UPDATE: Be sure to read my follow-up post on this topic as well.
Yesterday, Microsoft announced some exciting news about the formation of the CodePlex Foundation (not to be confused with CodePlex.com project hosting website despite the unfortunately confusing same name) whose mission is to “enable the exchange of code and understanding among software companies and open source communities”.
This is an 501(c)(6) organization completely independent of Microsoft. For example, search the by-laws for mentions of Microsoft and you’ll find zero. Zilch.
One thing to keep in mind about this organization is that it’s very early in its formation. There was debate on trying to hash out all the details first and perhaps announcing the project some time further in the future, but that sort of goes against the open source ethos. As the main website states (emphasis mine):
We don't have it all figured out yet. We know that commercial software developers are under-represented on open source projects. We know that commercial software companies face very specific challenges in determining how to engage with open source communities. We know that there are misunderstandings on both sides. Our aim is to advance the IT industry for both commercial software companies and open source communities by helping to meet these challenges.
Meeting these challenges is a collaborative process. We want your participation.
I’m personally excited about this as I’ve been a proponent of open source on the Microsoft stack for a long time and have called for Microsoft to get more involved in the past. I remember way back then, Scott Hanselman suggested Microsoft form an INETA like organization for open source as an editorial aside in his post on NDoc.
How does it benefit .NET OSS projects?
However, all is not roses just yet. If you read the mission statement carefully, it’s a very broad statement. In fact, it’s not specific to the Microsoft open source ecosystem, though obviously Microsoft will benefit from the mission statement being carried out.
If you look at it from Microsoft’s perspective, there are many legal and other challenges to participating in open source more fully. While Microsoft has made contributions to Linux, has collaborated closely with PHP, etc. Each time presents a unique set of challenges.
If the foundation succeeds in its mission, I believe it will open the doors for Microsoft to collaborate with and encourage the .NET open source ecosystem in a more meaningful manner. I don’t know what shape that will take in the end, but I believe that removing roadblocks to Microsoft’s participation is required and a great first step.
I’m honored to serve as an advisor to the board. In our first advisory board conference call, my first question asked the question, “what does this mean for those running open source projects on the .NET platform?” After all, while I’m a Microsoft employee by day, I also run an open source project at night and I have my own motivations as such.
I’m happy to see the mission statement take such a broad stance as it seems to be focused on the greater good and not focused on Microsoft specifically, but I am personally interested in seeing more details on why this is good for the open source developer who runs a project on the .NET platform. For example, can the foundation provide something more than moral support to .NET OSS projects such as MSDN licenses or more direct funding?
These are all interesting questions and I don’t know the answers. Microsoft put some skin in the game by seeding the foundation with a million dollars for the first year. The foundation, as an independent organization, will be looking for more sponsors to also pony up money. They will have to find the right balance in how they spend that money so that they can continue to operate. I imagine the answer to these questions will depend in how successful they are in finding sponsors and operating within their budget. As an advisor, I’ll be pushing for more clarity around this.
The full details for what the foundation will do are still being hashed out. The interim board has 100 days to choose a more permanent board of directors. Now is the time to get involved if you want to help make sure it continues in the right direction.
Related Blog Posts From Others