On the CodePlex Foundation

Some quick, semi-structured impressions from my own thoughts and my conversations with others in the .NET (Microsoft Developer) ecosystem since this announcement…

  • In general, I think this is (or could be, if done right) a good thing for the OSS community in general and for .NET OSS projects specifically
  • In so far as this (might) be seen as an outward manifestation of Microsoft’s (slowly changing) attitudes toward OSS in general as being a collaborative one rather than an antagonistic one, I think this has promise to help reinforce their changing relationship to OSS
  • That said, I do share some of the non-conspiratorial legal and technical points raised in this article: http://www.consortiuminfo.org/standardsblog/article.php?story=20090914102959510
  • In a very real sense, I think that MS has done real (though not irreparable) harm to their efforts by going ‘public’ with this effort while its still in such a nascent stage; the foundation’s inability to really answer any specific questions about the ‘implementation details’ of their ‘mission statement’ leaves many with a ‘so what?’ sense about the effort.
  • The answers provided thus far either through official postings or subsequent statements from foundation members only lead to more questions about what exactly they *will* do for OSS projects as they have really thus far only clarified what they *won’t* do as in…

[Note that in the following, references to ‘CodePlex projects’ mean those for which an OSS project has transferred copyright to the foundation and these are all just my present — and possibly incorrect — understanding of their position on these various points]

  1. they will NOT validate the Curriculum Vitae of code committed to CodePlex projects (e.g, to ensure that committers have proper clearance from employers, etc. to actually commit their work to the project, that the code isn’t improperly copied from other sources without permissions, etc.)
  2. they will NOT act to indemnify the initial contributors in law suits (frivolous or otherwise) against OSS project teams for CodePlex projects
  3. they will NOT warrant the reliability, suitability, etc. of any CodePlex projects for any adopters
  4. they will NOT require any single license for CodePlex projects so companies wishing to adopt any CodePlex project must still wend their way through the present confusing, often contradictory minefield of different OSS licensing agreements

Given all of this, the single nagging question for me as an OSS contributor is quite simple: “What’s in assigning my copyright to the CodePlex foundation for me that I don’t already have?”

Since the foundation appears to not offer legal protection for me (or adopters of my projects), its unclear what they will bring to the table in re: ‘legitimizing’ the use of OSS projects by companies, etc. that are presently reticent to do so for legal/liability reasons.

Since there are already a multitude of ‘infrastructure sites’ out there for OSS projects (e.g., project mgt sites, source code repository hosters, etc.), there’s no reason CodePlex foundation needs to help OSS projects with ‘infrastructure’.

Since there are already ‘OSS project aggregation sites’ out there (e.g., SourceForge, etc.) that help OSS adopters find projects to adopt, etc. there’s probably little distinction for them in being a ‘clearing house for information about available OSS projects’.

I think that my fellow developer (and Lawyer!) John Petersen put it best in a recent blog post (http://johnvpetersen.com/?p=195): the CodePlex foundation lacks a ‘business plan’. Not in the traditional sense of “how will it turn a profit” but instead that outlines just exactly HOW it will do its work to achieve its ‘mandate’.

Thus far, the case for why I would care about its existence hasn’t really been other than hinted at by the info released to-date. Since its announcement there seems to be nothing but clarification about what CodePlex foundation WON’T do and I think it desperately needs to find a way to define (quickly) what it WILL do, both for OSS contributors willing to assign it their copyright -and- for OSS adopters concerned about the legal issues surrounding adopting it.

Thus far, I’m more than willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, but the rush-to-public with this thing has left the foundation in the unenviable and disappointing position of having to answer just about every pointed question with some variant of “we don’t know“, “that will be decided once the final board is formed“, or “hmmmm…not sure” all of which (dis)serves to make the effort appear from the outside like its a well-intentioned but only half-baked idea cooked up for some thus-far-undisclosed nefarious purpose.

And as Microsoft tries to change the perception of itself in the OSS community, it does itself no favors by taking actions whose intent is anything other than clearly beyond reproach. This announcement, with its near-complete lack of anything approaching concrete details, leaves everyone (supporters and detractors both) with an opportunity to fill in the gaps with assumptions, innuendo, and sheer guess-work so everyone’s projecting their hopes, fears, etc, into the giant Rorschach ink blob that is this announcement and I don’t think that serves the foundation’s goals at all.

GIANT DISCLAIMER: as info about all of this is fluid, unconfirmed, changing daily/hourly/whatever, some or all of this may indeed by misunderstood by myself so it all needs to be taken with a serious grain of salt.

Also, these are my OPINIONS and don’t necessarily reflect the views of other members of project teams that I might be a participant with 🙂