Microsoft maintains openness push

A Microsoft official at the OSCON conference cites company projects intended to help scientists

Continuing its week-long promotion of openness at the company, Microsoft on Thursday touted efforts in the science and academic space, detailing research tools that leverage Microsoft technologies.

During his brief turn as a keynote speaker at OSCON (O'Reilly Open Source Convention) in San Jose, Calif., Tony Hey, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Research external research division, elaborated on company efforts. Other speakers at the morning session included officials from Google and Canonical, who discussed open source code volumes and cloud computing, respectively.

Hey's presentation followed Microsoft's earlier announcements this week of open source code contributions in the Linux and educational worlds. He stressed IT can help scientists solve problems.

[ To learn about Microsoft's open source contributions this week, see "Microsoft releases code for Linux drivers" and "Microsoft makes second GPLv2 release is as many days". | Today, an engineer claimed that Microsoft had been in violation of GPLv2 before releasing the Linux driver code. ]

"Science has to move from going to data to information to knowledge," Hey said. Looking to help solve problems in energy, the environment, and health, Microsoft seeks to help make its tools such as Word and Excel become more useful for scientists, said Hey.

"We're trying to do open source extensions to various platforms that we have in Microsoft that are used by the scientific community to make them more useful," he said.

One of the projects cited was Project Trident, providing a scientific workflow workbench to help accommodate data steaming in from sensor networks. The project leverages such software as Word, .Net Framework, and the SQL Server database, according to Microsoft's Web resources on the project.

Another effort, Project Zentity, offers storage of semantic data. Described as a "research output repository platform" on the project's Web page, Zentity features an ASP.Net Web interface and is built on top of SQL Server 2008 and Microsoft's Entity Framework. The Node XL project, meanwhile, serves as a visualization tool for Excel for doing network analysis and visualization. The PhyloD project features a research tool built as a service for the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. It is being used to analyze the DNA of HIV in studies of infected patients.

Having PhyloD as an Azure service "allows scientists to upload their data, do analysis and get the results back without intervention," Hey said.

Tools and plug-ins are available under Microsoft Public License include Node XL and PhyloD. Zentity and Project Trident will be offered via open source licenses.

Google's Chris DiBona, open source program manager at the company, cited Google efforts to assess volumes of open source code on the Internet, via its Google Code Search crawl capability

"I think people tend to forget just how much open source there is," DiBona said.

Among Google's findings was positive reception for the GNU General Public License version 3 and PHP eclipsing Perl by more than 37 million lines of code in open source projects. Ada code, meanwhile, exceeded ActionScript code by about 4 million lines. "There's very little open source ActionScript," DiBona said. There also is more C code in open source efforts than C++, as well as 30 million more lines of Pascal code than Fortran and 80 million more lines than Ruby, DiBona said.

Canonical's Simon Wardley, software services manager at the company, talked in his keynote about cloud computing and how there seem to be many definitions of it. But he stressed it is becoming inevitable. "You don't really have a choice about cloud computing. You better start getting prepared," Wardley said. Cloud computing, he said, is a generic term describing the transformation of IT toward a service-based economy driven by a economic and technological conditions.

At OSCON Thursday, Cloudkick, a startup venture, was set to present on an open source project, libcloud, a software interface for working services such as the Amazon EC2 cloud platform and Rackspace cloud server. Featured in the project is a client library for developers to code against a single API, enabling applications to be portable across cloud providers.

Also during the morning keynote session, developer Kirrily Robert urged the crowd to seek inclusion of women in open source development projects. Women, she said, make up a small minority of developers in open source projects, except in the Dreamwidth project, which offers the Dreamwidth Studios platform for social networking, content management and publishing, and the archive project. In these two projects, women are the majority of developers.

"Any step you take to increase the diversity of your project will work to broaden the overall developer core," she said.

Women, Robert said, have been subject to online harassment and even death threats. "I wish I were joking about this, but I'm not," she said.

Clay Johnson, director of Sunlight Labs, emphasized at OSCON Thursday the use of open source for better government and said he seeks to find opportunities for open source software and open source developers to change the country. Explaining his perception of how government works, he cited the end of the movie, "Raiders of the Lost Ark," in which the Ark of the Covenant is found and then locked away in a government warehouse. "We want to destroy this government warehouse," he said, figuratively.

The government spends millions on technology, including the Web, he said. Urging a change in the process, Johnson invited developers to participate in Sunlight's Apps for America challenge. In this contest, submissions are to feature compelling applications that provide easy access and understanding for the public. Submissions also should show how open data can save the government money, according to Sunlight. "We can't afford to wait on government to change our country. We have to do it," he said.

The deadline for submissions is August 7.

Earlier this week, dozens of companies and organizations announced Open Source for America, an organization intended to promote use of open source software by the federal government.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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