Microsoft Web Dev Summit 2009

For the past three years, Microsoft has hosted the Microsoft Web Development Technology Summit, inviting a small group of community leaders, project developers, and prominent members of the PHP community, primarily for the purpose of eliciting feedback on how to better support PHP on Windows. I’m privileged and honored to be invited back for a third year to the fourth annual edition of this summit.

This is the first time I’ve ever blogged about the event, though I’ve taken “live” notes during the 2007 and 2008 summits. I’ll be taking notes again this year, if you’d like to follow along, but I’ll also be devoting several blog posts this week to the event because I think it’s important.

As I said, this is the Microsoft Web Development Technology Summit, but perhaps it’s not very aptly named, since it could best be termed as the Microsoft PHP Summit. Then again, one could argue that PHP really is the server-side technology of the Web, so calling this a web development summit is appropriate, and I think Microsoft understands that. This is the first reason I think this summit is important: Microsoft recognizes the importance of PHP to web development.

The second reason it’s important follows closely on the heels of the first. Because PHP is important, Microsoft wants PHP to work as best as it possibly can in a Windows Server environment, eliminating all performance arguments in comparisons between Windows/IIS and Linux/Apache. This reduces the platform choice argument to one of subjective preference with no basis in objective analysis. This is good for Microsoft because many PHP developers continue to use Windows as their local development platform, while deploying to *NIX systems. All performance arguments out of the way, if developers can deploy to the same platform they use for development, would they?

Other barriers for developers include cost and even open source philosophy (but mostly cost). Microsoft is eliminating this obstacle with their WebSite Spark and BizSpark programs. The philosophy argument is addressed by licensing some Microsoft tools and libraries under Microsoft open source licenses (which include BSD-like and GPL-like licenses).

There are many other reasons why this summit is good for Microsoft, but I’ll end with a third one for this post. In the spirit of openness and transparency, open source communities tend to be very vocal and honest, often brutally honest. So, why would Microsoft invite a room full of PHP developers, where the common laptop present will be running Mac OS X, with a few Linux laptops sprinkled in the room, and even fewer Windows laptops? Our community doesn’t hold back with our opinions. That’s why. Each person in the room has ideas of how Microsoft can be better community citizens, provide better and easier to use products for developers, and improve support for PHP on Windows. We may not use that platform, but we all have ideas for how it can be better. I don’t think Microsoft is kidding itself that it will convert us to its platform, but I do think they value our opinions and presence because our feedback will make their products better and we’ll communicate the experience back to the greater PHP community (i.e. through blog posts such as this), improving their image.

Do I think Microsoft has done anything positive with our feedback? You bet. In the years since the Web Dev Summit was first held in 2006, we’ve seen improvements to FastCGI in IIS and the introduction of the open source SQL Server native driver for PHP. I believe these improvements are direct results of the Web Dev Summit. And there are others. This year, the focus appears to be on developer tools, so we’ll be having in-depth discussions on typical workflow and processes for developing a PHP project from start to finish. If you have suggestions for how Microsoft can improve their tools for PHP developers, let me know, and I’ll pass them along.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this thought. Microsoft has seen many changes over the years. They are a behemoth of a company, and my perspective now is that there are two types of people in the company: the big company corporate types who are still convinced that closed and proprietary is the way to protect their products, brand, and customers and, on the other hand, the newer generation of product managers and developer evangelists who are making genuine attempts to be more open and transparent and finding ways to interact with the open source community to promote Microsoft as a good community citizen. Both are real faces of Microsoft. Don’t discount one for the other.