Michael Kölling, a senior lecturer at Kent University
, has blogged
that Microsoft has applied for a patent
that covers key interaction styles used in BlueJ
. In his blog he alleges that after discussions with academics that preferred BlueJ to Visual Studio, Microsoft incorporated these key interactions into VS via Object Test Bench
BlueJ, originally developed in 1994 (named Blue) as part of a research project at Deakin University
and the University of Kent, is a environment for introducing object orientation without having to deal with the nuances of syntax. The tool is now widely used by many hundreds of Educational institutions.
As part of their efforts to gain greater access to educational programs, Microsoft announced the MSDN Academic Alliance
in February of 2001. Educational institutions joining this program would be given access to key Microsoft development tools for a minimal charge. Unfortunately for Microsoft, in many cases Java had already taken hold and C# didn’t offer a compelling enough story to entice educators to revamp their programs.
In 2005 Microsoft was talking to educators on how to make Visual Studio better for academia. Object Test Bench is a key result of these discussions. After learning of Object Test Bench in May of 2005, Michael posted a side by side comparison
against with BlueJ. In the conclusion to that posting he states; "Do I care? I don't care that they copied BlueJ - good on them, and good luck to them. But I care about attribution."
In response to this blog entry, Microsoft employee Dan Fernandez dug up some answers
. His response states:
We did tweak both of these features based on teacher feedback, which borrows from several teaching concepts these teachers already enjoy with BlueJ.
Now that Microsoft has applied for patents on key features in BlueJ, Michael’s attitude has changed. In his most recent postings, he states; "So my earlier belief that I don’t think we need to [be] be worried about Microsoft possibly taking out a patent was clearly misguided." However misguided Michael may feel at the moment, his original feelings were based on the assumption that there was prior art that they themselves never claimed that this was their invention. Instead Michael reveals that the key concepts were derived from Smalltalk
Michael is convinced that Microsoft is keenly aware of BlueJ. This conviction is shared by educator and Java ChampionCay Horstmann
. In his blog he states:
... the team that markets Visual Studio to educators is keenly aware of the competitive landscape. I had many conversations at the annual ACM CS education conference with Microsoft representatives about the various products, and they were well informed and certainly knew BlueJ.
To be fair, Cay also points out that Microsoft is a large company and as such, the group filing the patent application may not have been aware of the prior art.
In a follow up to Michael’s original posting, he points to a response by Chris Worland
, a project manager at Microsoft:
Although we are often considered a mechanical monstrosity rolling over everyone, my view working there from my last seven years is the opposite. We’re sometimes chaotic and uncoordinated.
However, we are not the type of people who tolerate hypocrisy. If our product was a port of someone else’s idea (which it looks like we’ve already said publicly), we’re not going to pursue this.
Still the question remains, if the responsible parties in Microsoft were aware of BlueJ, then why did they file for this patent? Michael suggests the following answers:
- They hope that people just don’t notice and object
- The people that may object don’t have the expertise, time or money.
- An employee under pressure submitted the application to an unknowing supervisor
Michael ends his blog entry with "I'm not too happy." Can you imagine?