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Microsoft Open Source success story—Babylon

An ongoing series of stories about Microsoft people and projects making their world better through open source.

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If you haven’t heard of Babylon.js, there is no doubt that it’s already made your day more cheerful, powering Microsoft Teams’ Reactions‘ (those cute floating emojis), or your presentation faster and smoother as the engine that powers rendering of Microsoft PowerPoint online slideshows. More than likely, you’ve also interacted with Babylon.js on top brand sites.

As part of the shift to online learning during COVID-19, Babylon is also helping teachers communicate with their students through fast and fluid rendering of Flipgrid‘s web camera and effects.

What’s perhaps most inspiring is that Babylon is an Open Source project and that both the origin and current trajectory of success is a direct result of the collaboration between Microsoft and its vibrant community.

Babylon was ‘born open’ as a side project of Microsoft engineer David Catuhe which in 2015 through the Open Source collaborative model was able to demonstrate incredible rendering capabilities in a project called “3D for everyone”—catching the eye of product leaders very early on.

David’s side-project became his full-time job, and his team’s primary focus, and together with their community, has grown Babylon to be one of the most powerful, beautiful, and simple web rendering engines in the world. Along the way, and because working open brings in diverse perspectives and use cases, this team has discovered that Babylon leads to success in many 2D scenarios and 3D amplifying its impact.

When asked what this team could share with others thinking about releasing and growing an Open Source project—Jason Carter, Babylon.js Lead and Evangelist had this to say:

While we know it’s not a simple answer, it is absolutely worth the effort to foster the community around what you are building as we did in the early days. Be responsive in forums, turn up for industry discussions outside of Microsoft, be clear about how decisions are made, and be a positive influence for the ecosystem of which you are a part.”

He emphasized the critical importance of including community in decision making. While David is the final decision maker, Babylon equally weighs every community member as a stakeholder of the project’s future. This reminded us of Rust’s RFC process, which also focuses on feedback centrally in governance decisions.

One example he shared was when (from a desire to understand how it was being used), the Microsoft team proposed the addition of tracking code to their repository to better understand the ecosystem of project use and telemetry gathering to the platform. Based on community discomfort with tracking of any kind, the decision was made not to proceed.

This story gave new meaning to ‘One Microsoft’ as we engage communities as colleagues; our technology, products, and mission can only benefit.

If you would like to learn more about this project and the Open Source community behind it, please visit their friendly forum.