by Bryan Kirschner on April 25, 2008 06:12pm

 

The same week that Brad Smith (Microsoft’s General Counsel) keynoted at the Open Source Business Conference (OSBC), we held our first Microsoft-wide Open Source Day (which Jamie and Mario both blogged about). We all noticed folks expressed interest in what was presented and discussed at Open Source Day, so we’re going to try to share what we said and what we learned with the Port25 community.

I was one of the presenters and facilitators for Q&A and panel discussions. The thrust of my presentation was ensuring everyone understands why Microsoft cares about open source, how Microsoft engages with open source communities, and what this means to you as a Microsoft employee (see the succinct, if not terribly exciting, slide below…).

If you read Port25, and you know about Codeplex, and Microsoft.com/opensource, and you’ve seen the cool stuff the open source heroes are doing, you probably have a good idea about the former two items. It’s the “you” part for which Open Source Day represents a major milestone, and that’s what I’ll talk about here.

Here’s why Open Source Day—kicking off a continuing dialogue with hundreds of Microsoft employees, and, by extension, the people they work for, who work with them, who they have lunch with etc, etc—is a transformative event. There have been pioneers working on open source and Microsoft “growing together.” At the risk of oversimplifying, I’ll put them into two groups: people like me, Sam Ramji, and Bill Hilf, and other members of the Port25 team, for example, whose full-time job is thinking about open source in one way or another. With no disrespect to what is one heck of an open source all star team (there are many I could highlight, but we’ve got some nice videos for Tom and Hank…), it’s still a relatively small number of people relative to 80,000 plus employees around the world.

The next group is larger and its people who just did smart things: I’m oversimplifying, but open source wasn’t necessarily their one-and-only-job, or even specifically in their job description. There’s the Shared Source team, the Codeplex team, and bunches of people across the company (once again I’ll stick to the latest videos…Jim, John…shoot, it’s killing me to leave people out…Rob, Sara…). One of the best parts of being in “Group 1” is just discovering what “Group 2” is doing…far more often than not, just because it made sense for their product or team…and for open source partners or communities.

But we’re still not fully tapping “Group 3.”…. until now. From KDE to BSD, Office to MSR, there are a lot of people at Microsoft who came in to the company with experience and passion for some form of participation in open source. And there are lots of people who, in the course of their work and lives, wonder “why can’t my team / group / product do <insert idea about growing together with open source.” I know because Open Source Day broadened out the discussion to more people than ever before—and with more clarity about what is not only possible—but encouraged by the company. Open Source Day is a pivotal point in freeing the many, many smart passionate developers and program managers and others from any lingering concern that engagement with open source is something they need to worry about “more than” doing something else. (Yes, anything still has to make sense for customers, partners, and shareholders…like everything else--but open source engagement and strategy is a “first-class citizen.”)

These statements weren’t made specifically “for” Open Source Day. Brad’s comments are from his OSBC keynote. Ray’s are from his talk at the Microsoft MVP Summit. But they sum this up better than anything I had in my slides:

Ray Ozzie in response to a question about Microsoft and Open Source (read the whole thing here):

Well, my position toward Open Source generally is that it's a part of the environment. It's very useful for developers to be able to get the source code to certain things, to modify them. …Microsoft fundamentally as a whole has changed dramatically as a result of Open Source in terms of as people have been using it more and more, the nature of interoperability between our systems and other systems has increased. …Open Source is a reality. We have a software business that is based on proprietary software. We tactically or strategically, depending on how you look at it, will take certain aspects of what we do, and we'll Open Source them where we believe there is a real benefit to the community and to the nature of the growth of that technology in Open Sourcing it. …Wilted Flowere live in a world together with Open Source, and we have to make it possible for you to build solutions and for customers to build solutions that incorporate aspects of both.

Brad Smith at OSBC (read the whole thing here):

…Before I say anything else, I do want to say this: We at Microsoft respect and appreciate the important role that open source software plays in our industry. We respect and we appreciate the passion and the great contribution that open source developers make in our industry. We respect and we appreciate the important role that open source software plays for our customers, customers who almost always have heterogeneous computer networks with software and hardware and services that, as you all well know, come from multiple vendors. That is not what you have always heard from us, and I recognize that. But I did want to start by saying that…

And the beauty of Open Source Day is this: Brad Smith and Ray Ozzie are pretty darn important, but, basically, they are in “Group 2.” What they’ve really done is catalyze and energize the hundreds—thousands—of people in Group 3 to take Microsoft and open source into a new era. I just hope those of us in “Group 1” have the energy to keep up!