So who is Microsoft anyway?

"Microsoft? What on earth do they want to have to do with PHP?", I was asked incredulously last night.
Well, apparently, quiet a lot, although calling it "The greatest love story as yet untold" may be going a bit far (and possibly even a little creepy?)

To many of us, Microsoft is still seen as the antithesis of the Open Source world, something due in large part to their own behaviour. Most developers who've been around long enough to recall the browser wars, the EU antitrust case, the battles Samba used to have to interoperate, frankly don't trust them. Indeed my own last significant interaction with them was when we were developing the Sender Policy Framework, and Microsoft wanted to leverage their own Intellectual Property into it and then require a "RAND-Z" licence on top of it - which would have crippled open-source adoption, and thereby the standard itself.

So yeah, I'm not really predisposed to liking Microsoft.

But that experience was several years ago, and the Microsoft Behemoth is starting to turn. Led internally by figures such as Hank Jannsen and (in the UK) Will Coleman (who apparently exists only on Twitter), there's a strong "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" pro-open-source movement gathering steam.

Microsoft appear to have realised that when they try and beat open source technologies such as PHP, everyone loses. That gives them the choice of ignoring it and hoping it'll go away, or working with the PHP movement to try and make IIS a good choice of platform to run PHP on (previously it's been dog-slow and unstable) and MS-SQL a good database to pair with.

Fortunately, they've gone with this last option, and there's a significant and growing effort within MS to make this work well, as can be seen at their Open Source blog.

It was for this reason that I (and a number of other UK "PHP community leaders") was invited to a "Microsoft PHP Community Event" last week. They're trying to engage the community at its own level, which in this case meant a few talks, and quite a bit of Q&A, in the back room of a pub. This comprised a video presentation from Hank Jannsen, and talks from Will Coleman from the MS side together with Ivo Jansch and Scott MacVicar from the community side. As this was all done in a Pecha-Kucha (20/20) fashion it was all slightly hectic. The community asked for a lot, and Microsoft promised a lot, in terms of technical assistance, time, cash, and attitude change.

It's worth admitting that MS already do a far bit - technical assistance to the Samba project, financial aid to the Apache foundation, and technical improvements to Zend Core which have brought the speed of PHP on Windows/IIS servers to parity with that on Linux/Apache. The question is whether they can do enough both to convince the community, and to convince businesses to combine Open Source and commercial platforms.

It'll be worth watching, but they've got some work to do.

Special mention has to be given both to the food at the Windmill pub - Sausage and Mash as finger food? How about Fish, chips and mushy peas? - and to the goodie bags; Santa hats, Xbox 360 games, whisky, very small trees, and and crunchie bars ("To make the credit crunch fun!"). Well, Will's a nice guy, but sometimes he worries me.
Posted by parsingphase, 2008-12-14 22:31

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