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Microsoft launches collaborative open-source dev portal

Microsoft, long the bastion of the closed source code model, has launched  CodePlex, a collaborative software development portal. The company is billing the site, which will host open-source and shared-source projects, as "a forum to bring together developers from around the world."

The portal is built on the Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 Team Foundation Server, a workflow collaboration engine designed to enable developers to share code, discuss and consume source code, and build software. The server will provide source control, issue tracking, discussion forums, and RSS feeds in and out of each project.

Industry watchers are characterizing CodePlex as both an olive branch to the open-source world, and an acknowledgement of its growing influence.

"This is a case of, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," says Laura DiDio, research fellow at The Yankee Group. "And Microsoft's new peaceful co-existence strategy is a winning one for the company and its users."

The CodePlex Web site has been running in a trial beta format since May. To date it has received more than 100,000 visits, Microsoft says, and its initial lineup of 12 projects has grown to 35 (a dozen from inside the company; the rest from outside).

The Redmond, WA-based software giant made the announcement at the Open Source Business Conference in London. "CodePlex is just one of the ways in which Microsoft is fostering collaborative community innovation," said Jon Rosenberg, Microsoft's director of Community Source Programs, in a statement.

UK-based IT industry analyst Neil Macehiter sees CodePlex as a pragmatic response to the realities of the current competitive environment.

"Microsoft has always had a very strong developer community," Macehiter says, "but it has been a pretty lopsided one. CodePlex makes that community more balanced and allows developers to collaborate and actively contribute. Microsoft knows that developers provide the goodies—applications, utilities, etc—that make a platform attractive. CodePlex acknowledges that those developers are operating in different ways and are not always motivated by commercial gain... and that the open source community is thriving and providing those goodies for Linux."

"As much as Microsoft and its counterparts in the open source community might wish that the other would disappear," DiDio adds, "that's not going to happen. The reality is that corporations will deploy Microsoft, Linux, open source and UNIX solutions. Offering this type of integration/interoperability guidance is crucial for Microsoft if it is to maintain its leadership position in the software infrastructure market. This level of collaboration will enable Microsoft to lead by example and encourage its open source rivals to also follow suit and cooperate for the good of their common customers."

One thing CodePlex is not, says Michael Goulde, senior analyst at Forrester Research, is evidence of any sort of open-source religious conversion on Microsoft's part.

"This doesn't reflect some major new development in Microsoft open sourcing its products," he says. "[The company] has open sourced some code, for sure, but it's generally been code examples, snippets, demos and sample applications built with Microsoft software, not the software itself. There are a couple of exceptions, but it's generally the case that Microsoft has not and will not open source software for which it receives revenue."

The big news in this announcement, Goulde says, is in the collaboration piece—if Microsoft really accepts input and suggestions from participants about its own code.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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