March 08, 2012, 3:43 PM — Microsoft has released as open source a program that helps users link different Windows applications in a single workflow.
The program, called Mayhem, has been donated to the Outercurve Foundation. Developed by Microsoft's applied sciences research group, Mayhem allows people with no programming skills to link together different Windows programs to carry out tasks across programs. With Mayhem, users can stage repeatable actions, like using a cellphone to control a PowerPoint presentation, or to send a user an email whenever a weather program reports that the outside temperature has fallen below a certain point.
Mayhem connects graphical programs in a way that is similar to how batch files string together programs in a command-line environment. Developers create modules for specific Windows programs that then can be used within Mayhem to identify events and trigger actions within those programs.
"Mayhem is a collection of events and actions you tie together," said Paul Dietz, who is Microsoft's project leader for Mayhem. The applied sciences group first designed the software to expand the use of webcams beyond video chats. They realized that the software could work with any Windows programs.
Mayhem "is not as powerful as working with Visual Studio. But not many people are willing to take the effort to become expert programmers, so this provides a tool that allows people to do a lot of stuff very quickly," Dietz said. By placing the program in open source, Microsoft is hoping that more developers will write more modules for Mayhem, expanding the program's applicability.
Outercurve will manage the program in its newly formed Innovators Gallery, a subset of Outercurve projects devoted to experimental programs. "The board of directors decided we wanted to expand the scope of projects we brought into the foundation, and [the Innovators Gallery] way would be a good way to collect projects in this category," said Paula Hunter, executive director of Outercurve.
To drum up more interest in Mayhem, Outercurve is holding a contest called "Make Your Own Mayhem," which will award US$5,000 in prizes for the most creative uses of the software program. The contest ends April 30.
First called CodePlex, the Outercurve Foundation is a nonprofit organization that aims to encourage enterprises to participate in open-source software projects. Microsoft founded CodePlex in 2009, though the organization changed its name the following year to distance itself from the Microsoft open-source code repository of the same name. Currently, the organization provides a home for 22 projects and seeks funding beyond Microsoft.