The Schwartz Report

Blog archive

What Are Microsoft's Intentions with CodePlex Foundation?

When Microsoft announced that it is seeding the new CodePlex Foundation, as reported last week, many critics began questioning the real intentions in Redmond.

Two key questions: why did Microsoft need to go out and establish yet another foundation in the open source world, when there are numerous ones such as Open Source Initiative, Free Software Foundation, SourceForge or even the Apache Foundation, among others?

"There are already existing entities, why does Microsoft have to create one of their own?" asked independent developer and Microsoft MVP Roy Osherove, chiming in on a podcast hosted by Microsoft principle program manager Scott Hanselman over the weekend (if you want to know more about Microsoft's point of view on the CodePlex Foundation, listen to the entire podcast here).

The other question focuses on the fact that Microsoft is losing Sam Ramji, its director of platform strategy who oversees the company’s open source and Linux initiatives. Will it find an open source champion who can fill his shoes and have clout with Ballmer and company?

"Behind the scenes he's always been fighting the good fight," said Miguel de Icaza, founder of the Mono Project and a Novell VP, in an interview. Ramjii, who is serving as interim president of the CodePlex Foundation, recruited de Icaza, among many others in the open source community, to be on the foundation's board of directors.

"He did a lot of back and forth for many years helping us navigate Microsoft and tried to understand what was going on and help us change Microsoft's position, and getting them to put things under the Community Promise."

Among others in the open source community who signed on are Monty Widenius, founder of MySQL. Widenius described the CodePlex Foundation as "an unusual opportunity," in a blog posting this week. Here's a synopsis of his reason for supporting the effort:

"CodePlex allows Microsoft developers to more easily participate in Open Source projects, without a lot of red tape. There are many developers at Microsoft that are very pro Open Source, and would like to participate more than they are able to at present. Note that since CodePlex supports all relevant Open Source licenses, there is nothing hindering contributions to CodePlex to find its way into projects elsewhere in the FOSS ecosystem from there.

Why should Microsoft be trusted to have good intentions with the CodePlex Foundation? Simply, I believe that it's in Microsoft's direct interest that the CodePlex Foundation [to] become a success. Of course, we all know that Microsoft will primarily ensure that the Open Source projects in which they participate will run better on Windows and with Microsoft products. But this doesn't change the fact that this is a still a great thing for Open Source software.

Of course, people will continue to worry about Microsoft's intents and maybe that is understandable. In my experience, Microsoft as a big company seems to be a "company divided," with some segments appearing to understand and embrace Open Source, and others acting against these understandings. (In fact, this is another thing I can relate to from my personal history.) But now we have an opportunity to see Microsoft at their best as regards Open Source and Free Software, and even help them out in the effort. This is, indeed, an unusual opportunity."

Aaron Fulkerson, founder and CEO of Mindtouch, a provider of open source enterprise collaboration software also joined the board of advisors. In a blog posting, explained his reasons for joining:

"The motivation is simple. The more developers building on .NET and Microsoft technologies the better it is for Microsoft. .NET technologies are behind Java and PHP in adoption. The gap will continue to widen. Why? You need look no further than the wealth of open source Java and PHP libraries and components available to developers.

The cost of maintaining .NET as a viable development platform will only continue to increase for Microsoft as open source development platforms continue to attract the majority of college students and businesses due to the inherent lower costs of taking products to market. Moreover, for those of us who develop on .NET, e.g. - MindTouch, it will become increasingly challenging to be competitive should there not be an ecosystem of similar open source libraries and tools available."

However, just days before launching the CodePlex Foundation, the Open Invention Network said it had acquired 22 Linux-based patents from Allied Security Trust, which had acquired them from Microsoft. The goal was to ensure the patents did not fall into the hands of patent trolls.

In a blog posting last week, Red Hat Software questioned Microsoft's intentions. Rob Tiller, Red Hat's VP and general counsel, said in an interview that the move should be looked at with caution. "We're very concerned that Microsoft has adopted what seems to us a new strategy of seeking out, patent trolls and offering at auction its patents while pointing the way toward open source software and providers of open source software as targets for litigation," he said. The concern, he explained, is that Microsoft will use the patents to force parties into secretive negotiations under fear of litigation.

So is Red Hat not buying Microsoft's moves to embrace the open source community? Not exactly, Tiller said. "It's consistent with the zig zag pattern we've seen," he said. "On the one hand, they're speaking friendly words and taking seemingly accommodating actions towards open source and at the same time on another track behaving in an anything but a friendly manor."

Do you think is playing both sides of the fence or is it really trying to be a good open source citizen? Drop me a line at [email protected].

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on September 15, 2009