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

But the Open source Development Labs was much more focused on the IT community and got her talking to large users, such as Merryl Lynch. Dreamworks, General Motors and Goldman Sachs. These companies had “issues with open source”, and these issues are shared by the commercial software vendors: “I definitely want to see the Foundation have a dialogue with large IT departments”.

For instance, if an IT department working on open source code finds a bug or adds a feature: “How can they contribute code back to the open source project, without encumbering themselves?” The Foundation is a place for them to extend projects without having to step outside their role as corporate IT departments, she said. “They can say ;we want to contribute in an appropriate legal manner,  but we don’t want to be encumbered by the IP.”

“The place where I find it relevant is in a large software environment where you want to extend that environment but you don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” she said. Even if the core app isn’t open source, there is no reason why add-ons and extensions shouldn’t be open source.

Even financial companies are often less proprietary about their software than you might expect: “There are a lot of things which are mundane and straightforward. They take maintenance hours, and the IT dept has to decide, whether it wants to maintain this or put it out to the open source community and have other people maintain and extend it?”

All that sounds good in theory – but what projects has it crteated in practice, and when will we see some more concrete involvement in the Foundation from the industry at large?

Hunter is proud of the arrival of the Foundation’s first gallery – for open source projects within ASP.net, a Microsoft framework for Web services. That gallery was put forward by Microsoft, with the goal of getting “greater open source involvement” in ASP.net – and it now includes three projects – an Ajax Library, the “Orchard” project and MVC Contrib, an open source take on ASP.net’s “Model-View-Controller” design pattern.

The MVC Contrib project is particularly significant as it is the first one to come to the Foundation from outside Microsoft.

Diversity – and idealism

When she talks about the future of Foundation, is when we hear the message really kick in. “My buzzword of the month is diversity,” she said. “We want diversity of board members, and we want a diverse and robust set of projects.” In the next few weeks, the Foundation will announce a new and permanent board of directors, which will increase the diversity of the organisation, she said.

What about the criticism though? Is that based on misunderstanding of the Foundation, or an overly idealistic view of open source? “It’s a bit of both,” she said, but she expects as the Foundation grows, the confusion between us and Codeplex.com forge will go away, people will figure out what the Foundation is actually doing, and judge it on its results. She’s going to put the work of the Foundation more in the public eye – she aims to hire a technical director, whose job will be to “engage the community.”

She’s not got any problem with idealism, and expects to win the community over: “Idealism is what has created the energy in the community that we have seen. As we add new players to the board, it will reduce the level of cynicism.”

That makes the Codeplex Foundation sound like the High School Musical of the open source world, we suggested. Hunter hasn’t seen the movie yet, but we assured her it chimes well with her themes of diversity and reducing cynicism.

“What we are doing is bridging two worlds,” she said. “The commercial world has traditionally been more structured than the open source movement, and we’re trying to make sure that we are not encumbering the open source world in a way that is not comfortable.”

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