We’re Writing Firefox Plug-ins? Interview with Ian Gilman and Thoughts on 10 Months at Microsoft

by hjanssen on February 28, 2007 06:06pm


When I started working at Microsoft in May of 2006 I wanted to chronicle my adventures here. So my first blog was posted on June 7th 2006 Titled What is a guy like me doing in a place like this, I had every intention writing frequently about my experiences. As you can see, I have not been very consistent with that. Something that I will try to improve in the future.

If you would have told me 1 year ago that I would work at Microsoft I would have laughed. I still walk around looking with amazement at my badge, and when I go to other MS buildings I shake my head when I have to swipe my badge on the reader. When I talk to people I continue to refer to them and us (them being Microsoft, Us being the rest of the world Smile)

I am happy to report that I continue to be the department's skeptic Smile, something I will continue to be.

So I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about a bunch of my experiences since a lot has happened in the last 10 months (more about this later)

First of all, contrary what people believe, I do not know of a greater Microsoft plot to take over the world and destroy Linux and OSS. If there is such a thing, we at our level are unaware of it.   And since this department in many ways is on the front lines working with OSS and Linux, I would have expected to see some evidence.

There is no helicopter pad (not on campus anyway) where Microsoft stores its black helicopters.  There are no dispensers of Microsoft Kool-Aid. (They might have some dispensers in the water coolers though.) And the articles, blogs and posts that I read on what is going on here are most of the time completely off the mark.

Is Microsoft competing with Linux and OSS?? You bet they are. Just like every other company is competing against other companies/people/products that create similar products.

Is Microsoft working to better interface with some of the Linux and OSS products? You bet they are too! We are frequently working on those things as well.

I am not being censored or restricted in any way. I actually have access to a very wide array of things. More so than I thought I would when I started.

The department has a unique position inside of Microsoft. We get to talk to and work with a very wide swath of Microsoft product lines. Just to highlight a typical week that took place a few weeks ago; in the same week I spoke to the Robotics guys, people from the embedded department, People from IIS, SQL server department, the Powershell developers and the cardspace group. And this is a typical week. I am not sure how may other places in Microsoft have the same breadth.

And more and more groups are becoming aware of what we do and contact us to work with us.

Is Microsoft changing?? Yeah, I think it is. In some places it is going very fast, in other places not so much.

Yet if I look back over the last 10 months, I have seen some great changes happen. To name a few:

  • My Boss Sam Ramji invited the Mozilla foundation guys out to Redmond to help them get their products to work better inside of Vista. I spent the entire time they where here with them.  It was met with great skeptism, the Slashdot comments ranged from ‘they are hiring the mozzilla folks’ to other helpful hints such as ‘fly on a different planes’.  But I can say that when we send out feelers inside of the company of people would like to talk to them, people at Microsoft where literally lining up to do so.   Read my blog for more on it.
  • Microsoft’s announcement of working with Zend to make PHP work better on windows, The department works with the Zend guys to assist them wherever we can.
  • We have continued to write and post many technical docs to Port 25, and will of course continue to do so in the future.  We are always looking for topics.
  • Sam interviewed Miguel De Icaza and Steve Wozniak and many other people.  
  • We continually help other parts of Microsoft when they have any questions about OSS, and help them when they want to Open Source things.  (Powertoys for example)
  • The department is working with Novell on implementing the partnership. The interoperability lab that is being talked about with Novell is not smoke and mirrors.
  • There are many more items. I will leave it as an exercise to the reader to read Port25 for some of the other stuff we have been doing.

But we have been touching a lot of items people never thought a few years ago would be likely. Getting Mozilla people on site for one. Another one that would have been considered impossible is Microsoft writing plugins for Firefox. Here is a cool one for example Photosynth, and you can listen to my podcast in which I interview Ian Gilman one of the Photosynth developers.  Here is a link to the blog metioned in the podcast:  http://labs.live.com/photosynth/blogs/

Just think about that for a second, Microsoft writing Firefox plugins!!!

I will leave you all with a few more observations:

  • Microsoft does listen to OSS people. And we do work with those people. More and more all the time. 
  • There is still an awful lot of work to be done. Both internally and externally. 
  • When the OSSL was created at Microsoft people thought it to be another Microsoft marketing ploy. Well I can tell you that that is certainly not the case here at OSSL. 
  • The other guys in the group Sam, Anandeep, Kishi, Michael and Jamie are a blast to work with.

There seems to be a perception that we are not moving fast enough. But I believe we have been able to move at a pretty good speed!  And, there are quite a few more things that we are working on that will show up in the future.

Looking back over the past 10 months I have come to the realization that I am really enjoying the job. There certainly are frustrating times, if you are on the front lines like we seem to be you are likely to get smacked every once and a while. If you are not, than you are not doing your job Smile. But we are seeing noticeable change on all fronts. And it is a blast to be able to work with so many groups inside and outside of Microsoft.

So I will close with the following, I am not drinking the Kool-Aid, quite the opposite; I continue to question everything that is going on inside of Microsoft.  And I will continue to be a voice for Open Source inside of Microsoft.


Attachment: gilman.mp3
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