Microsoft's latest move to bring non-Windows developers and VARs into the Azure fold is winning praise from Microsoft shops and even some non-aligned partners.
This week the company said that two proxies -- "open source" companies Tasktop Technologies and Soyatec -- will work on various plug-ins and add-ons to bring users of the Eclipse integrated development environment (IDE) into the Azure fold.
The deliverables will be a Silverlight plug-in to let users of the popular Eclipse IDE build rich Internet applications with Microsoft's Silverlight toolset and a software development kit (SDK) for Java developers wanting to target Azure.
Microsoft is also bundling a previously announced PHP SDK into a new Windows Azure toolset for Eclipse, a Microsoft spokeswoman said.
Tasktop will work on additions to the Eclipse IDE that will let developers work on applications for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 operating systems. That technology will be available under the Eclipse Public License to early users in the first quarter of 2010 and will be delivered broadly with Eclipse Helios next June, Microsoft said. Soyatec, which worked on the PHP SDK, is also doing the Java SDK.
Microsoft's Azure cloud computing platform is in an early beta test phase now with broader availability promised for next month. Microsoft will talk more about Azure timelines at its Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles in November.
For months, Microsoft tried to position Windows-based Azure as a welcoming platform for even those outside the Windows development camp and this is another step in that direction, VARs said.
"There is a concerted effort in Redmond to make Windows, Silverlight and Windows Azure appealing to developers on non-Microsoft platforms. The stuff announced today will produce tangible work product that proves this effort is real and not merely rhetorical," said Andrew Brust, chief of new technology for twentysix New York, a Microsoft Gold partner specializing in custom development work.
"Microsoft is known for providing excellent tooling for developers … but if non-MS developers get just APIs and no tooling, then the whole outreach rings hollow. What's great about this is that [non-Microsoft developers] get the tooling and Windows 7 IDE integration they need and don't have to use Visual Studio to get it. That makes the [cross]-platform appeal of Windows, Azure and Silverlight much more real to me. And the fact that Microsoft is targeting both Java and PHP developers shows this effort is broad-based, as it should be," Brust said via email.
Adding Azure appeal for 'Anyone But Microsoft' crowd
This news might even placate some "Anyone But Microsoft" partisans. William Wnekowicz, president of Altum Design Studios, a Cedar Grove, N.J. website design shop, said he lives most of his professional life in the Linux and Macintosh worlds and even he could be swayed. "The key for Microsoft will be to make this easy. If they create these plugins for the Eclipse IDE, it's much more likely that someone like me would use it, especially if they support PHP. We don't do much in ASP or .NET," he said.
Carl Mazzanti, CEO of eMazzanti, a Microsoft partner in Hoboken, said this integration is good for his company both as a partner and a customer. "We're happy if Microsoft can pull in more developers to the platform we already know and use."
Of course, developers and VARs say Microsoft has no choice but to be welcoming to all developers. It is not the leader in the cloud computing effort where Amazon Web Services (AWS) has stolen a lead. AWS offers developers an inexpensive and non-Windows-specific cloud to run their work. And, if at some point, the developer or VAR or end user company wants to move that application and data off of AWS and bring it in-house, there is no hurdle to doing so. That isn't a clear option with Azure, they said. "The fear is lock-in with Azure," said one VAR that is doing work with both Azure and AWS.
Robert Shear, president of Greystone Solutions Inc., a VAR that works on several cloud platforms, said Microsoft's news makes sense to both Windows and non-Windows camps. "Is this a good idea for the Eclipse community? Sure, if you're an Eclipse guy and you want to target Azure or Windows 7, this is a good thing. And Microsoft wants to get everyone's stuff to run on Azure."
Shear agreed that fear of lock-in is a factor with Azure but also with Google's apps framework where "you pretty much have to program in Python."
For developers and their customers there has to be a backup plan, Shear said. No one can afford to put their apps and data in an environment they can't be taken out of, he said.
Amazon's AWS and Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) are front-runners now in the cloud sweepstakes. Shear said he and his customers are pretty happy with the Amazon platform thus far.
"We've had some minor lingering issues. Some clients are using it very successfully, the economics are great and the performance is as advertised [but there have been] … some minor technology problems. One of the things about Microsoft is, for better or worse, for a company of their size, they're very transparent [whereas] Amazon is pretty secretive."
This story was updated Thursday afternoon with additional VAR comment.
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