Microsoft's Cognitive Toolkit software (CNTK) is on GitHub, and is still developing. But the company also wants to support others.
Here, the company is working closely with Facebook, and contribute more into the development of Facebook's own flavor of free AI software, the PyTorch. Microsoft acknowledges that Cognitive Toolkit and PyTorch are both failing to keep up with the adoption of Google TensorFlow. As the competition tightens, Microsoft wants a bit more of the market share.
The company hasn't made a big deal about the change, but still, Microsoft is showing that it rather help others rather than purely focusing on its own projects.
There are reasons behind the partnership.
First of all, Microsoft's AI has its own strengths. For example, it's particularly great for building speech recognition systems. Second, Facebook's PyTorch has gained popularity and has some interesting technical capabilities on its own.
It started in 2017, when Microsoft's chief technology officer, Kevin Scott, met with Facebook's chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer.
The two concluded that the AI ecosystem was overcrowded, and it would be good for Microsoft and Facebook to "defrag some of the complexity" in the ecosystem of software that people can use to train AI models. Then in September 2017, Microsoft and Facebook introduced ONNX, a piece of open-source software for exporting models trained with one AI software framework
"We have to be able to actually contribute back to the community," he said.
Microsoft and Facebook wants to simplify the AI market, because there are just too many AI frameworks to choose from.
TensorFlow was put together by team behind Google Brain team, and provides tools for numerical computation and machine learning at scale. Many machines and an increasing number of deep learning models and algorithms are brought together in an accessible format, with help from Python and C++.
Microsoft's CNTK hasn't got the traction, but PyTorch is doing better. So here, Microsoft partners with Facebook to bring PyTorch forward to compete better with TensorFlow.
"The momentum of community, really, is around PyTorch and TensorFlow, and so that's where were throwing the bulk of our emphasis," said Eric Boyd, Microsoft's corporate vice president of AI platform. "Having community adoption is hugely important."
The move by Microsoft to support other technologies outside its own, is in line with the company's previous attempts.
For example, Microsoft has previously embraced open source projects, including sponsoring the Open Source Initiative, launching its own version of Linux-based cross-platform OS, created a Linux version of its SQL Server database software, and more.
Microsoft has also acquired GitHub, the platform popular for open-source developers, and have stopped developing its own big-data software, Dryad, to focus more of its support around the Hadoop open-source tools.