What The CodePlex Foundation Means To The .NET OSS Developer

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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”.

codeplex-foundation-logo

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.

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Comments

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10 responses

  1. Avatar for John Coonen
    John Coonen September 10th, 2009

    Good for you, good for Microsoft and good for the Open Source community. It's all about balance, and this is a great way to ensure a rather large segment of the tech community is well represented and can lend its brain trust to making progress as a whole.
    Best of luck to the board and leadership team!
    John Coonen - @CMSExpo

  2. Avatar for John Sheehan
    John Sheehan September 10th, 2009

    I keep reading "Get involved" but no one seems to quantify that with anything actionable. How exactly does the foundation want people to get involved?

  3. Avatar for Chance
    Chance September 10th, 2009

    I gotta say, I've been very impressed with Microsoft's recent transition into the realm of OSS. I've been arguing with my anti-MS colleagues that MS has been making a significant change of course as of late.
    I've used you (phil) as an example of developers that MS has sought out to bridge the gap between .Net developers and the opensource world and I believe the approach is certainly working.
    When I first started web development, I was drawn to C# as a language but disliked the framework (webforms) and the lack of opensource software was extremely limited. You, along with a number of other people, have at least fixed one of those issues for upcoming web developers with the release of Asp.Net MVC (thanks!). Now with a non-profit organization designed to further bridge the gap, I can only hope that more people will see the light and start developing open source applications (Paul Vencill and I are working on a CMS and hopefully we arent the only ones).
    Thanks for your (and Microsoft's) efforts in making .Net a better ecosystem.
    Quick question though: what will happen to codeplex.com?

  4. Avatar for Seth Juarez
    Seth Juarez September 11th, 2009
    Now is the time to get involved if you want to help make sure it continues in the right direction.


    How?

  5. Avatar for Ian Muir
    Ian Muir September 11th, 2009

    Hey Phil, this is great news.
    One thing that the codeplex foundation could to is to help create a system allowing developers to connect with projects and other developers with similar interests. The two biggest issues I see with OSS is the large entry barrier for new developers and the constant duplication of similar projects. Creating a kind of OSS dev meeting space could be a great way to help combat both of these issues. New developers could find projects that need help without going through codeplex project by project and potential project leaders could partner early on to merge ideas and prevent project duplication.
    In fact, I would be happy to work on building a system to help do this if anybody is interested in working on it.

  6. Avatar for David Nelson
    David Nelson September 11th, 2009

    "Now is the time to get involved if you want to help make sure it continues in the right direction."
    I will echo John and Seth: how does one go about getting involved in the CodePlex foundation? What are the opportunities for involvement? The "Participate" link on CodePlex.org doesn't actually offer any ways to participate except to list a few email addresses.

  7. Avatar for Dummy Customer
    Dummy Customer September 11th, 2009

    Psych: What do you like?
    Dummy: I like spending money on luxury things!
    Psych: Does buying new stuff make you happy?
    Dummy: Yes, it makes me feel good.
    Dummy: I wish I had more time to spend money.
    Psych: Interesting.
    Psych: How do you make your money?
    Dummy: I am a software developer and work for a software company.
    Psych: You said you never have time. Is your job stressful.
    Dummy: No, not really.
    Psych: Then why don't you have enough time to spend your money?
    Dummy: Because I work all night on these Open Source projects.
    Psych: Don't you see the problem?
    Dummy: What problem?
    Psych: Do you make money from those Open Source projects?
    Dummy: No, the Intellectual Property resides with the starters/foundations of the projects.
    Psych: So you make no money of your contributions.
    Dummy: Nothing.
    Psych: How does that make you feel?
    Dummy: Pretty shitty, doc.
    Psych: So just stop working on those projects.
    Dummy: Thanks Doc.
    Dummy: Is this what Oprah calls a breakthrough moment?
    Psych: Errm...sure.
    Psych: You still need those prescriptions for Medicinal Marijuana?
    Dummy: YES PLEASE!

  8. Avatar for Haacked
    Haacked September 11th, 2009

    Regarding how to get participate. See this page on the CodePlex.org website: http://codeplex.org/participate.aspx
    Meanwhile, I think they are working on a more concrete forum (or something) for discussion. Meanwhile, posting on my blog is fine as I'll be sure to pass on suggestions etc.
    I have a follow-up blog post I'll write which talks a little bit more on the direction that project participation will take.
    Sorry for the lack of details, as I said in my post, it's very early in the process. ;)
    We had our first advisory meeting a day before the announcement. So we did suggest setting up a forum, but they didn't have time. :)

  9. Avatar for Jack
    Jack September 13th, 2009

    it is a good news for our developers and Open source community!

  10. Avatar for Aaron Fulkerson
    Aaron Fulkerson September 14th, 2009

    @John Sheehan,
    In addition to the current (sparse) contribute page at CodePlex.org, you can get involved by contributing to an open source project. Might I recommend MindTouch? ;-)
    Phil,
    I echo your hopes that CodePlex will enrich the .NET community with open source libraries and components here: www.mindtouch.com/.../codeplex-foundation-micro...