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.