Microsoft announced a new organization this week called CodePlex, which according to its web site, is "a non-profit foundation formed with the mission of enabling the exchange of code and understanding among software companies and open source communities." Now, you don't normally see Microsoft and Open Source in the same breath without raising a hair of suspicion (and in some cases howling laughter). In fact, my colleague Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, who has been writing about Linux and Open Source for many years, wrote in his Cyber Cynic column yesterday, he finds Microsoft's motives in this project dubious to say the least.
That's why I was surprised to find a press release in my In Box yesterday from open source vendor, DotNetNuke proudly trumpeting the fact that their chief architect and co-founder, Shaun Walker was joining the CodePlex Foundation interim Board of Directors. It's worth noting that DotNetNuke is built on Microsoft's .Net platform. In that context, Walker's role with the new foundation makes sense at least on some level, but will it fly in the open source community, a place that has been known to be cold and unforgiving?
Can Microsoft Change Its Stripes?
Walker says in the past he has been critical of Microsoft projects when he didn't believe they were created in the best of interest of the open source community. "A specific area where I have expressed public criticism of Microsoft in the past is regarding their Port25 website, which is supposed to represent the 'Open Source Community from Microsoft;' however, it traditionally has offered minimal support or representation for open source projects which are native to the Microsoft platform," Walker said.
Walker believes CodePlex is different and it represents and evolutionary change for Microsoft."This should not be seen as a sudden change in direction, but as another evolutionary step by Microsoft in terms of recognizing and accepting the importance of open source." He adds, "Microsoft has been progressively becoming more supportive of open source projects over time." He cites as proof their decision to start the CodePlex open source project hosting site, a projects he sees as "highly beneficial in helping stimulate a rich open source developer ecosystem on the Microsoft platform." In fact, Walker is so convinced of this change that he moved his company's code base from it original home on SourceForge to the CodePlex site.
How is it Different?
When asked about possible open-source community criticism for his role with a Microsoft-sponsored initiative, Walker fiercely defended his decision. "The CodePlex Foundation is completely independent from Microsoft with its own distinct mission, vision, values, and charter," he said. He added, "It is technology-agnostic and is intended to facilitate the exchange of code and understanding among software companies and open source communities."
He says this starkly different from the earlier Port25 project, which he said was "owned, maintained, and controlled by Microsoft." He says the two projects are completely different. "Port25 is intended to be a window into the collaborative efforts which are occurring between Microsoft Corporation and open source communities," he explained. "Microsoft's sponsorship of the CodePlex Foundation is intended to address a fundamental problem which they currently face as a company, and which other large software companies in the industry face as well: how to allow greater participation in open source projects."
Whether this flies within the Open Source community remains to be seen, but Walker believes it's in the best interest of his company to be involved with this program, at least initially. Only time will tell if Microsoft has set up this site out of benevolence or self-interest.
I'm not attacking FOSS, dude. I'm a big fan. Just making an observation that when people cross the open source community, they tend to come down hard on anyone they feel has wronged them. I would say your note is a good case in point.
The concept of "forgiveness" comes after the entity makes amends. Microsoft hasn't stopped their attacks, much less turned the clock back. [Think of the ending scenes of the movie Schindler's List ..though obviously applied to a much less serious issue (though still potentially very harmful condition if any single company were ever to competently have insider control over much of the world's software).]
There are many ways Microsoft can benefit through their open source efforts, and benefit for them means suppression of competition and preservation of monopoly controls and profits.
Does Microsoft forgive? Is a company bent on maintaining significant control over others ("friends", foes, and customers) a forgiving company? Under what terms do they forgive?
Again, perhaps you forget that "the FOSS world" wants a fair playing field and Microsoft is bent on preventing that from happening.
One day they will lose their grip and maybe even gain humility. We can talk about forgiveness then. Otherwise, we would just be contributing to preserving the status quo and seeing them come out on top through yet another EEE cycle.
[They are just a company. I opt not to work in some places because I value some things more than I value money.]
Plus, what is there to forgive? What would "forgiving" mean? Basically, I interpret this as saying that all is alright and we can go back to trusting (trust not earned). So while I work on X or Y, Microsoft comes in and steals the future. My contributions and investments and goals for the market place get neutered.
Microsoft is a worthy foe (if you want to look at it that way). They have shown themselves to twist rules so they come out *clearly* on top. Accepting FOSS for them (on fair terms) would be very much against their stockholders' interests. I consider them an obstacle to greater gains and mobility for many.
There is a lot of untapped potential and frustrations out there (some not even directed at Microsoft but ultimately Microsoft owning a healthy part of the blame).
Sorry, if I am sounding kind of harsh, but Microsoft losing their grip is IMO a very good thing for consumers and businesses everywhere, and, given their past, I will wait until they are convincingly down before letting them off the hook. [Many will likely want to take up Microsoft's role once they are gone. Same applies to them.]
There is a way to do business where you gaining doesn't imply the other guy being stepped on. I do get sick at the thought of helping out an aggressive company such as Microsoft. People first, companies and money afterwards. Freedom for each person to better themselves and break from their mini cells first. Microsoft's health afterwards.
If you read me regularly you would know I'm highly critical of Microsoft in my writing. In this post, I'm reporting what Walker told me about why he chose to become part of an organization sponsored by Microsoft. It's Walker's perspective on why he chose to be on the board of directors of this organization. The line might have been a poor choice of words if that's what you chose to focus on.