From the Editors: Microsoft and open-source software

October 1, 2009 —  (Page 1 of 2)
The CodePlex Foundation—set up by Microsoft as a repository of open-source software—presents a conundrum for the open-source community and for Microsoft developers alike.

It’s easy to criticize Microsoft without examining the details; the company’s history with open-source communities has ranged from malignant neglect to outright hostility. Over the past decade, Redmond executives have fought to subvert open-source projects, most notably Linux, using every technological, legal and marketing tool in their billion-dollar toolbox. Microsoft has earned everyone’s skepticism. It is fair to suspect that CodePlex represents not a genuine acceptance of open source, but is yet another attempt to undermine or co-opt it. And indeed, we are skeptical.

Let there be no doubt: Microsoft is setting up CodePlex because it’s good for Microsoft’s bottom line.

Yet, to be fair to Microsoft, every major software company’s relationship with open-source software is based on business plans, not pie-eyed altruism. Other big companies, from IBM to Sun to Oracle, have contributed cash and personnel to open-source projects only because it makes sense to do so. From that perspective, Microsoft’s spin-off of CodePlex into an independent foundation may be little different than what IBM did with the Eclipse Foundation, or Sun with the NetBeans community.

Still, despite the fact that the CodePlex bylaws don’t mention Microsoft, we are troubled. The CodePlex Foundation is completely dominated by the company. Its acting president, vice president, treasurer and one other board member are Microsoft employees (though the acting president, Sam Ramji, has announced his forthcoming departure from Microsoft). The two non-Microsoft board members, Miguel de Icaza and Shaun Walker, are Microsoft loyalists.

If Microsoft’s intent is to provide an organization that’s solely for its business partners and for individuals to participate in open-source projects that support and advance the Microsoft platform, there is nothing wrong with that. Let the company be clear and admit it.

If the company’s goal is to support open-source development in general—and that would truly be shocking—then we’ll expect to see the evolution of an independent board of directors, the hiring of a Foundation president who’s not a Microsoft employee, and projects that reflect a broad view of the open-source community, and not merely promote the Microsoft platform.

Related Search Term(s): Microsoft, open source

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