You may have been a little distracted yesterday by the historic landing of Philae on Comet 67P, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you missed Microsoft’s announcement that it’s open-sourcing the .NET stack and making available a free, relatively-full-featured version of Visual Studio. And it’s true; the .Net Foundation Github page now features links to repos for .NET Core 5, ASP.NET 5, the Azure SDK, and several other projects. You can also now download Visual Studio 2013 Community Edition, which has many of the features of Visual Studio Professional.
I’ll add my voice to the crowd shouting “It’s about time you did that!” A free, non-crippled IDE removes a major barrier to entry for use of Azure services and Visual Studio Online. Now that the full tool pipeline is available at reasonable cost, Azure becomes an option for a broader audience, especially for open-source development. However, for many existing Microsoft development teams, Community probably doesn’t provide much of a benefit. Some teams might be able to do some more of your cross-plaftorm mobile development in Visual Studio, but the license terms for Community restrict its use in for-profit endeavors. This demonstrates that Microsoft is not yet ready to walk away from their “developers as profit center” mindset, and will continue to limit Microsoft’s ability to compete with other platforms.
Cross-platform .NET could make Microsoft more of a presence in cloud services, but that’s more potential than reality at this point. I appreciate the tacit admission that Windows can’t compete with Linux on any non-desktop platform, but the tools to actually build and run the .NET CLI on a non-Windows platform don’t yet exist. Once they do, they have the potential to reduce infrastructure costs for any .NET-based development team. Windows-only organizations will have to adapt to a heterogenous environment to take advantage of those savings, and that will be a slow process.
In summary, if you’re trying to decide whether to go .NET or not for a project that will launch in the next six months, the announcement probably doesn’t influence your decision much. Open-source projects now have access to a free-as-in-beer, capable version of Visual Studio, but you will likely still need one of the paid versions in order to do commercial development. You’ll also need to deploy your .NET code on Windows for the foreseeable future, unless Mono can run your project and you’re willing to give it a try. And the terms of the rest of the tool chain for web apps (TFS, IIS and SQL Server) haven’t changed. .NET is still a hard sell for teams that don’t have an existing Microsoft investment.