Can the CodePlex Foundation Free itself from Microsoft?


One of the most fascinating strands in the free software story has been Microsoft's interactions with it. To begin with, the company simply tried to dismiss it, but when it became clear that free software was not going away, and that more companies were switching to it, Microsoft was forced to take it more seriously.

One of the people who knows more about this story than most is Stephen Walli. He not only comes from a deep Unix background, but worked at Microsoft for five years. As part of that, he made presentations to top Microsofties trying to get them to understand what this crazy open source stuff was about – and why Microsoft should care.

Future historians will doubtless be grateful that Walli has not only preserved one of his slides from this time (June 2003, to be precise), but made it available on his blog for everyone to be amazed by - it really has to be seen to be believed for the design alone (but the content's good too).

Here's what he writes on the accompanying post:

I recently found a slide I used six years ago to explain open source software in a business context to Jim Allchin back when I worked for Microsoft and Jim was executive VP of all Windows. My job was to develop an open source engagement model, working in a team called Platform Business Management, which reported directly to Jim. Jason Matusow was responsible for driving the Shared Source agenda, initially working in the Windows marketing team and later as an immediate peer in PBM. The meeting itself would have been sometime in June 2003 (so shortly after Sun's threatened injunction against Windows). I tried to ground the tactics in product practices Microsoft already well understood and with company examples pulled from other large multi-billion dollar corporations, i.e. while our shining open source company examples might have been Red Hat, MySQL, and JBoss, they were meaningless examples to Microsoft based on revenue size. The slide worked. Jim understood why Microsoft needed to adopt its own open source practices, and how we might start.

Shared Source was, of course, one of the most inglorious attempts of Microsoft to muddy the open source waters, by coming up with something that looked and sounded vaguely the same, but which in fact completely – and intentionally - missed the point.

Slightly more positive in terms of its attitude to open source was the CodePlex site, formally launched in London almost exactly four years ago:

Today at the Open Source Business Conference in London, Microsoft Corp. unveiled CodePlex, an online collaborative software development portal that is also a vehicle for sharing source code. Microsoft CodePlex is already home to more than 30 collaborative development efforts, including open source software projects that reflect the open community-building spirit of Microsoft’s Shared Source Initiative.

As can be seen from this, CodePlex was meant to be a home for both Shared Source and open source – although the press release made it sound as if the latter were simply a pale reflection of the former.

Not surprisingly, CodePlex has been subject to much suspicion – and derision. It was a pretty blatant attempt to jump on the open source bandwagon, in a form that was strictly controlled by Microsoft, which allowed it to place its own interpretation on what open source meant (by including licences that weren't on the OSI list, for example). And so no surprise, either, that the open source world has pretty much ignored CodePlex as a result. I must confess that I am guilty of this sin too, and that is unfortunate, because something is happening there that is potentially very interesting.

Here's the key announcement from September last year:

The CodePlex Foundation, a non-profit foundation formed with the mission of enabling the exchange of code and understanding among software companies and open source communities, launched today, September 10, 2009.

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