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Blogs put developers in Microsoft 'cockpit'

The software giant opens Channel 9, an informal site of Web logs and discussion forums intended to improve communication with developers by sharing "flight crew chat."

Microsoft quietly launched a new site on Tuesday that combines blogs, discussion forums and other technology to improve communications with developers.

Channel 9 was created by a group of engineers and "technology evangelists" at Microsoft that is convinced the software giant could do more to promote free discussion with outside developers. The name refers to the audio channel most airlines use to allow passengers to listen in on conversations between flight crew members.

"We think developers need their own channel 9, a way to listen in to the cockpit at Microsoft, an opportunity to learn how we fly, a chance to get to know our pilots," according to a welcome message posted by the site's creators. "Five of us in Redmond are crazy enough to think we just might learn something from getting to know each other...Join in, and have a look inside our cockpit and help us fly the plane."

Initial content on the site includes video and audio clips of Microsoft developers musing on subjects from security to .Net architecture, ordinary blogs and snapshot-filled mobile blogs, discussion forums devoted to developer issues and a collection of "wiki" forums for sharing code and ideas. Initial submissions include a spirited dialogue on punctuation.

Many Microsoft employees are active bloggers, but the practice has gotten at least one worker in trouble. Longtime contract worker Michael Hanscom was fired last year after his blog ran photos of Apple computers being delivered to Microsoft's main campus.

Site rules emphasize courtesy, thoughtfulness and refraining from mercantile behavior. "Channel 9 is all about the conversation," according to the posted rules. "Channel 9 should inspire Microsoft and our customers to talk in an honest and human voice. Channel 9 is not a marketing tool, not a PR tool, not a lead-generation tool."

The Channel 9 site arrives amid a welter of Microsoft efforts aimed at bolstering support among developers. The software giant is hosting a conference this week for 1,500 Most Valuable Professionals, a program for outside software experts who assist in providing support through online forums.

The company is also launching the Microsoft Security Summit,a traveling series of security-related events for developers, starting this week.