Looking Inside Microsoft's Open Source Repository: Page 2

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By contrast, a generic tag like "games" is used only 183 times. Similarly, "database" is used as a tag 125 times, and "blog" 62 times. The cross-platform tag "Ajax" receives only 174 mentions, and "XML" 111, so even open standards are not a major concern on CodePlex.


FOSS licensing is designed to encourage sharing -- and, therefore, the general serendipity of the code. This fact is such a given that, even during the debates that raged two years ago over the relative merits of versions two and three of the GNU General Public License (GPL), the most popular FOSS license, discussion tended to center on which version promoted sharing best. Although statistics vary, some form of the GPL -- whether version 2 or 3, or the GNU Lesser Public License (LGPL) or the GNU Affero Public License -- is the license for two-thirds to three quarters of all FOSS projects.

When you are aware of this fact, the licensing of CodePlex projects stands out as an anomaly. For one thing, although CodePlex lists version 2.0 of the GNU General Public License (GPL) as an acceptable license for projects on the site, it does not accept the GPL's 3rd version, which specifically blocks deals like the infamous one between Microsoft and Novell in November 2006.

Equally unacceptable is the GNU Affero General Public License, a version of the GPL designed specifically for network appliances, which many free software supporters see as a way of circumventing the obligations of a free license.

At the most, only 57 of CodePlex's projects use the second version of the GPL and 36 the LGPL-- less than .75% of the total (the actual number may be lower, since this statistic is the result of a search on the term "GPL," and all mentions of the term may not refer to a project's licensing). In other words, the rate of GPL use on CodePlex is only about 1/58th that found in the general FOSS community.

Instead, a survey of new and popular CodePlex projects suggests that the favored licenses are the Microsoft Public License and various forms of the BSD Licenses -- both of which provide the possibility of distributing source code, but do not compel it, the way that the GPL does.

These licensing preferences are so pronounced that they clearly indicate that, like many companies new to FOSS, Microsoft and those attracted to CodePlex are trying to have things both ways -- that is, they want to take advantage of the creativity of others while reserving the option not to reciprocate.


In the last two or three years, Microsoft has attempted to soften its image in the FOSS community. It has sent representatives to conferences, and sponsored events and contests. For the most part, these activities have not convinced community members that any real change has taken place, but, beyond that, these efforts have been a Rorscharch test, with people seeing in them what they will. Those paranoid about Microsoft have seen them as proof of their obsessions; only those oriented towards business have entertained the idea that the efforts represented real change.

What is useful about comparing CodePlex with other project-hosting sites is that the exercise gives such much-needed concrete evidence about Microsoft's attitudes towards FOSS. Whether CodePlex is a cynical exercise or a well-meaning one that has gone astray through timidness or conservatism still depends on your point of view, but one thing is clear from CodePlex: Microsoft still fails to understand FOSS. Instead, it appears to be repeating the mistakes that hundreds of companies have made in the past ten years.

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Tags: Linux, search, Microsoft, virtualization, FOSS

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