Microsoft: The Great Open-Source Advocate?

Microsoft's launch of the CodePlex Foundation represents the culmination of all the company's open-source related efforts over the last few years, a Microsoft official said.

Microsoft's launch of the CodePlex Foundation represents the culmination of all the company's open-source related efforts over the last few years, a Microsoft official said.

Sam Ramji, who has been Microsoft's senior director of Platform Strategy, spoke to reporters on a news call and said Microsoft's recent contribution of 20,000 lines of device driver code to the Linux community was a turning point for the organization and helped spur the decision to create an independent foundation. "It made us believe it was time to move ahead," said Ramji, who will be leaving Microsoft on Sept. 25 to become the interim president of the CodePlex Foundation.

The new, open-source CodePlex Foundation is an independent organization focused on the advancement of open-source technology in commercial endeavors.

One of the first questions Ramji faced on the call was how could the new entity be truly open source if it has been founded by and funded by Microsoft. To which Ramji replied: "To participate in open source requires an open mind and open licensing." Those are two things he said the foundation will have. Ramji then noted that there are some 80,000 open-source technologies that run on top of Microsoft technologies and 10,000 technologies hosted on Microsoft's CodePlex community development site.

"The foundation will be well served in having support from Microsoft in the short term and the long term," Ramji said. Indeed, he said Microsoft contributed $1 million to start the foundation and it will renew its contribution annually. In addition, Microsoft developers are encouraged to contribute their time and effort to the foundation and its projects, he said.

The CodePlex Foundation name obviously comes from the CodePlex site. "It's an evolution of the ideas and mission of," Ramji said. However, the CodePlex name has been transformed to the foundation, which in turn is licensing it back to Microsoft to use as the name for its hosted community development site, Ramji said.

Microsoft launched the foundation to be a neutral place for companies to interact with open-source projects. "There is a convergence of maturing technologies and evolving business models where more software companies are looking to work with the open-source community."

Yet Ramji said commercial software developers tend to under-participate in open-source projects because of things such as cultural differences, differing development methodologies, different perspectives on copyright and patents, and differing perspectives on licensing.

Moreover, no other foundation is dedicated to changing that situation, Ramji said. "Existing open-source foundations are mostly tied to specific projects -- like Mozilla is tied to Firefox..."

Michael Cote, an analyst with RedMonk, said, "My take is that Microsoft -- and hopefully others who'll get involved -- are looking to advance the state of open source in the Microsoft world with this new foundation. Here, it's important to distinguish between Microsoft as a company and the technology ecosystem around Microsoft technologies, from Windows to IIS to SharePoint to Office and so on."

Added Cote:

""While existing foundations and individuals have hosted important Microsoft technology centric projects, I haven't gotten the sense that there's a 'place' where Microsoft-world open source projects have dug out a home. That said, the stated goal of the foundation at this point isn't limited to just Microsoft-centric technologies -- instead the initial charter is focused at helping commercial companies do more open source -- but I'd hope that Microsoft would do some of the initial code and project contributions. There's still a lot more to be ironed out over the interim 100 days, so it'll be important to pay attention to the governance and licensing decisions the interim board goes through as those will really define and help attract the types of people projects who would prop up the CodePlex Foundation long-term.""

For his part, Ramji said the foundation would "pioneer licensing agreements and processes that help software developers contribute to open source software projects." Yet, he noted that the foundation is "license agnostic" with a default to the BSD license, but that the organization will work with any open source license. He also said the foundation will be technology agnostic and platform agnostic.

"The foundation believes that the open-source software development approach will reach its potential worldwide with increased involvement from software companies," Ramji said. "The CodePlex Foundation is one way, and we hope a compelling way, for better collaboration between companies and communities to make this a reality."

Meanwhile, Ramji said Microsoft is actively recruiting a replacement to fill the position he is leaving inside Microsoft, but that the work of that team will continue and even grow. "In fact it is mainstreaming" inside of the company, Ramji said.

Ramji said in his first 100 days as interim president of the foundation he and the board of directors will actively seek out an executive director to run the organization's day-to-day operations, line up projects, line up sponsors, new board members and advisors, and finalize the foundation's bylaws and principles, among other things.

And Ramji said the CodePlex Foundation will be complementary to other open-source foundations. However, Stephen O'Grady, an analyst with RedMonk, offered his thoughts on just how complementary the new foundation can be. Said O'Grady:

""Like many foundations, its success or lack thereof will depend on what developers make of it. The questions I believe they will ask are these: 1.) Is CodePlex truly independent from Microsoft? 2.) How are they differentiated from existing foundations like Apache or Eclipse? 3.) What will the perceptions of my project be if it's hosted there?" "