At one time in the not-too-distant past, the mention of ‘open source’ carried a stigma with it. Perhaps an inkling that it was not high quality. Or managed by socially inept geeks. Or not well supported.
But those days are long gone, and the adoption of open-source in the enterprise is high. And while this in itself is not particularly new, what is new is that it is finally being acknowledged by major closed-source companies. Microsoft is an obvious case in point.
The recent announcement of Microsoft’s CodePlex.org is welcome news to many, and seeks to be much more active than previous initiatives – but what does it really mean?
CodePlex.org is Microsoft’s new foundation:
“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.”
By contrast, CodePlex.com is project hosting for open source software (created in 2006).
If you’re confused by this, you’re not the only one, and Microsoft’s Mission FAQ does little to clarify the issue.
Even posts from developers I respect give little clarity:
Scott Bellaware, in a very positive post, raises some interesting issues and focuses (rightly) on the opportunity this presents – but is more a message of hope than anything concrete.
Scott Hanselman’s post – complete with non-evil assurances :-) – gives a good overview and outlines the board, but still doesn’t clarify the mission of the foundation nor the benefits to common folk (that’s you and me). And, perhaps because of some pretty aggressive blowback MS have received over the announcement, he’s taken a slightly defensive stance. Probably wise, given the comments that resulted on the post, most of which are negative.
Going further, Scott’s podcast (download links here) serves largely to magnify the confusion – and illustrates how unsure everyone is.
Perhaps that’s why we’re seeing a little bit of back-pedding from Microsoft with comments to the effect of the announcement being a ‘soft launch’ (see Bill Staple’s comment on Scott’s post).
But let’s be fair, ‘the org’ haven’t really worked out the full plan yet, and it will take shape over time. After all, that’s their 100 day plan.
It has to be acknowledged of course – without getting too cynical – that ‘open source’ is a powerful marketing angle, and Microsoft has been wise to take a bigger stake in the mindshare (along with Facebook, Google, Apple, Atlassian and plenty of others joining the likes of Mozilla, GNOME and OSI).
Everyone wants to be ‘involved’ in an open source initiative these days, and if you can’t leverage an existing one, then creating your own is the next obvious step.
So the question is whether a commercial entity (Microsoft), creating a foundation (CodePlex.org) is a bad thing. Is it? I don’t think so. Sure Microsoft stands to gain a lot, but as long as others do as well, then it can be a good thing right? Time will tell…
Advantages of CodePlex.org
There’s a number of advantages that a foundation can provide, and whilst it is still unclear exactly what Microsoft (ahem – I mean, “the board”) will focus on, the obvious three revolve around providing:
- copyright protection
- patent advice
- licensing services
There’s also the perception benefit of something being associated with a protective foundation. As Scott mentioned in his podcast, jQuery is a good example of a project that gained much wider acceptance in enterprise once it was embraced by Microsoft. The technology didn’t change, but the perceived trustworthiness of it did. And hopefully projects that come under the CodePlex.org umbrella will gain this intangible benefit also.
The main issue with CodePlex.org is that they’ve come in half-cocked and made a confusing mess – and just when CodePlex.com was starting to gain momentum (eg they just hit their 10,000th project earlier this year).
People are loving CodePlex.com, but now they’re unsure what is going on. In fact, some people are so confused by it all I’ve seen a few wondering if Windows 7 is going to be made open-source on CodePlex.org. LOL!
But give them time. The current problem with CodePlex.org is simply a matter of poor timing. It was launched too early (most likely forced by the Marketing departments in response to a competitor’s launch around the same time) and has not yet worked out what it wants/needs to be. That’s why they need high-quality participants to come on board.
Aside: Whenever a half-assed product/service/announcement comes out – don’t get too confused. Just apply the ‘look over there’ test. Google, Apple and Microsoft love playing this game of seeing who can divert the most attention away from a competing vendor’s release (I’ll see your Bing announcement and raise it with a Wave diversion, etc, etc). For those playing along at home, see if you can work out what the CodePlex.org announcement was a response to…
Come back in 3 months when the board isn’t stacked with Microsoft & ex-Microsoft staff, and they’ve got their mission fully sorted, and I think we’ll all be pleased with the initiative.