How open source has influenced Windows Server 2008

by Sam Ramji on February 27, 2008 06:00am

When I think about what works really well in open source development and technology, the following things stand out:

    • Modular architectures
      You can find these wherever you see participation at scale – and often a rearchitecture to a more modular system precedes expanded participation.  Great examples of this are Firefox, OpenOffice, and X11 – from both the historical rearchitecture and the increased participation that resulted.  The Apache HTTP server and APR are good examples that have been modular for as long as I can recall.
    • Programming language agnostic
      A given project uses a consistent language, but there are no rules on what languages are in scope or out of scope.  Being open to more languages means opportunity to attract more developers – the diversity of PHP/Perl/Python/Java has been a core driver in the success of a number of projects including Linux.
    • Feedback-driven development
      The “power user” as product manager is a powerful shift in how to build and tune software – and this class of users includes developers who are not committing code back, but instead submitting CRs and defects – resulting in a product that better fits its end users.
    • Built-for-purpose systems
      Most frequently seen in applications of Linux, the ability to build a system that has just what is needed to fulfill its role and nothing else (think of highly customizable distributions like Gentoo or BusyBox, as well as fully custom deployments).
    • Sysadmins who write code
      The ability of a skilled system administrator to write the “last mile” code means that they can make a technology work in their particular environment efficiently and often provide good feedback to developers.  This is so fundamental to Unix and Linux environments that most sysadmins are competent programmers.
    • Standards-based communication
      Whether the standard is something from the IETF or W3C, or simply the implementation code itself, where these are used projects are more successful (think of Asterisk and IAX2) and attract a larger ecosystem of software around them.

So where did we apply these ideas to the development of Windows Server 2008?

    • Modular architectures was applied in multiple areas, but the one that stands out most to me is Internet Information Server 7 (IIS7).   IIS7 has been rearchitected for flexibility as 40 individual modules, enable more to be written by community developers or delivered as out-of-band releases.  This has already enabled performance improvements and independent evolution, and I expect to see further enhancements.
    • Programming language agnostic is something we’ve delivered on with support for PHP on IIS7 and the enhancements to FastCGI (which can be used by any of the P* languages).  We set a goal of having PHP certified on Windows Server 2008, and we’ve achieved that.  We’ll continue to improve runtime, security, and manageability support for non-.NET languages and the applications that are built on them, as well as testing the full stacks of PHP-based applications running on Windows Server, IIS, and SQL Server. 
    • Feedback-driven development based on developer and customer trials (RDPs, TAPs, and Betas in our process) led to a range of “feature completion” developments that connected different components – like connecting Windows Firewall with Active Directory central policy, and the end-to-end improvements in SMB 2.0.  Features like the RODC (Read-Only Domain Controller) have become more and more solid through experience with early alpha and beta customer deployments, and requests to enforce things like BitLocker encryption of user disks from a central authority have achieved full support.
    • Built-for-purpose systems such as DNS, DHCP, file and web serving can be created through wizard-driven configuration thanks to Windows Server Core.  The goal of having a minimum attack surface and a small hardware footprint, inspired by the capabilities mentioned above, yet achievable by a broad base of admins has been achieved.  Additionally, this has created an opportunity for Windows admins to become much more knowledgeable about the low-level structure of the operating system.
    • Sysadmins who write code are first-class citizens in the PowerShell-driven infrastructure.  We’ve increased Windows administrators’ opportunity to master the full surface area of WMI and demonstrate that mastery in reusable, low-level scripts.  As we evolve this to support multiple language bindings and bash aliasing, this should become a comfortable home for highly skilled sysadmins.
    • Standards-based communication such as in CardSpace (with support for X.509, SAML, Kerberos tokens, and more) and the Web Services stack (not only are all 38 Web Services standard under the Open Specification promise, but our implementations have achieved a high level of interop with Apache’s Axis web services stack), and beta support for emerging standards like Xen virtualization represent a small subset of the standards built into Windows Server 2008.

Overall, we’ve learned and continue to learn from open source development principles.  These are making their way into the mindset, development practices, and ultimately into the products we bring to market.

I’ve focused here on “what Microsoft has learned from Open Source” – and ironically, I’ve agreed to do a panel at OSBC on 3/25 with Jim Zemlin of the Linux Foundation on “what Open Source can learn from Microsoft”.  As all of the different organizations in IT continue to evolve, we’ll learn from each others’ best practices and make increasingly better software.  As in science, this incremental improvement will move all of us forward.