The phrase, "Microsoft's open source heroes," doesn't trip lightly off the tongue. But that's what we're seeing when we visit a page on the Microsoft Web site: "Heroes Happen Here/Open Source." Do not expect to meet Linus Torvalds, Roy Fielding, or Andrew "Tridge" Tridgell on this page. Do expect to "Click here to download Silverlight."After Steve Ballmer's, Brad Smith's and other top brass' statements about open source developers infringing on Microsoft IP, I didn't expect Microsoft to be surveying the landscape for open source heroes. But that's what they're doing at the section of the Web site that highlights certain skilled programmers. There's been a slight revision to the message: "You stole our stuff!" to "You stole our stuff? Hey, that's OK. You're still a hero to us."
Actually, Microsoft's open source heroes are customers who use lots of Microsoft tools and technologies to produce open source code. Maybe Steve Ballmer forgot to explain this part of the Microsoft strategy when he said the only safe Linux was the one you bought with a Microsoft coupon. At Heroes Happen Here, Open Source, you'll learn: "Microsoft believes in providing a wide range of choices for developing and deploying open source software."
Microsoft appears to be resigned to the fact that some programmers are going to produce open source code, whether it wants them to or not. If these individuals are going to go down a wayward path, they might as well at least use the right tools. "With Windows Servers 2008 and Visual Studio 2008, those choices just got better. Get started today with tools and programs that will help you be a hero," says the text of Heroes Happen Here, Open Source.
So open source code developed with Microsoft tools is good open source, as I'm beginning to understand it. Then again, the page doesn't list any projects that the cited programmers contribute to, only other people's open source code they use in their own work.
John Lam of Seattle, Wash., is a Microsoft open source hero for developing with IronRuby as well as Visual Studio. He's also a Microsoft employee. "Plays well with C# and open source at the same time. Now that's a hero," the site says.
It also names Sherman Wood, project lead for the open source reporting software company, JasperSoft, in San Francisco. Wood's complimentary tribute to Apache software is allowed to stand on the site. And that shows how much Microsoft's vision of heroic effort has progressed from last year to this. None of us should quibble with progress.