Microsoft's 'photo op' moment at open-source conference?

Software giant needs to engage with open source at the code level, not the conference level.

Due to demands at work, I wasn't able to attend OSCON (Open Source Convention) this year. I was particularly wanting to attend Microsoft's Participate08 day. I like to see what Bill Hilf, Sam Ramji, Robert Duffner, and others there are working on, to get a sense of any outbreaks of rage against the Microsoft machine.

My friend and blogging peer Zack Urlocker attended Monday and, based on his comments, I worry that I didn't miss much. I say "worry" because I expect and we need more from Microsoft than this:

While there were some good comments here or there from the audience, overall, it felt a bit like a committee examining open source from the outside looking in. We spent two hours talking about various themes and models and sociological implications but when the moderator asked the panelists to comment on what they learned, there wasn't much to say. It felt like an academic discussion to me.

This could be because the primary currency of open source is code. Microsoft has done a decent job of opening up to open-source code with Codeplex, but it has yet to engage with open source at the code level from a corporate standpoint.

No, I'm not suggesting that it open-source Windows. But just as Novell once started with its UDDI server (which no one cared about, including those of us then at Novell), Microsoft needs to start somewhere. IIS might be a good place, as it's integral to its business but doesn't drive revenue.

Regardless of where, and despite the lack of a near-term revenue impact on the company, Microsoft does need to figure out open source. The Web is open source (and/or open standards/protocols). For Microsoft to effectively engage the Web, it can't avoid engaging with open source. Might as well start now.