Microsoft is cooperating with Novell on a project code-named "Moonlight" to port its Silverlight web development tool to Linux.
On its face, this is big news because it is Microsoft's first real contribution to the open source desktop, reports Miguel de Icaza, of GNOME fame, and one of Novell's top desktop developers. Microsoft, after all, has worked with Xen and PHP on open source server projects but this is the first desktop collaboration, after all.
The work was announced Wednesday by Microsoft in conjunction with the release of its Silverlight 1.0 plug-in for Windows and Macintosh.
The spinoff "Moonlight" project will enable open source developers to design high-definition interactive media applications on the Linux platform and potentially other open source operating systems.
As part of the deal, Mono developers will create run-time implementations of Silverlight 1.0 and Silverlight 1.1. To assist in the endeavor, Microsoft will offer access to its test suite and specifications and also binary codecs for video and audio for Silverlight. The catch, however, is that the codecs can only be used with "Moonlight" due to licensing restrictions, a fact that will likely dampen some of the celebration among open source developers.
The Mono project will deliver the "Moonlight" for major Linux distributions and Firefox through OpenSUSE build service and as a Mozilla extension initially but the team's intent is to port it to other open source operating systems and browsers in the future, de Icaza claims.
It is still in early development and it's not clear when the "Moonlight" tools -- the run-time and Software Development Kit -- will be available.
Here's my take: Moonlight is a step in the right direction to pump up Linux on the desktop but the announcement with Novell is also a well timed manuever on Microsoft's part designed to cull favor in the open source world, and part of a sweeping effort to gain approval for Open XML in the final ISO vote next March.
Yet it does nothing to assuage concerns of customers, especially those in Europe, who are working to loosen Microsoft's overwhelming control over desktop formats by endorsing a rival OpenDocument (ODF) format supported by OpenOffice.
Microsoft still controls about 95 percent of the PC desktop. Linux has captured only measley two percent of the desktop market and isn't expected to gain much more share in the next year.
What customers want from Microsoft is open document formats that will allow the Linux desktop and Open Office to flourish, not development tools for a desktop that has little to no market share when compared to Microsoft's Windows and Office monopoly.