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Amid controversy, Microsoft launches open source group

Sep 11, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive

In the same week Microsoft was accused of playing dirty tricks against Linux, the software giant spun off its first open source organization. Emerging from the group behind Microsoft's first open source Linux release this summer, the CodePlex Foundation will enable the “exchange of code and understanding among software companies and open source communities.”

The announcement of the CodePlex Foundation comes two months after Microsoft released its first open source Linux code. This week, however, the Linux faithful may be less inclined to give the company the benefit of the doubt after new allegations have emerged regarding dirty tricks intended to thwart the spread of Linux (see later in the story for details).

The goals of the CodePlex Foundation are spelled out on the website as "increasing participation in open source community projects," as well as complementing "existing open source foundations and organizations, providing a forum in which best practices and shared understanding can be established by a broad group of participants, both software companies and open source communities."

A FAQ entry goes on to note that the foundation is looking for opportunities that "can serve as best practice exemplars of how commercial software companies and open source communities can effectively collaborate."

The website copy notes that Microsoft is the sole sponsor and funder of the project, and that the foundation is not currently looking for new members. However, the FAQ continues that "neither the Foundation nor Microsoft see this as an exclusive relationship," and notes that "we see an opportunity for software companies large and small to be part of the sponsor program."

The type of participants that might be sought out are suggested here: "We wanted a foundation that addresses a full spectrum of software projects, and does so with the licensing and intellectual property needs of commercial software companies in mind."

Spinning off from CodePlex.com

Incorporated as a 501.c6 corporate non-profit, as opposed to a charitable non-profit, the CodePlex Foundation extends the CodePlex brand established by Microsoft's Codeplex.com. This 10,000-project community development site hosts open source, shared source, and other technologies.

According to the CodePlex Foundation website, the new foundation "is absolutely independent from the [CodePlex.com] project hosting site, but it is essentially trying to support the same mission. It is just solving a different part of the challenge, a part that Codeplex.com isn't designed to solve."

The CodePlex Foundation is led by Sam Ramji, Microsoft's chief liaison with the open source community and the man behind Microsoft's July release of 20,000 lines of code under GPLv2 for three Linux device drivers. The drivers were developed by Microsoft's Open Source Technology Center (OSTC), and are intended to enhance the performance of Linux when virtualized on Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V or Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V server virtualization platforms, Microsoft said at the time.

Ramji has left Microsoft and his position as senior director of Platform Strategy to become interim president of the California-based foundation. In addition, Ramji made the move to be closer to his family, as well as to participate in a new cloud-related startup, says a story by Darryl Taft in our sister publication, eWEEK.

Ramji has been "Microsoft's guy in the hot seat in dealing directly with various factions of the open-source community, including the Apache Software Foundation and the Eclipse Foundation," writes Taft.

A follow-up eWEEK story notes a blog post by Microsoft's GM of Windows Server Marketing and Platform Strategy Bill Hilf yesterday, in which Hilf states that the open source work championed by Ramji will continue at Microsoft. Ramji himself was said by Taft to have stated that his former group at Microsoft was going to be "mainstreamed" into the company's overall technological and strategic push.

Board taps members from Microsoft, Novell

Other interim board members of the CodePlex Foundation are also primarily from Microsoft. However, the company, which seeded the foundation with an initial $1 million contribution, will not control the board, says Ramji in an audio slide show posted on the site. Microsoft board members include Bill Staples, who heads up Microsoft's Internet Information Services team, as well as Stephanie Boesch, a program manager for the .Net Framework, and Britt Johnston, a product unit manager for Data and Modeling.


Board members from outside Microsoft include Shaun Walker, co-founder and chief architect of DotNetNuke, and open source pioneer Miguel de Icaza, VP of Developer Platform at Novell. De Icaza (pictured) has been the force behind the Mono open source .NET clone, as well as the Moonlight clone of Microsoft's Silverlight multimedia framework. Novell has been criticized by many in the open source community for its cozy relationship with Microsoft, which has included a controversial 2007 patent agreement.

The foundation also announced an advisory board that includes a number of Microsoft executives, as well as members from SugarCRM, MindTouch, Hewlett-Packard, and Monty Program AB/.

On the site, the foundation notes that aside from the recent Linux driver code release, Microsoft's open source participation includes sponsorship of the Apache Software Foundation, contributions to the PHP Community, participation in Apache projects including Hadoop and Qpid, and participation in events such as OSCON, EclipseCon, PyCon, and the Moodle Conference.

Is Microsoft serious?

As mentioned earlier in this story, a slight shadow has been cast over Microsoft's open source efforts by anti-Linux FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) reportedly emanating from Redmond. For example, one story has alleged that Best Buy training materials produced by Microsoft teach salespeople how to steer buyers away from Linux, using a number of misleading and inaccurate claims.

Meanwhile, after the Open Invention Network announced that it had purchased 22 patents previously owned by Microsoft to help protect Linux firms from potential lawsuits, the executive director of the Linux Foundation has accused Microsoft of playing dirty tricks by originally releasing the patents with the intention of letting "patent trolls" elicit settlements from Linux vendors. (DesktopLinux coverage of both stories may be found here.)

In another follow-up story on eWEEK, Taft reports on a mix of opinions about the foundation from several analysts. One suggests that Microsoft is showing a genuine interest in open source, while another questions whether CodePlex will have sufficient independence from Redmond to play a significant role.

Over at ArsTechnica, meanwhile, Ryan Paul suggests that based on certain clues elicited from the foundation's posted assignment agreement, the announcement of the CodePlex Foundation may have been fast-tracked as a way to mute the criticism over the recent patent dust-up. The lack of details about the group's goals, and the foundation's statement that more information will emerge in the coming months, would not argue against that opinion.

Availability

More information on the CodePlex Foundation may be found at their website, here. Darryl Taft's eWEEK stories on the group may be found here, and in these follow-up stories here and here. The ArsTechnica story may be found here.


This article was originally published on LinuxDevices.com and has been donated to the open source community by QuinStreet Inc. Please visit LinuxToday.com for up-to-date news and articles about Linux and open source.



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