Codeplex Foundation: The High School Musical Of Open Source?

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

Open source and proprietary software are different in a good way, says Paula Hunter, head of the Microsoft-backed Codeplex Foundation

Microsoft’s Codeplex Foundation has been viewed with suspicion – and you can see why. Microsoft is a long time critic of open source software, claiming for instance that Linux contains material which infringes its patents, but now it is cosying up to the movement.

Next month the company is a major speaker at the upcoming Open Source Business Conference. It has a controversial support deal with Novell for the OpenSUSE Linux distribution, all of which is seen in some quarters as “acknowledging the enterprise role of Linux”.

Last September, Microsoft announced the Codeplex Foundation, a body designed to help commercial software companies participate in the open source world. The stated aim, “to enable the exchange of code and understanding among software companies and open source communities”, provoked suspicion from people such as Richard Stallman, but was welcomed in other quarters.

The Foundation has been very slow getting off the ground. Sam Ramji, Microsoft’s senior director of platform strategy, was appointed as interim chair of the board of directors, but left Microsoft almost immediately to head cloud start-up Sonoa Systems and the Foundation only hired its first employee in February – executive director Paula Hunter, a veteran of open source promotional groups who stresses she has “never worked for Microsoft”.

She was previously head of the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL, now the Linux Foundation). Between 2002 and 2004, she led United Linux, an attempt to produce a unified Linux distribution with a global footprint which would entice hardware vendors, enterprises and application developers.

“Large companies want a multi-source world”

New in the job, Hunter starts with the mission statement: “We’d like to be the enabler of the exchange of code between commercial organisations and the open source community”.

But she also has to clear up some confusion. Her employer, Codeplex Foundation, at codeplex.org, is a different body from Codeplex.com, a Microsoft-run “forge” which hosts 10,000 open source projects aimed at commercial developers. Among the projects supported by Codeplex.com is the RIC research tool recently announced by the British Library.

“We are not a keeper of code – we are not a forge,” she says, “but because of the name Codeplex, it is natural to make that confusion.” Projects registered at the Foundation can be hosted on any forge.

Why is there a need for this different kind of body, then?  “Many large software companies are operating in a multi-source world. They see the benefits of working in the open source model, but they have a core set of intellectual property that they want to protect,” she said – adding that the trick is to get those companies’ developers to engage in the open source world in a way that is safe for them.