Microsoft fixes blog comments, speeds up blogs with open source

There are plenty of Microsoft employees on Twitter answering questions and sharing links, including senior figures like Brad Smith and Frank Shaw responding directly, for example to Google's arguments about the Novell patent purchases.But the Microsoft blogs are the 'official' place to get detailed information; sometimes prepared and checked by the lawyers, more often posted directly by the developers working on the technology.

There are plenty of Microsoft employees on Twitter answering questions and sharing links, including senior figures like Brad Smith and Frank Shaw responding directly, for example to Google's arguments about the Novell patent purchases.

But the Microsoft blogs are the 'official' place to get detailed information; sometimes prepared and checked by the lawyers, more often posted directly by the developers working on the technology. You can ask questions and get direct answers. Along with Channel 9, it's a hugely important way for Microsoft to communicate because you're talking to real Microsoft employees who care about technology and want to explain it, not faceless marketers. The blogs have changed the perception of Microsoft in the technology industry by letting ordinary users and developers get to know the people who work there.

They're not the ideal place to debate; comments aren't threaded and the popularity of the Building Windows blog has strained the backend, with many readers finding their comment either doesn't appear or shows up three times. Microsoft suggests using the Microsoft Answers forum site for technical questions (and the Developer Center forums for discussing Windows 8), but the blog team has been working on improving the comment system.

At the end of November, Sean Jenkins - the product manager for the Microsoft blog platform - told commenters on the IE blog that more fixes were going live. "We have been listening and I realize it's taken a very long time, but today we've rolled out another set of fixes around the comments issues you have been reporting. Hopefully you've seen a lack of duplicate comments the past few weeks. Today we've pushed out bits to fix the submission of the comments along with the time comments can take to load. If you still see issues, please use the comment form here and report them to me."

In our tests, we've found that posting comments to high-traffic Microsoft blogs is much more reliable now, in both IE and Chrome; the page tells you your comments is being published so fewer people will hit refresh and double post, and comments actually appear. If you were frustrated with the process of posting comments, it's certainly improved. (Your mileage will obviously vary on how you feel Microsoft is responding to your comment.)

Fixing the comments isn't the only improvement happening on the MSDN and Technet blogging system; over the last month Microsoft has been adding the open source RequestReduce optimiser to the platform, especially for forums and searches. RequestReduce implements lots of current best practice for improving Web site performance (especially on ASP.NET sites) by merging and compressing CSS and JavaScript, and converting background images to sprites that load faster - and it does it all automatically, even if not all the script is on your server. According to RequestReduce developer Matt Wrock, that's a 25-30% reduction in the number of HTTP requests made and a 33% improvement in performance of the sites as a result. Here's how that looks in the hours before and after rolling out RequestReduce:

Wrock isn't just the open source developer behind RequestReduce; he's also a software engineer for Microsoft working on the MSDN and Technet systems. He builds RequestReduce on his own time, and other open source developers who don't work for Microsoft contribute to it. And along with the other teams working on the MSDN and Technet sites, Wrock uses open source technologies at work; he namechecks nHibernate, StructureMap, Moq, XUnit, Caste Windsor, Service Stack, Json.Net and Psake.

There's always a lot of suspicion when Microsoft is involved with open source, but this is a classic example of what open source is really good for; a developer building technology that makes their day job better, sharing it and the community improving it and getting the benefit. It doesn't mean Microsoft is going to open source the commercial code it makes its money from, but it illustrates a far healthier relationship with the open source community than some people expect.

Mary Branscombe