The Microsoft Biology Foundation, now available at Codeplex, is a toolkit under .NET coordinated through a team at Microsoft Research which aims to bring software into the business of evaluating DNA.
This is important, because bioinformatics is an area of growing need no one in the software business has yet managed to get their arms around.
No one wants to pay for the software, noted Illumina CEO Jay Flatley, yet the volume of genetic data coming available is overwhelming the kludged-together tools available for analyzing it.
It's a bit like the field of business intelligence was a decade ago, only it's too small to have created the proprietary giants open source companies reacted to. It costs too much for a company to build something of value, and there aren't enough companies willing to pay big bucks for the result.
So open source in this case becomes a necessity. But even here someone has to be the lead dog. Someone needs to make the central investment necessary for a community to form around. Or the business doesn't get started.
That's what Microsoft is doing here. You can question their motives (and some do) but they are stepping up to the plate, building the heart of the tools, making them available for download, and building a centralized community that can drive progress.
So when genetic companies finally decide that they need these tools, they can enter into the field at a price point they need, gradually see the value, and start paying on their own schedule.
This is how open source is supposed to work.
It's the sort of thing one would normally associate with Google, not Microsoft. But Microsoft has a big stake in the biology and health industries through its Amalga software, and its Healthvault PHR has made many more friends in the industry than Google Health. They are the natural firm to lead this.
As to why I led with a New Orleans Saints chant, well it's a punny thing...the Saints are a business, not a religious movement, yet they are the center of a large voluntary community. That's what Microsoft wants to be here.
And there is a prize at the end.