When I first got to Microsoft a few years ago, there was an acknowledgement from upper management that Microsoft technologies tended not to attract the vibrant sense of community that existed in Java or Open Source communities. This began a push, first in the Developer Division which soon spread across the company for Microsoft employees to become more involved and help nurture the developer communities surrounding our technologies and products. Two or three years later, I am heartened to read posts such as this entry from Norman Alex Rupp from his first day at TechEd 2004, note that I have italicized some of the text from the entry to emphasize some key points I found interesting

The User Group Summit was headed up by the International .NET Association (INETA). From what I can tell, INETA User Groups are analogous to the Java User Groups. They're an independent organization, and their founder goes to great lengths to maintain a comfortable operating distance from Microsoft's PR machine, while simultaneously being careful not to alienate them. It strikes me that the INETA groups highly value their independence and don't want to come across as a Microsoft vendorfest to their members. They focus on C# development topics and although they thankfully accept Microsoft's sponsorship, they do maintain a good degree of independence. That's a difficult balance to strike.

What really fascinated me about the UG Leaders Summit was that the .NET Group Leaders from around the country knew each other, had their own community structure, and genuinely seemed to enjoy being around each other. These guys were rowdy. They were having a good time. And it wasn't just because we each got a 30 oz bottle of Tequila at the end of the meeting. People were really positive and nice. This was a slight cultural change for me, because all too often I find the Open Source Java community to be extremely high strung and competitive--sometimes to the point of being vicious. I like to think of the dynamic of our community as an extreme form of tough love. I haven't worked a lot with the Java User Group communities from around the country, and I have an inkling that things are a bit different in those circles than they are in the Jakarta / JBoss / TSS / Bile Blog OS Javasphere that used to form my only umbilical link to our community. (For the record, I don't think this "tough love" culture extends into the Java.net community--the folks from Sun's "shining city on the hill" are pretty amiable).

It was just a different vibe--not necessarily better, just different. I can see more of that in the future of the Javasphere. We live in a pressure cooker, but as the language and platform mature and we continue to carve out our niche, gain credibility in the industry and grow as developers, I think we'll see less of the infighting and more of the cooperation typified by last year's OpenEJB / Geronimo alliance and by the general good will surrounding Java.net.

One surprising thing I learned at today's Summit is that in the last 3 years, INETA and Microsoft have built up a 200,000 to 250,000 member developer community, and they're continuing to push forward, doing everything they can to make sure that .NET technologies take off at the local community level. They're hyperactively heading up programs to develop high school and college students, and they recognize the long term importance of bringing fresh blood into the industry. They are investing time, software and significant amounts of money into their evangelism efforts.

Essentially, what INETA and Microsoft are trying to do is outgrok the ASF on community building. And from what I just saw, they're way ahead of the curve. In their words, "we're trying to get it. You can help us REALLY get it." And by "get it" I think they mean to figure out how to have a successful user community in every city and on every major college campus in the world. I'm speculating, but it's hard not to smell ambition this raw.

This is one of the reasons I like working at Microsoft. When the hive mind in the b0rg cube decides to do something, it goes all out and does it well. The challenge is figuring out what the right thing to do is and then convincing the right people. I am continually amazed at how much things have changed in the past few years with regards to the degree of openness and the higher level of interaction between product groups and their customers.