Microsoft And British Library Develop Open Source Research Tool

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Updated: The British Library’s new collaboration tool is based on Microsoft’s Codeplex technology, but free software campaigners question the openness of the project

The British Library and Microsoft have developed an open source, online collaboration tool for researchers.

The Research Information Centre (RIC) Framework v1.0 released this week has been designed to help international researchers collaborate more effectively. Hosted at Microsoft’s CodePlex open source project hosting site, and based on Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 Platform, the “virtual research environment” allows researchers to create and share content and also work on specific issues such as funding proposals, the organisations claim.

“The RIC has amazing potential,” said Richard Boulderstone, director of e-strategy and information systems at the British Library. “Together with Microsoft and a selection of researcher-focussed development partners, we are building on the RIC research lifecycle framework to create a unique environment for biomedical research collaboration in the 21st Century.”

The binaries and source code of RIC are being made available to encourage experimentation and use in the scientific community, according to the British Library.

Tony Hey, corporate vice president, Microsoft External Research, said the RIC tool should help to promote collaboration among researchers. “The RIC will help researchers and academics simplify the process of information search, facilitate discovery, efficiently manage research-related materials and enable versioning and archiving,” he said.

Microsoft’s links to the British Library go back several years and include the decision to host the UK launch of Windows Vista at the facility in London and a rare books digitisation project.

Microsoft’s hosting site holds open source projects which are not controlled or endorsed by Microsoft. It is separate from the Codeplex Foundation, which Microsoft launched in September 2009, although the two have been widely confused – and technically now licenses its name from the Foundation.

Microsoft’s involvement in open source has always been controversial – the Foundation has been welcomed in some quarters, but criticised by free software advocates, including Richard Stallman: “We can see that CodePlex will encourage developers not to think about freedom,” wrote Stallman late last year. “It will subtly spread the idea that free software business is impossible without the support of a proprietary software company like Microsoft.”

This story has been updated, to clarify the distinction between and the Codeplex Foundation.

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