Doesn’t sound like the normal kind of Microsoft connection, does it? “Free and open-source”. But that’s exactly what I’ve been working on recently with them on a project to which I alluded already.

It’s about time I blogged about it.

I’m helping out in my spare time (which is thinning out amongst moving house and offices) on a collaboration between Microsoft and some great guys who are big in the Umbraco UK community. The project has come about quite by chance, for me anyway. I simply got a Skype IM from Warren Buckley asking if I could make a meeting at Microsoft about Umbraco ideas, and that was about it.

So, invite accepted and time having passed, I turned up at the MS offices in London with some concepts I’d thought up on the tube. Warren explains in his blogpost how the meeting came about, through various fortuitous connections, but I had come late to the party and didn’t really know much – other than Microsoft wanted to fund some new Umbraco packages.

I had been expecting this to be a secretive affair, keeping my ideas amongst myself and the Umbraco guys before sharing properly with the Big Corporate Giant – I mean, this was Microsoft, right? The Redmond behemoth that’ll sell your gran without asking and then charge you a fee?

Well, as it turned out I was a bit presumptive. Myself, Warren, Darren Ferguson, Tim Saunders, and Adam Shallcross all piled into a very funky meeting room and sat wondering where this would go. Will Coleman, Platform Strategy Advisor, and Mark Quirk (UK Head of Technology, Developer & Platform Group), proceeded to win us over in about 5 minutes flat.

As Will described, Microsoft wants to shake off some of its shackles and get lightfooted, and make genuinely friendly connections with the open-source communities. Starting with Wordpress, Drupal and most importantly Umbraco, they want to help by doing some seed funding of plugins and packages. The results and code can be released back into the community and, in a somewhat fair exchange, more people get a chance to see a new side to what the MS toolset can do.

So what has happened since?

Well, at that and subsequent meetings we agreed on a core set of ideas and packages on which to focus. Darren has done some great work using Silverlight to make Umbraco’s media library more accessible, and I’ve worked on its architecture. I also invited Pete Miller into the fray too so we can both help bring some of the experience from Condé Nast and our MimeCloud project where media is concerned. Tim and Ismail are working on an interesting combination of a key-value table datatype in Umbraco, together with a Silverlight UI for data manipulation. And there are a few other ideas up our sleeves to finish this month.

One aspect of building up awareness around this project is that we’ll all be blogging regularly and Microsoft will be spreading some link love far and wide. We’ll also be doing some screencast / video posts in the coming weeks around how we’ve used the tools.

I think it’s a nice project for Umbraco. A few new packages will appear on the Our repository, and Umbraco gets another pat on the back from a huge brand.

One other thing: Will is also likely to come along to CodeGarden10, as part of a Microsoft attendance there, which will be cool. He’s a nice bloke and I’m sure will really look forward to everyone at the conference doing what we did incessantly: jibe him about Google Docs and ask him for free copies of Windows…