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Microsoft throws $1m open-source party

A-list guests needed

Industry organizations and foundations are like parties - it's who you don't invite and who shows up that's really important.

IBM and Microsoft once tried to usurp Sun Microsystems' role over in web services by launching the Web Services Interoperability (WS-I) organization pointedly without the Java daddy. Humiliated, Sun had to claw its way in later through the regular voting process.

Further back, IBM created the Eclipse Foundation literally to overshadow and steal - yes - Sun's community stewardship of Java.

Now, Microsoft has unveiled an organization it says will help open source work with commercial software organizations - the CodePlex Foundation. Microsoft is also the Foundation's sole funder, having donated $1m - a number the company will review annually.

The problem with open source today is that existing Foundations target only specific projects, according to the group's site. It wants to address the "full spectrum" of projects, by sharing best practices and to increase participation in open-source community projects.

Why is Microsoft acting? "We saw a great opportunity to drive change," the site says.

As ever, though, it'll be who participates in the group as much as how this particular group answers some major questions that'll determine whether the Foundation moves beyond just a Microsoft talking-shop and achieves some results.

Microsoft wants - and needs - to engage with open source developers and projects for the Foundation to succeed. There are a couple of hurdles en route to winning them, though.

First, there's the name, uncomfortably close to Microsoft's CodePlex forge that it created in May 2006 to host open-source projects. CodePlex is dominated by Microsoft-centric code.

It will make uncomfortable and confusing reading for independents and big vendors to read on the CodePlex Foundation's site that the Foundation is an "extension" of the CodePlex "brand", yet the Foundation will be independent from the CodePlex site. The sharing of the name along with Microsoft's initial funding means people will need to take Microsoft on trust, and that's not something Microsoft enjoys a great deal of in open source.

Microsoft has published the Foundation's bylaws in an attempt at visibility, but it's difficult to see how anybody in the community will see this as anything other than an extension of the Microsoft site, especially given Microsoft's funding and the fact that CodePlex is largely full of projects for .NET and Windows.

Further questioning its independence, there's the subject of the Foundation's inaugural leadership: four of the seven inaugural board members are from Microsoft, with the interim president being Microsoft's senior director of platform strategy Sam Ramji.

Membership shuffle

Of the remaining three, one is Miguel de Icaza leading the open-source implementations of Microsoft's .NET and Silverlight at Novell, with the Mono and Moonlight projects. Although de Icaza is a decidedly independent thinker, he has taken tons of flak from diehards and refuseniks for Novell's patent pact with Microsoft. This will create further acceptance problems for the Foundation.

The other interim board members come from a .NET project or have a background in community organizations.

To the Foundation's strength, Ramji has gained some credibly among open-source and Linux leaders for his ambassadorial work. Also, he only has a temporary role: he will not only serve only for the next 100 days, but is also leaving Microsoft - for personal reasons.

Incidentally, this might actually serve to weaken the Foundation inside the Microsoft organization, as Ramji has been one of open-source's biggest champions inside the company and was clearly closely associated with the Foundation.

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