Microsoft has made its first real foray into Open Source software by supporting Perl for Windows.
The company has signed a three-year agreement with Perl tool developer Active-State, which will extend Perl by adding features previously missing from the Windows version of the popular CGI scripting language. Active-State described the deal as a "Perl Open Source development and support contract".
ActiveState said that "most of the work will be released as Open Source", and that "everything added to core Perl will be released under the same terms as Perl".
The work will include implementing the fork() function for Perl for Windows, adding support for the Microsoft Installer, extending Unicode support, and increasing PerlScript performance.
Open Source advocates on the popular Slashdot news discussion site were wary of Microsoft's intentions, but in general the move was seen to be a positive one. Some accused Microsoft of hijacking Perl, with the intention of introducing proprietary extensions to corrupt the language in much the same way as it did with the Java language.
"I foresee dire predictions that Microsoft will turn Perl into a proprietary technology, like they did with Java," said Jack Gavigan, systems engineer with UK digital asset management firm Picdar. "However, so what if they do? Perl isn't like Java - for the most part, it's a server-side scripting language, not a half-compiled binary which is meant to run on the client."
Others saw it as a means of popularising Perl, and pointed out that the Open Source Artistic licence used by Perl allows commercial exploitation.
ActiveState admitted: "Our business is based on the Perl Platform. The better Perl gets, the better our company will do."
Even a self-confessed "rabid (U)nix bigot, Perl geek, (who) hates Microsoft" admitted: "As a Perl programmer I sense that this will do us more good than harm."
Brian Jepson, author of O'Reilly and Associates' Perl Resource Kit Utilities Guide, said: "Even if (Microsoft) had intentions to (hijack Perl) now, I think it would find it very difficult given that ActiveState's distribution is based on the core Perl source (code).
"ActiveState and many other people put a lot of time into merging the core Perl and Win32 branches, and I doubt they are going to allow a split to occur," he added.
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