Interesting news today from Microsoft, which has created the CodePlex Foundation, and independent legal entity designed to facilitate contributions to open source projects, both from Microsoft and other software vendors and users.
The other big news in this announcement is that Sam Ramji, Microsoft’s senior director of platform strategy and for many people the face of Microsoft when it comes to open source, is leaving the company. He will serve as president of the CodePlex Foundation for at least the first 100 days but is also departing Microsoft before the end of the month for another software vendor.
As we understand it, the CodePlex Foundation is a non-profit legal entity that will act as a mediator in contributing Microsoft code to various open source projects, building on the processes and practices Microsoft has learned in its attempts to contribute to various projects. It is also designed to enable other software vendors and users to do the same by acting as a legal go-between.
The theory is that the Foundation will increase Microsoft’s contributions to open source, as developers and product groups can get back to focusing on the code and allow the CodePlex Foundation to worry about the whys and wherefores of contributing the code. The same benefits should also apply to other software vendors and developers that join.
Microsoft is contributing $1m to start the Foundation, but intends for it to be legally and functionally independent. An interim board will include Ramji, Bill Staples (Microsoft general manager of Web platform and tools), Stephanie Boesch (Microsoft director, developer division), Britt Johnson (Microsoft principal product manager, SQL team), Miguel De Icaza (VP of developer platform at Novell) and Shaun Walker (co-founder and chief architect of DotNetNuke).
While the interim board is weighted in favor of Microsoft, the intention is for non-Microsoft employees to hold the majority in the long-term. The Foundation will seek feedback from open source developers as to the final details of board membership.
On the legal side, copyright for code contributed to the foundation will be jointly owned by the contributor and the foundation, while Microsoft will also grant the foundation and downstream developers patent rights for contributed code, and expects other members to do the same.
For those wondering about the relationship with the CodePlex hosting site, Microsoft is donating the CodePlex name and the codeplex.org domain to the CodePlex Foundation. Other than that there is no formal relationship. Code contributed by the CodePlex Foundation will be contributed to whichever project and forge is most appropriate for the code in question. That might sometimes by CodePlex.com, but it might equally be Apache, kernel.org, SourceForge or any other project hosting site.
For that reason, I personally think using the CodePlex name for both the Foundation and the hosting site is an error on Microsoft’s part in that it could cause confusion and suggests a formal relationship where there is none. We also think the CodePlex Foundation will have to work hard to ensure that it is not seen as a front for Microsoft, and the quicker an independent board is in place the better (such are the perils of starting up an independent foundation, however – as IBM and Nokia/Symbian have also discovered in the past).
As for the departure of Sam Ramji – he is a significant loss for the company, no doubt about that, but I would observe that the company’s open source efforts are too often associated with one person (before Sam it was Bill Hilf) and this is a good chance for some of the company’s senior execs to engage with open source alongside whoever is appointed as Sam’s replacement.