Official Blog of Shaun Walker


Microsoft Sponsorship

By Shaun Walker on 3/3/2015
( Excerpt from Professional DNN7 Open Source .NET CMS Platform - WROX Press - April 2015 - ISBN: 978-1-118-85084-8 )

In August 2003, I came to an agreement with Microsoft regarding a sponsorship proposal for the DotNetNuke project. In a nutshell, Microsoft wanted DotNetNuke to be enhanced in a number of key areas with the intent being to use the open source project as a means of demonstrating the strengths of the ASP.NET platform. Because these enhancements were completely congruent with the future goals of the project, there was little negative consequence from a technical perspective. In return for implementing the enhancements, Microsoft would provide a number of sponsorship benefits to the project including web hosting for the www.dotnetnuke.com website, weekly meetings with an ASP.NET Team representative (Rob Howard), continued promotion via the www.asp.net website, and more direct access to Microsoft resources for mentoring and guidance. It took five months for this sponsorship proposal to come together, which demonstrates the patience and perseverance required to collaborate with such an influential partner as Microsoft. Nonetheless, this was potentially a one-time offer, and at such a critical stage in the project evolution it seemed too important to ignore.

An interesting perception shared by most people in the IT industry at that time was that Microsoft was morally against the entire open source phenomenon. In my opinion, this was far from the truth — the reality is so much more simplistic. Like any other business that is trying to enhance its market position, Microsoft is merely concerned about competition. This is nothing new. In the past, Microsoft faced competitive challenges from many sources — companies, individuals, and governments. However, the environment at the time made it much more emotional and newsworthy to suggest that Microsoft was pitted against a grassroots community movement rather than a traditional business or legal concern. And it did take some time and effort for Microsoft to adapt to the changing landscape, but in recent years Microsoft has now embraced open source.

When it comes to DotNetNuke, many people probably questioned why Microsoft would be interested in assisting an open source project where it receives no direct benefit. And it may be perplexing why Microsoft would sponsor a product that competes to some degree with several of its own commercial applications. But you do not have to look much further than the obvious indirect benefits to see why this relationship has tremendous value. First and foremost, the DotNetNuke application was only designed for use on the Microsoft platform. This meant that in order to use DotNetNuke, you needed to have valid licenses for a number of Microsoft infrastructure components (Windows operating system, database server, and so on). So this provided the financial value. In addition, DotNetNuke promoted the benefits of the .NET Framework and encouraged developers to migrate to Microsoft’s development platform. This provides the educational value. Finally, it cultivated an active and passionate community — a network of loyal supporters who were motivated to leverage and promote Microsoft technology on an international scale. This provided the marketing value.

In September 2003, with the assistance of the newly formed Core Team, we embarked on an ambitious mission to implement the enhancements to DotNetNuke suggested by Microsoft. The problem at this point was that in addition to the Microsoft enhancements, there were some critical community enhancements, which I ultimately perceived as an even higher priority if the project should hope to grow to the next level. So the scope of the enhancement project began to snowball, and estimated release dates began to slip. The quality of the release code was also considered to be so crucial a factor that early beta packages were not deemed worthy of distribution. Ultimately, the code base evolved so much that there was little question the next release would need to be labeled version 2.0. During this phase of internal development, some members of the Core Team did an outstanding job of supporting the 1.x community and generating excitement about the next major release. This was critical in keeping the DotNetNuke community engaged and committed to the evolving project.

A number of excellent community enhancements for the DotNetNuke 1.0 platform also emerged during this stage. This sparked an active third-party reseller and support community, establishing yet another essential factor in any largely successful open source project. Unfortunately, at this point the underlying architecture of the DotNetNuke application was not particularly extensible, which made the third-party enhancements susceptible to upgrade complications and somewhat challenging to integrate for end users. As a Core Team, we recognized this limitation and focused on full modularity as a guiding principle for all future enhancements.

Modularity is an architecture principle that basically involves the creation of well-defined interfaces for the purpose of extending an application. The goal of any framework should be to provide interfaces in all areas that are likely to require customization based on business requirements or personalization based on individuality. DotNetNuke provides extensibility in the area of modules, skins, templates, data providers, and localization. And DotNetNuke typically goes one step beyond defining the basic interface: it actually provides the full spectrum of related resource services including creation, packaging, distribution, and installation. With all of these services available, it makes it extremely easy for developers to build and share application extensions with other members of the community.

One of the benefits of working on an open source project is the fact that there is a high priority placed on creating the optimal solution or architecture. This goal often results in more preliminary analysis and design that tends to elongate the schedule but also results in a more extensible and adaptable architecture. This differs from traditional application development that often suffers from time and budget constraints, resulting in shortcuts, poor design decisions, and delivery of functionality before it is validated. Another related benefit is that the developers of open source software also represent a portion of its overall user community, meaning they actually “eat their own dog food” so to speak. This is really critical when it comes to understanding the business requirements under which the application needs to operate. Far too often you find commercial vendors who build their software in a virtual vacuum, never experiencing the fundamental application use cases in a real-world environment.

One of the challenges in allowing the Core Team to work together on the DotNetNuke application was the lack of high-quality infrastructure tools. Probably the most fundamental elements from a software development standpoint were the need for a reliable source-code-control system and issue-management system. Because the project had little to no financial resources to draw upon, we were forced to use whatever free services were available in the open source community. And although some of these services are leveraged successfully by other open source projects, the performance, management, and disaster recovery aspects are sorely lacking. This led to a decision to approach some of the more successful commercial vendors in these areas with requests for pro-bono software licenses. Surprisingly, these vendors were more than happy to assist the DotNetNuke open source project in exchange for some minimal sponsorship recognition. This model has ultimately been carried on in other project areas to acquire the professional infrastructure, development tools, and services necessary to support our growing organization.

As we worked through the enhancements for the DotNetNuke 2.0 project, a number of Core Team members gained considerable respect within the project based on their high level of commitment, unselfish behavior, and expert development skills. Joe Brinkman, Dan Caron, Scott McCulloch, and Geert Veenstra sacrificed a lot of personal time and energy to improve the DotNetNuke open source project. And the important thing to realize is that they did so because they wanted to help others and make a difference, not because of self-serving agendas or premeditated expectations. The satisfaction of working with other highly talented individuals in an open, collaborative environment is reward enough for some developers. And it is this particular aspect of open source development that continues to confound and amaze people as time goes on.

In October 2003, there was a Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles, California. The PDC is the premier software development spectacle for the Microsoft platform; an event that occurs only every two years. About a month prior to the event Cory Isakson, a developer on the Rainbow Portal open source project (another derivative of the IBuySpy Portal based on C#), contacted me, saying that “Open Source Portals” had been nominated as a category for a “Birds of Feather” session at the event. I posted the details in the DotNetNuke Forum and soon the item had collected enough community votes that it was approved as an official BOF session. This provided a great opportunity to meet with DotNetNuke enthusiasts and critics from all over the globe. It also provided a great networking opportunity to chat with the most influential commercial software vendors in the .NET development space (contacts made with SourceGear and MaximumASP at this event proved to be important to DotNetNuke, as time would tell).

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Shaun Walker has 25+ years professional experience in architecting and implementing enterprise software solutions for private and public organizations. Shaun is the original creator of DotNetNuke, a Web Application Framework which is one of the pioneering open source software applications native to the Microsoft platform. He was one of the original founders of DNN Corp, a commercial software company providing products, services, and technical support for DotNetNuke, which raised 3 rounds of venture capital from top tier Silicon Valley investors. Based on his significant community contributions he has been recognized as a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) as well as an ASPInsider for over 10 consecutive years. He was recognized by Business In Vancouver as a leading entrepreneur in their Forty Under 40 business awards, was a founding member of the Board of Directors of the Outercurve Foundation, and is currently the Chairman of the Advisory Council for Microsoft's .NET Foundation. Shaun is currently a Partner and CTO at Arrow Digital.

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 DNN is the most widely deployed open source .NET web content management platform that allows you to design, build, and manage feature-rich websites, web applications, and social communities.

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