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11 September 2009, 09:22

Comment: Microsoft’s open source foundation

Dr. Oliver Diedrich

The CodePlex Foundation aims to bridge the gap between commercial software vendors and open source communities. But is there really such a big gap?

Microsoft has launched its own open source foundation in the form of the CodePlex Foundation. The non-profit foundation's 'About us' page, says it aims to facilitate "the exchange of code and understanding among software companies and open source communities." According to the foundation's explanation of its mission statement, commercial software vendors are "under-represented on open source projects." Founded by Microsoft, but open to other software companies (as sponsors, as members of the advisory board, or as project contributors) the foundation is supposedly aimed at bridging the gap between commercial and open source developers.

Sam Ramji
Sam Ramji
Which begs the question – what gap would that be exactly? For example, take a look at the biggest contributors of code to the Linux kernel and you'll see four major proprietary software companies – IBM, Novell, Oracle and Parallels – among the top ten. In addition an ever increasing number of open source projects are coming from a commercial background. Software vendors are:

  • Making proprietary software open source (for example, Sun has done so with both Java and Solaris, Ingres with its database and Grau Data with its ArchiveManager)
  • Offering products based on open source software (EnterpriseDB, for example, is based on PostgreSQL, Zend builds PHP tools and extensions)
  • Developing their software as open source from the outset: Alfresco, Compiere, JBoss (now Red Hat), MySQL (now Sun), Open-Xchange, OTRS, Pentaho, SugarCRM – the list goes on and on.

In fact you'd have a job finding a major software house which isn't involved in some sort of open source project. From Microsoft to VMware, Adobe to Oracle, all develop open source software or actively support existing open source projects. The fear of intimacy between commercial software and open source developers postulated by Microsoft does not seem to be a reality.

That's not to say that the CodePlex Foundation is necessarily superfluous per se. Microsoft is remaining deliberately vague about the specific aims of the foundation and is working on the assumption that the goals and the way any collaboration occurs will work themselves out over time. What is clear is that commercial software developers will be able to hand intellectual property and code over to the foundation, which will publish it under a standard open source licence – the forms for licensing code and IP to the foundationPDF and transferring copyrightPDF have already been drawn up.

Eventually, everything will depend on what the foundation actually does in practice. At launch, Microsoft has stuffed both the board of directors and advisory board with its own people (the interim president is Microsoft's open source head Sam Ramji), but both boards also include representatives of other companies and open source projects. The advisory board does at least contain three prominent figures from the open source world – MySQL co-founder Monty Widenius, open source investor and SugarCRM boss Larry Augustin and Mono developer Miguel de Icaza (Novell).

Anyone interested in the CodePlex Foundation can propose candidates for the advisory board or projects. Microsoft is promising open discussions and transparent decision-making – time will tell where the whole thing leads.


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