Microsoft has officially joined the Blender Foundation Development Fund, a group that supports the open source 3D modeling tool Blender.
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Blender over the years, as have many others. My first introduction to the tool was many years ago when I searched for an inexpensive (well, free) tool for developing 3D models.
I found the interface terribly confusing as it has, like most open source projects, far too many options that have been added over time. Too many things makes for a confusing situation, and I was not alone. Once I even questioned the suitability of Blender for use in 3D printing. Meanwhile, those who persisted with Blender were certainly able to eventually learn it and unleash its power to model in 3D.
I just never got there, as I found other tools that were far easier to learn in the interim, and once you learn a 3D tool, you tend to stay there due to the tremendous effort required to learn yet another tool to do mostly the same functions.
That said, Blender is a powerful tool that is today used by many people worldwide. That number jumped in recent years when Blender released a new version that included a vastly superior user interface.
As an open source tool, the Blender project requires volunteers and contributors to help move it forward. While some of the work is literally done by actual volunteers, there is also work done by paid staff who are sponsored by generous organizations. This is typical in the open source community, and a way to more quickly move projects along rather than relying completely on the intermittent availability of volunteers.
Thus open source projects need funding. The Blender project does so via the Blender Foundation Development Fund, which describes itself:
“The Blender Development Fund accepts donations to support activities to provide free and open accessible services for all Blender contributors – including professionals and corporations – on the blender.org websites. Support activities include bug fixing, code reviews, technical documentation and onboarding.”
As of this writing, the Blender Foundation Development Fund collects in excess of US$100K each month from a large number of supporters, including over 40 corporate sponsors.
Now Microsoft has joined the Blender Foundation Development fund as a “Corporate Gold Member”. According to the Blender Foundation Development Fund, this corresponds to an annual contribution of €30K per year, approximately equal to a half-time developer.
Why has Microsoft added this sponsorship? Partly it’s because Microsoft has been making use of Blender on their own projects and feels the need to give something back. They say:
“Microsoft makes use of Blender to generate synthetic 3D models and images of humans that can be used to train AI models. For researchers, having access to high quality free/opensource 3D software has proven to be of great benefit for scientific projects.”
It’s good to see Microsoft giving back, as open source projects tend to get far less support than deserved, based on the number of users. In recent years Microsoft has transformed into a huge supporter of open source projects, and thus this move likely aligns with their corporate strategies.
But I think there may be something else going here: Microsoft has been dabbling in 3D activities for quite some time. They have:
- Added 3D model support into Windows
- Sold the Kinect 3D scanner
- Helped found the 3MF Consortium, which provides the new file format standard
- Developed mobile 3D scanning software
- Provided cloud platforms for 3D companies like Netfabb and 3DPrinterOS
- Added network support in Windows for 3D printers
- Introduced a simple “Paint 3D” tool
- Provided a free, online 3D model repair tool
Perhaps it’s not so surprising that Microsoft is offering support for Blender.