What was Microsoft Doing at DrupalCon?


Whew! DrupalCon was fun…and exhausting. I don’t know why, but I’m always surprised that conferences can be simultaneously exhausting and energizing. Right now, it feels good to be back home, and I’m enjoying looking back on my experience with the perspective that time provides. I thought I’d share my perceptions before they fade…


I didn’t attend nearly as many sessions as I’d hoped to. Instead, I spent a lot more time simply talking to people…which was great. I probably learned more by talking to people than I would have by attending more sessions…although what I learned wasn’t what I might have expected. One question, asked by nearly everyone I talked to, was the source for my learning: What is Microsoft doing at DrupalCon? I have to admit that I wasn’t as prepared for this question as I should have been. For me, it was (and had been for a few weeks) obvious: we were at DrupalCon to announce the release of our latest SQL Server Driver for PHP and talk about the work CommerceGuys had done to write a Drupal module using the driver to provide SQL Server access from Drupal 7.  But that’s not what most people were asking. That announcement itself was only of moderate interest. People wanted to know what Microsoft was doing at DrupalCon. How did we come to wander into this neighborhood?


In retrospect, this was probably obvious to most folks except me: Microsoft was a stranger in the Drupal community. It wasn’t necessarily that Microsoft was disliked, it was simply that we had been non-participants…we were irrelevant to the community. At first, I was a little surprised by this. I’ve been so focused on Microsoft efforts aimed at participation in open source communities that I was surprised to see these efforts still falling short of providing value. Clearly, that was a naive view of our efforts…we still have a lot of work to do. However, from my point of view, it does seem that Microsoft is beginning to recognize that the Web is driven by applications, not platforms. I see that in the people I work with, the decisions management makes, the way resources are allocated, and the things we release. The latest release of our PHP driver and the collaboration with the CommerceGuys is only one example. (I don’t want to turn this into a list that tries to justify my claim, but this post has links to other relevant PHP-related efforts.) It is in Microsoft’s best interests and in the best interests of communities like Drupal’s that choices for building Web applications are available. Does Microsoft hope to get something out of making choices available? Of course, but I think we also beginning to understand that can only happen with lasting participation in the community and as a result of providing genuine value to the community. And, again from my point of view, I’m starting to see genuine efforts on Microsoft’s part to participate…to contribute something for what it gets back.  Perhaps we have some work to do in understanding what it means to contribute something that the community genuinely values.


I was encouraged to find some people at DrupalCon who welcomed Microsoft’s participation and hoped to see more. But, not surprisingly, there were some skeptics. Several people I talked to listened to us but decided to let our actions speak for us…and that is totally fair. It doesn’t mean much for a Microsoft employee (like myself) to say we are going to be genuine community participants. Our actions need to speak for us. It won’t do any good to list the things we have done recently…I realize that isn’t enough. But I do see the intent to do more…at least from my immediate colleagues. Admittedly, we are still taking baby steps, but I’d like to think that our actions will speak for us in the near future and our sustained actions will speak for us in the long run.


What are your thoughts on our efforts?


Thanks.


-Brian


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Comments (17)

  1. James says:

    I think anyone in the business of promoting the use of open-source tools in the enterprise-tier space will be very familiar with Microsoft’s efforts in facilitating that goal.

    Microsoft’s official support for PHP under IIS 6 and 7 is a HUGE factor in enabling open-source products like Drupal to leverage existing infrastructure in many companies and government.

    Microsoft’s biggest challenge is the extremely entrenched LAMP stack mentality many PHP-based open source products target. PHP applications can finally run on a Microsoft stack with comparable performance and compatibility – this is the messaging that needs to get out there.

  2. redndahead says:

    Honestly, rightly or wrongly, I think most non .net web developers, especially open source web developers, have a distaste for MS.  Internet Explorer is the #1 reason for that.  If and when MS can get past that then there might be some headway.  Otherwise to a lot of us you represent the biggest headache in our jobs.

  3. Josiah says:

    I used to have to integrate open source products with Active Directory for authentication purposes. It’s been many years since I did that, but back then MS wasn’t providing any help or information on this. My perspective on MS is largely based on that time. I’ve since moved on to jobs that don’t use Active Directory and don’t have MS products at the core. Things have been easier that way for me, but I don’t know if MS has improved because I intentionally moved away from them. Honestly, you’ll have trouble with that, but getting guys like Dries to point out blog entries like this is a really good step. It opens my eyes to see that open source leaders like Dries are warming to MS as a participant in the community.

    Also, if you want to participate in the community, it would be good to not do what Google did. Here’s the conversation I’m referencing: http://code.google.com/p/drupal-friendconnect/issues/detail?id=2.

  4. sun says:

    It is great to see Microsoft’s will to participate in open-source.

    In addition to what you are already doing, I would guess that the Drupal community would wholeheartedly welcome official or even semi-official pointers, support, and code in the theming area, i.e. cross-browser compatibility of HTML/JS/CSS in particular.

    We are frequently struggling with proper support of IE6/7/8+ throughout Drupal core and contributed modules and themes.  Most of the information that we are basing our resulting decisions on are derived from arbitrary blog posts and resources on the net and similar half-baked wisdom.

    We do our best, but in general, there’s little solid information around topics like security, UTF-8 issues, CSS2, CSS3, or IE’s JavaScript engine(s), and so on.  Often, it would even be helpful to just get a short pointer, clarification, or historical insights on the evolution of IE’s engine, to take the right (or better/faster) decisions.

    After all, especially in this area, the community is normally able to discuss an issue with browser vendors in their public issue trackers, or mayhaps even look directly at the engine’s code.  With Microsoft’s browser products – which we are also trying to support – none of that interaction and collaboration is possible, since there’s no open/public issue tracker, the code is closed-source, and changes in the browser engine can’t be reviewed or tracked in any way.

    Of course, it’s unlikely that this will change.  But if the Drupal community can’t come to the vendor to collaborate, then a proprietary vendor like Microsoft is able to come to the community to collaborate and help improving Drupal’s support for Microsoft’s products.

    Thanks,

    Daniel F. Kudwien (sun)

  5. Luis says:

    I agree with @redndahead, IE is why Open source web developers hate Microsoft and they aren’t doing anything to change that.

    I don’t need Microsoft at all. Linux/PHP/Apache are so much better than Windows/ASP/IIS.. And there’s a reason for that: the community, Microsoft is trying to get involved with the community, but it won’t let the community to get involved with Microsoft.

    They won’t change my opinion if they do crappy products like IE (all versions). And the best part, is they don’t care, since whoever reads this, won’t be able to change the CEO’s opinion or Microsoft, at all.

    Microsoft needs to do more than going to open source conferences, it needs to change it’s attitude.

  6. Brian Egan says:

    Thanks for the explanation!I totally agree with RedNDaHead. To add, from my perspective, it still seems like Microsoft is just playing catch-up on every front.

    Microsoft is finally releasing a driver of similar quality & speed to a typical LAMP stack.

    IE 9 will finally support SVG, CSS3 and the other HTML5 goodies, but the slow adoption rate of new versions of IE means that we simply cannot use the coolest new features of HTML5 for a majority of our users in the next 2-5 years. That is insanely frustrating.

    Microsoft is finally getting on the bandwagon with open source, after being, frankly, a bit of a douche about open source for two and a half decades.

    Microsoft finally released a decent operating system since XP was launched 10 years ago.

    I think Microsoft has been on a roll recently, and I’m very encouraged by your efforts on several fronts. But until you start leading again, instead of playing catch up all the time, you’re going to continue to be viewed as the slow kid no one wants to pick for the basketball team.

  7. Zohar Stolar says:

    Brian, thanks for sharing your points of view. It was indeed quite unusual, and rather unexpected, to find you guys in SF.

    I think that our responsibility, as a community, is to put aside any hard feelings we might have (and do have) towards Microsoft’s products and approach, and welcome warmly your efforts to participate.

    You have wisely noticed that real influence on Drupal’s development can come only from within the community, and not only by pouring (blessed) resources and sponsorships at Drupalcons. Co-operate with us, consult with us, and contribute back yourselves. Financing a developer (or a whole team) to work on things you’re interested in, is a common practice in open source world. Do it.

    Until you do, hiring insiders, such as Commerce Guys, is definitely a good idea. Contributing in the theming parts of our documentation, as mentioned by sun, is another great thing to do (although fixing your products is even better 😉 ).

    Listen (to anyone and everyone). Drupal is a wonderful product because people listen to each other, but also to others (outside the community). We embrace standards, not trying to break any. This makes Drupal an amazing product, and the community – a great thing to be part of.

    All this might be of a problem when Drupal is seemingly competing directly with MS products such as Sharepoint. However, instead of competing, ways of collaboration may be found, such as promoting the use of CMIS, thus opening the door for organisations to benefit from the goods of all systems.

    I hope this message and this approach will be propagated to MS globally, and will not stay the vision of yourself.

    See you next Drupalcon?

  8. I was very surprised to see MS at DrupalCon.  This is good for Drupal.

    I stopped at the MS booth and talked awhile.  You graciously took some frank criticism.  You acknowledged your shortcomings.  And you asked the right question, "What could I use as a developer?"  You have a long way to go but there is room from all who wish to contribute.  

    The Drupal community is loving but protective, like a mother bear.  Continue to be the pillow and absorb the knocks.  Continue to actively participate/contribute and the community will come around.  We respect and honor true sharing!  Dig in and find your place to contribute.  Do that and everything else will take care of it self.

    Welcome!  Now let’s get to work.

  9. K says:

    I figured MS would get there eventually, especially considering the previous announcement about the plug-n-play install of Drupal on IIS. I talked to one of the guys at the booth (suckered me in with cookies) and found he was quite excitied about things, which did change my opinion of Microsoft’s efforts in this arena somewhat.

    That said, I’m still quite skeptical, look at how much Google has given back to the community, but what has MS given back?

    And speaking of giving back, I’ve been in the process of writing modules to connect with Exchange and Sharepoint from Drupal. Those might be some good places to start.

  10. Onyx says:

    I was very surprised to see that Microsoft was at DCSF.

    I curse MS daily because of their products; it’s not just IE I deal with, but their substandard operating systems, and their ridiculous attitude towards their own customers :-arrogant superiority. MS’ market is only their due to incumbency, marketing, lawyers, and takeovers IMNSHO, so why they swagger the way they do is a mystery to me. This attitude stands in huge contrast to open source communities (note: community is not dictatorship!) like the LAMP stack.

    MS you have a LOT of work to do if you truly want to interoperate. You have made a truckload of enemies with your history of business practices (Halloween documents? Software patent threats?), and once bitten twice shy! Still, small baby steps like this post are in the right direction of beginning to listen to what PEOPLE want – not what the pointy-haired manager wants.

    What would be really nice would be a solid indication of your willingness to participate by actually offering an open apology and repenting of your sins of the past in relation to open source. That would really be something.

  11. Frost says:

    I’m still baffled at Microsoft’s presence at Drupalcon.  From my perspective, this behemoth lives by two principles:

    1. Go against the grain, fly in the face of standards, yet attempt to be a trend-setter by building on long-past popularity.
    2. Prematurely release products on-time to please shareholders, even if those products are riddled with bugs and not nearly ready for public use.  (I had a roommate who worked for Microsoft QA, who said this was common practice.)

    Both of these observations are contradictory to Drupal and open source in general.  We hold ourselves to very high standards, not because we’re driven by paychecks or profit margins, but because our NAMES are attached to this work and we genuinely care about best practices, and thinking ahead of the curve.

    I remain one of the skeptics, but I welcome the new dialogue with Microsoft.  Maybe someday I’ll be able to say that word without wincing.

    • Fr0st
  12. Wow. Thank you for all the very thoughtful comments. I didn’t expect a river of positive comments, but to get a few is encouraging. What is more encouragning, however, is that even people who are (at best) skeptical, are willing to let our actions do the talking (and I get that we have lots of work to do). I very much appreciate the suggestions for how we can contribute (and I realize we have a lots to understand here, too). As I hinted at in my original post, there are lots of ongoing efforts within Microsoft to work with open source communities, but I’ve got even more ideas for how to do this now. Thank you for your guidance.

    I hear (and understand) the frustration with IE. I do know, however, that the IE team is constantly working to better adhere to commonly held standards. I know they aren’t there yet, but I do think they are heading in the right direction. I don’t work closely with the IE team, but I think they understand the work they need to do, as evidenced by the work they talk about on their team blog: http://blogs.msdn.com/ie/.

    IE aside, I acknowledge that in general we have work to do to allieviate friction for developers who want to build solutions using open source technologies and Microsoft products. A huge part of reducing friction (and hopefully going beyond that) means working more closely with open source communities..and there ARE people here who are excited about this (I’m one of them). What I wanted to get across in my post is that we are aware of this, I see real efforts toward it, and that ultimately our actions/products/collaboration will have to speak for us. Are we too late? I certainly hope not.

    Yes…back to work.

    -Brian

  13. Trees says:

    Seems to me the right steps are being taken. Sooner or later with continued focus MS will be recognized as a longtime contributor.

  14. Brent says:

    Regardless of one’s opinion of IE or MS – the SQL Server Driver was a huge first step for those of us using drupal inside government.

    If I was going to name one next logical step that would increase the adoption of drupal inside government – it would be the ability to quickly and easily leverage existing MS security models (not only active directory, but also forms authentication) inside of drupal.  A common security model would ease most IT director’s trepidation of supporting for a new system.  

    A forms authentication module would make an excellent module and contribution to the community running drupal under the new WISP environment (quite a few of us are operating under the radar in IT-enforced windows environments – and until now had to squirrel away LAMP/WAMP servers in figurative – and some cases literal – closets).

  15. Thanks again for the contined comments. This is excellent feedback and I appreciate the candid conversation.

    I mentioned in my last comment that I was one person at Microsoft who is excited about the changes I’m seeing here with respect to open source projects. Josh Holmes is another one. In his latest post he talks about a recent change of policy by Microsoft’s legal arm that makes it easier for us to contribute to open source projects. From the outside, this may seem like a small step (and you’d be right), but from the inside it’s a huge step. It has taken lots of work to bring about that simple change in policy. You can read his post here: http://www.joshholmes.com/blog/2010/04/28/microsoft-contributing-more-to-oss/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+JoshHolmes+%28Josh+Holmes%29

    Thanks.

    -Brian

  16. JP says:

    @James:

    "PHP applications can finally run on a Microsoft stack with comparable performance and compatibility – this is the messaging that needs to get out there."

    Convince me why I should shelf out license fees for a comparable solution to what I get with Debian or Ubuntu. This makes no sense at all. As long as the performance isn’t better, there’s no need for a message. IIS/SQL Server will still be the inferior option!

  17. James says:

    @JP – no one is saying you should go out and buy Windows Server to host PHP applications.

    However in the past when trying to pitch open source solutions to enterprise clients who are very Microsoft entrenched and only have Microsoft servers and IT staff who only know Microsoft technologies, trying to suggest plugging a Linux box into their Windows network was never going to happen.

    Microsoft supporting PHP on IIS drops a massive barrier. The fact that that barrier is dropped is the message that needs to be communicated. Many companies we talk to have no idea you could run PHP on a Windows server, let alone run it happily alongside ASP/ASP.NET, AND that Microsoft officially supports and endorses doing so.