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Enterprise Software

Microsoft Extends Olive Branch To Open-Source Groups

Microsoft Extends Olive Branch To Open-Source Groups
September 11, 2009 11:58AM

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Microsoft is backing the CodePlex Foundation with $1 million to enable the exchange of code and understanding between software companies and open-source communities. Microsoft's Sam Ramji will lead the foundation and Bill Staples serves on the interim board. Open-source backers are wary of Microsoft, which recently moved against Linux.

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Microsoft is putting its weight behind a new endeavor to which the software giant has agreed to contribute $1 million. Called the CodePlex Foundation, the nonprofit organization describes its mission as enabling the exchange of code and understanding among software companies and open-source communities.

The foundation will be led by interim President Sam Ramji, who is leaving his position as senior director of platform strategy at Microsoft at the end of this month. However, Bill Staples, general manager of Microsoft's Web platform and tools team, claimed the new organization is independent from the software giant.

"The foundation's mission to help the exchange of code and understanding between software companies and open-source communities is really interesting to Microsoft," said Staples, who is also a member of the interim board of directors.

Continuing Skepticism

Still, the open-source community continues to be wary of Microsoft's intentions when it comes to Linux. The skepticism among Linux backers was recently heightened by media reports suggesting Microsoft has been instructing Best Buy employees on how to communicate with customers in ways that stress the superiority of Windows 7 over Linux.

What's more, the open-source community clearly felt threatened by Microsoft's recent divestiture of 22 patents with the potential to be cited in litigation aimed at bringing down Linux. According to Linux Foundation President Jim Zemlin, Microsoft put them up for sale to patent trolls to "generate fear, uncertainty and doubt about Linux" without having to worry about damaging itself by attacking the Linux community directly.

However, the Open Invention Network -- which is backed by the open-source community as well as IBM, Red Hat, and Sony -- moved quickly to nip the potential threat by acquiring the patents.

"This deal shows the mechanisms the Linux industry has constructed to defend Linux are working, even though the outcome also shows Microsoft continues to act antagonistically to its customers," Zemlin said. "Let's hope that Microsoft decides going forward to actually try to win in the marketplace, rather than continuing to distract and annoy us with their tricky patent schemes."

Enhancing Collaboration

Staples said one goal of the CodePlex Foundation is to become a respected, neutral party that can enhance collaboration between participating companies, industry partners, and open-source communities. "Our hope is that new opportunities will emerge for Windows and .NET developers to more actively participate in open-source development through the CodePlex Foundation," Staples said.

However, another stated goal for CodePlex is to address a full spectrum of software projects in ways that keep the licensing and intellectual-property needs of commercial software companies in mind. "Our expectation is that we can have the greatest impact on projects where the software industry as a whole would benefit from closer collaboration between software companies and open-source communities," the foundation said.

Microsoft insists that open-source software has become an important part of many product groups and strategies across the company.

"We have become increasingly clear on where we work with open source -- development methodologies, projects, partners, products and communities -- and where our products compete with commercial open-source companies or platforms," said Bill Hilf, general manager of Windows Server Marketing and Platform Strategy at Microsoft. "Today, there are engineering and business leaders across the company, myself included, looking at how to drive interoperability for customers and as a lever for new growth."

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