Codeplex Foundation: The High School Musical Of Open Source?

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

The Foundation reckons this can be achieved in a “museum” model, which includes “galleries” – sets of projects that address a particular area of need for open source code. It has created what she describes as “some legal innovations” which will enable players to participate in open source without fearing they will lose their IP.

These are  “contribution agreements” and “assignment agreements”, which she says are “templates which allow companies or individuals to licence copyrights and patents to the Foundation”. Some of the details of the structure are here. Once these projects are assigned to the Foundation, anyone in the open source commuinity can work on them and the intellectual property is held by Foundation.”

Codeplex is not a grab for IP

It’s not a bid to acquire intellectual property, she says: “We’re just trying to create a venue where people can collaborate on a project where  intellectual property issues are well understood, and don’t encumber people from participating in projects.”

Do these agreements do a different job though? We have normal open source licences, so why do we need these as well? “First of all, we do recognise a wide range of open source licences, so we’re not aiming to replace them,” she said. In some cases, the companies that developed the idea don’t want to hold onto the IP, she said, and the Foundation makes a good neutral body to hand it to. “It may be a project that extends their offering, they want to open it up to a large community of developers, but they don’t want to maintain or have any encumbrances with.”

The connection between Codeplex.com and the Foundation is slightly more than a shared name, however. Microsoft supports both financially, and has given the Codeplex name to the Foundation – so Codeplex.com now has to license that from the Foundation.

But no money changes hands for the licence, Hunter explains. “They are two completely independent organisations. Codeplex.com is managed by Microsoft, and the site is Microsoft’s responsibility. The Foundation is a non-profit body, managed by a board of directors – of which several [such as Ramji] are Microsoft employees.”

Hunter is not an employee of Microsoft – she works for the Foundation – although at this stage, the money she is paid basically all comes from Microsoft, as the Foundation has yet to announce other independent sponsors or sources of funding.   “Right now Microsoft is our primary sponsor,”   she said. “My responsibility is to expand our set of sponsors to include other entities that agree this is a challenge we should be applying resources to. Microosft was our seed funder but we want diversity in our sponsors”.

She can’t talk about any other actual or potential sponsors, but “that’s my top priority,” she said. She’s aiming to sign up large commercial software companies that historically have had proprietary platforms. but are looking to grow their participation in open source software. “Our legal innovations should reduce the barriers,” she said.

She won’t be drawn on any possible sponsors, except to say: “In my experience in working with non-profit organisations, they make for some strange bedfellows.”

She remembers her United Linux days fondly. Smaller Linux distributors had good footprints on their own home turf, but were having a hard time convincing large hardware vendors of their viability. The idea was to make one unified Linux which would get IBM, HP, AMD Intel and the rest to sign up.

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