there you need to have an account and a Smart Card actually. And you have to go through much more security than in this system. This is a public reference release of the code, so there is really no credentials required. There is none of that.
Scott: So when you sort of floated this idea internally, it sounds like it was generally well received. People kind of jumped on board and wanted to help make it happen. Just behind the scenes, what were some of the things that it took to enable this? It is more than just dropping a zip of the source out there to make this happen.
Shawn: Yeah. Well, yeah. It is good that you brought that up. This whole thing started quite a few years ago. When I was on the Windows Forms team, which I was for seven years, I always felt like we should be releasing the source for many reasons. Others had done it. I felt like it was good for customers. When I was the Development Manager on Windows Forms in early 2005, I did a blog post about this, saying I wanted to make this happen and talking about some of the challenges to doing so. It was kind of justI was just kind of brainstorming aloud about different ways and what some of the challenges were. The response was enormous.Hundreds of comments.
A funny story, I did that blog post, and then I went down to Cabo San Lucas with my girlfriend a couple of days later. When I turned my phone on halfway through the trip, just to see if it would work in Cabo, I had a flood of text messages that said, “Please call work.”
Sean Campbell: [laughter] All right. So you learned a lesson of do not blog anything but “I’m going to Cabo” on the blog before you go to Cabo, basically.
Shawn: Yeah. I think if you would really pull it down to basics, that is it. Well, actually, I had always done tons of blog posts that no one’s…
Scott: Meanwhile, you created this firestorm of all these people running around going, “What have you done?”
Shawn: Yeah, exactly. I like to joke that it created, basically, an international incident because it got picked up by eWEEK, Mary Jo Foley, CNET, and all the rest. Quite a few people picked it up. It generated a lot of interest. That was a good impetus for me that there was a lot of excitement in the community about this.
If you fast forward a couple of years, I did some more ground work on this thing in 2005 and 2006, got busy with new role I’m in now, and dropped it for six or eight months, and then picked it back upI think it was late last year, late 2006and started looking at how we would get this done.And Ive been shepherding it along since then.Getting this out there really is the realization of a dream that I have been chipping away at for quite some time.I really hope Developers find it as useful as I think they will!
You guys mentioned pushing it out as a zip. One of the real problems was that I did not want to have a situation where every team that did this put a zip file or MSI out every four months, so the customer had to go download, install, and set up his little studio to use. What if you have a hotfix or different version? You know what I mean. I did not want to have a situation that was going to be cumbersome for us to ship and for customers to consume.That would kind of defeat the purpose.
What really got me rolling on this was I started talking with the guy who developed this technology we use internally. Internally, you can get the source and demos for almost every product we build here at Microsoft off this thing called “Source Server.” Source Server has versioning built in, making sure things do not collide so you can have side by side versioning, and it all works very smoothly. The server side piece for source server is just a web server. There is no magic there so its very simply to deploy. There really was not any barrier to making to using that technology externally.
So what we able to develop was a system where teams could publish source very, very efficiently. After a first source publish, they can continue to do source publishing at near zero cost to them, which is great. On the customer side, you have a scenario where a customer has a few simple set up steps. Then they kind of auto magically get source and symbols for what we have chosen to make available at that time for free. No searching around on MSDN or having to deal with where to put the stuff on the machine.
Scott: It sounds like, too, one of things that you are saying this accomplishes is it sort of knows exactly what the client is running and building against. If they have installed the service pack or have not installed the service pack, they get the right source. They get source that matches up with their environment.
Shawn: Yes, if it is on the servers they can get it. One of the decisions I made in getting this done was that, the cheater thing I did was I said, “You know what, I ‘m not going to define policy on this. I’m going to get a system developed where individual product groups and teams can make decisions about how often they push source.” Meaning, does it make sense to push source for every new release we do? Maybe, I dont know. Does it make sense to push it for every service pack? Maybe, I do not know. I think those might be different for different teams. I think we are going to do learning in working with the community about what really makes sense there. However, the system is set up to handle it, in any case.
Scott: Like you said, generally people were receptive to this. Were there internal objections that had to be overcome? Where there people who had concerns that, “Hey, this is crazy. Why would we do this?”
Shawn: Well, if you go back into 2005, I think I had many senior people that I knew, vice president level people that were generally supportive of this, but very cautiously supportive. For me a little bit, one of the reasons it’s been a multi year effort is I had to push carefully and let some perspective change as the industry has changed and the environment changed over the last couple of years.
It has gotten significantly easier. Something happened, I think, in the greater consciousness of the industry over the last 12 months or so. A lot ofI do not want to say a lotresistance is too strong of a word. A lot of the real cautiousness and kind of by-default-no talking-into-yes stuff dissipated and switched to actually a lot of enthusiasm. We need to be careful about protecting the IP that we spent billions of dollars developing. However, I think people really see the value of this now. It has been great for us and for our customers for a subset of products. Now I have seen teams are signing up to push their code out really quite enthusiastically.
Scott: With the.NET framework, it is in a little bit of a unique position because, on one hand, Microsoft has invested a lot in it, and generated a lot of IP. However, on the other hand, it was never really a secret what was in the framework anyways. You could use reflector and other tools to disassemble what was in the framework and sort of figure out how it was doing what it was doing. However, it did not enable this “step into it while you are debugging” experience. It did not make it super easy to learn from the framework. This might have been a little unique in that the IP was not all that protected to begin with.
Shawn: Well, yeah. Yeah, it is funny. The case that I built for this, with managed code in particular, definitely had that aspect to it, that our level of secrecy around how this stuff works, as well. One of the problems with reflector, using reflector, the EULA does not really allow for it.
Scott: Ah, interesting.
Shawn: The EULA does say that you are not supposed to reverse engineer. That said, I felt like it was a good idea to give customers a way to do this within the license, which this is.
Scott: Hah! Yes, I guess I never really realized that that might be in the EULA. I think, especially among the more advanced developers and in the blogs, and in all that kind of stuff, it is such a common practice.
So, now that you have done this, you have taken this first step and you’re going to make source code available for certain subsystems of the framework, and that’s on a feature by feature basis, right?
So, Windows Forms will decide when they push their source code in, ASP.NET will decide when they push theirs in, am I understanding that right?
Shawn: Well, we have pretty much what you would consider, if you go back to.NET 2.0 and think about what made up the Framework at that point. We’ve got pretty much all of the big pieces there. We’ve got BCL, Windows Forms, ASP.NET, Data and XML.
So those guys are already taken care of. Therefore, we’re going out with essentially what is the original.NET framework. The other stuff will fall in. It is really a matter of me getting with a given team and through the process. The code preparation process is actually fairly labor intensive. It takes time to schedule that and manage it.
I had teams that were able to do that. A lot of teams have been obviously really busy getting VS 2008 and.NET framework 3.5 finished up. We will continue to push out more code as time goes on. We wanted to get the big ones first.
We also managed to get WPF in there as well, so its not just the older stuff.Lots more is in the pipe to come online as time goes on.
The choice was either we wait a couple of months to do this, and make everybody wait, or we get the big ones out there fast and then we push in the other stuff as we have time, and as it comes online.
Scott: So one of the things that is kind of interesting is, you’ve got these individual developers in Microsoft and they’re writing code. They have worked in Microsoft for a long time and they have a feeling that, you know, what happens in Microsoft stays in Microsoft, I guess, for lack of a better term.
The whole world is not going to see the line of code that they are typing right now. Now, with the source being released, how do you think that is affecting, if at all, how individual developers are doing their job? How product teams are looking at how they build features going forward, knowing that the source for it is going to be out there.
Shawn: Even product teams that are not the framework team, they are thinking, that’s great, they did that over there, so does this mean that someday my source is actually going to be out there? Yes. Yes. They will be thinking that. And they should be thinking that.
In fact, one of my to do list items is to do some broader communications across our Division about that exact point Software developers are pretty much the same around the world. Software developers, in general, always try to do the right thing. They are also always, in general, under a certain amount of time pressure. Anything that is going to encourage them to take a little extra time to do something right, in the kind of capital ‘R’ right, way, is a good thing.
Whether that’s testing, whether that’s static analysis like FxCop, or whether that’s security reviews or code reviews, or whether that’s the code is going to be visible to their peers or the public, I think those are all good incentives for software developers to think extra hard about how they do things.
So, you know, honestly, we went through the code, we’ve done these code reviews, and these code scrubs and we found a lot less stuff than we thought we would.Actually, we found almost nothing of any real concern, which was nice.
There are elements like threat modeling, specs, test scripts, all kinds of things that Microsoft might be thinking about exposing. Are there any thoughts or plans along those ways about how far this maybe goes, eventually?
Shawn: That is a really good question. No is the answer. [laughter]
Sean: You’ve accomplished enough by ruining one Cabo vacation. Right? You can put that post up later, you know, on your next vacation.
Shawn: I think that stuff…that is a good point. If you start doing, a curve on the cost for us to do that versus what percentage of customers that level of access is going to be valuable for. For the threat models, and even for the specs, I think that is a harder case to make. I think those things are also harder to vet, or release, than the source is. They are also less useful to a broad set of customers.
Sean: Well, one of the things that crossed my mind was test scripts, and test routines that Microsoft creates because that would be helpful to others just from an educational standpoint. That does not really expose Microsoft to too much more overhead. I am not trying to pitch the idea here, But go ahead, Scott, what were you going to ask?
Scott: No, same thing. Just, Microsoft has given an inch so watch us try to take a mile.
Shawn: Oh, yeah, we know it. Absolutely.
Scott: A lot of times that’s what people want. They say, OK, there is this API. I want an example for how would use it. I would go look in the help. Well, that example is not what I really want. Microsoft I would assume writes really comprehensive test suites.
Shawn: I do not know if the test code is what you want, either. We call it auto PMEs. The PME stands for Property Method and Event. It is super granular. A lot of that code does not relate to any real scenario. It is just wide unit testing code. There are other types of tests as well. A lot of the stuff is that. The challenge of the testing stuff.
I actually think that the testing stuff is a good point, and an interesting thing and I have been thinking about, not really in terms of us releasing test stuff for previous products. I will get into one in a second. The question is going forward, is there a way for customers to leverage the kind of stuff we do in tests more broadly?
However, the reason, going backward, most of our test stuff is written using internal test harnesses and internal tools. There is this huge slippery slope there. You need this and you need that, and it would be really a lot of work.
Scott: Right, right, so they would have this test but they would not be able to hit F5 on it and actually watch it run anyways.
Shawn: Yeah, and the tests probably call into a bunch of other libraries that are internal that we would not ship externally anyway. The tests themselves might not make any sense. Most of the tests are stored in this big system called Mad Dog, which is kind of a giant database of test cases and test code, and I do not even know how you go about extracting code from that thing.
Sean: So Shawn, what do you think aboutthis is just something I was noodling on, trying to think of the right way to box it in given the time in terms of a questionso, Microsoft’s a closed source company, right. By definition if not necessarily for the sake of our interview. What do you think about closed source companies perhaps at times being better able to support the exposure of the source than maybe a company or a project that simply says ‘Well, just go check it out from subversion, from xyz open source project?’
Sean: Because I look at the Visual Studio integration, and I look at robably how this will eventually weave into PSS, interacting with customers, and saying well, here’s an odd dynamic: is a closed source company perhaps better able to actually make the exposure of the source code, when they do it, a more positive experience that actually lets people leverage it more easily? I mean, absent the ability to fork, and some of the more foundational principles of Open Source, how an outside developer would use it day to day development and how a closed source company in this case Microsoft could support that.
Shawn: That is a great question. I think that the answer isone of the things that I’ve been trying to do, and that we’ve been trying to do, is look at the changes in the industry that open source has driven and really think hard about what the real value adds are there. Is the value add really that you can recompile your kernel, or is the value add that you can debug it and understand why it’s doing something?
And there are obviously cases where the answer is ‘both’ or ‘one or the other’. However, for I think the vast majority of folks, us being able to deliver the source in a way that’s easy for folks to consume and step through as a way to make them more successful on our platform is a really big win. I think that it fits well into our overall strategy of kind of keeping developers integrated in our overall processes, and it fits well into this another milestone of transparency.
We have kind of been trying to figure out ways to open up the envelope of transparency with Developer Division particularly and I think this fits into that portfolio really wellas well as the portfolio that the Shared Source Initiative folks are building. You have CodePlex on one end which is full open source, then you have kind of our proprietary source system on the other end, and there’s a nice continuum in between. I think that we do bring some assets to bear which are difficult for companies that are purely open source or service model driven.
Sean: OK, cool. Well, that is all I’ve got, and also to be sensitive to timeScott, do you have a closing question or two?
Scott: I think that’s a good note to leave it on. The thing that we always end with is: are there things that we didn’t cover that you think are really important for people to know? So, we’ll just kind of hand you the microphone at the end if there’s something you want to get out that we didn’t specifically ask about.
Shawn:Nope, I think we covered it all.Thanks guys!