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FOSS Fans Wary of Microsoft's New CodePlex Foundation

By Richard Adhikari LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Sep 11, 2009 11:56 AM PT

On Friday, Microsoft announced the CodePlex Foundation, which will support the open source community.

FOSS Fans Wary of Microsoft's New CodePlex Foundation

The foundation is initially being funded by Microsoft and will be temporarily headed by departing Senior Director of Platform Strategy Sam Ramji.

About the CodePlex Foundation

The CodePlex Foundation, according to Redmond, is a 501 C6 nonprofit. The 501 C6 statute exempts commercial organizations, including business leagues and boards of trade, from paying taxes as long as no private shareholders or individuals get any of the net earnings.

Its mission includes the lofty goal of increasing the participation of commercial software companies and their developers in open source projects.

Exactly what kinds of projects the foundation will serve remains vague because its charter has not yet been drafted.

The foundation was set up as a commercial enterprise because the requirements for a charitable nonprofit are more stringent, Microsoft said. Charitable nonprofits need more set-up time and involve a more complex planning process.

"Given that we wanted much of the planning for the Foundation to take place in an open, transparent manner, it made more sense to launch quickly but minimally, and then begin the dialog with industry partners and open source community members that will ultimately shape the Foundation," reads a post on the CodePlex Foundation's FAQ.

Little Love From Linux

"We'd like to be optimistic that they can help, but the establishment of the CodePlex Foundation is on the heels of Microsoft's attempting to sell open source-related patents to patent trolls," said Keith Bergelt, CEO of the Open Invention Network.

"If they were serious about open source, they would have contacted me or Jim Zellin of the Linux Foundation, or the Software Freedom Law Center, or the Free Software Foundation or other open source organizations," he told LinuxInsider.

The Open Invention Network (OIN) is an intellectual property company promoting Linux and open source. Earlier this week, it bought 22 Linux-related patents that Microsoft had recently sold to the Allied Security Trust. OIN's members include IBM, Sony, Red Hat, the Linux Foundation and the Software Freedom Law Center.

Following the purchase, the Linux Foundation's Zemlin blasted Microsoft for its war against Linux. Microsoft, he said, is engaged in a covert war against Linux, and that impacts customers who deploy mixed Windows and Linux environments.

Microsoft Runs Hot and Cold

Judging from Microsoft's actions in the past, Zemlin may have a point.

"Seven or eight years ago, Steve Ballmer famously said Linux is a cancer," said Laura DiDio, principal at ITIC. "A lot of Linux people suspect the CodePlex Foundation is a ploy, and with good reason."

Also, Sam Ramji, who will head the CodePlex Foundation for 100 days until it can get a full-time chief, has previously said that open source software is not synonymous with Linux. Microsoft will work with other open source platforms that support its software instead of competing with it like Linux does, he said.

Further, in 2007, Microsoft claimed that open source software violated more than 200 of its patents, and it has been holding that alleged violation of the heads of the open source community ever since. "That created a lot of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) in the open source community," DiDio said.

On the other hand, Microsoft has sponsored the Apache Software Foundation; contributed some code to the PHP community; participated in various Apache projects including the Hadoop project and the Opid project; and taken part in various community events such as OSCON, EclipseCon, PyCon and the Moodle Conference.

At OSCON 2009 in July, Microsoft contributed 20,000 lines of code to the Linux kernel, Redmond said.

CodePlex: The History

The CodePlex Foundation is an extension of the Codeplex portal Microsoft set up back in 2006. At the time, it said CodePlex would serve as an online collaborative software development portal and a vehicle for sharing code.

Since then, the portal developed into what Microsoft described as an open source project hosting site and hosted code for a lot of its projects on the site. The source code for the Open Government Data Initiative, announced by Microsoft in May, is one example.

The CodePlex Foundation will be independent, according to Microsoft. However, according to Al Hilwa, a program director at IDC, "CodePlex is going to be associated with Microsoft for a long time to come and will likely serve a specialized purpose of interoperability with Microsoft products."

"Whether it can expand its charter to other purposes will depend on how its governance evolves over time to spread beyond Microsoft people," he told LinuxInsider.

That doesn't mean, however, that Redmond loves open source. "Microsoft doesn't like open source or Linux any better now, but they have realized Linux and open source do have very strong, passionate proponents, and deployments are increasing," ITIC's DiDio said.


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