Microsoft's CodePlex Foundation leader soaks in stinging critique

Noted expert on standards lists five points Microsoft must change if it wants CodePlex to succeed in bringing together open source and proprietary software companies

After a stinging critique from a noted expert in establishing consortia, the leader of Microsoft's new CodePlex Foundation says such frank evaluation is welcome because the open source group's structure is a work in progress.

Sam Ramji, who is interim president of the CodePlex Foundation, was responding to last week's blog by Andy Updegrove, who said the group has a poorly crafted governance structure and looks like a sort of "alternative universe" of open source development. The CodePlex Foundation's aim is to get open source and proprietary software companies working together.

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Updegrove, a lawyer, noted expert on standards, and founder of, laid out in a blog post five things Microsoft must change if it wants CodePlex to succeed: create a board with no fewer than 11 members; allow companies to have no more than one representative on the Board of Directors or Board of Advisors; organize board seats by category; establish membership classes with rights to nominate and elect directors; and commit to an open membership policy.

Despite the stinging tone in Updegrove's assessment, Ramji says he is thankful for the feedback. "Andy's been incredibly generous with his expertise and recommendations," Ramji says. "It is the kind of input and participation we were hoping to get by doing what is probably non-traditional for Microsoft but not necessarily non-traditional for non-profit foundations, which is to basically launch as a beta."

For instance, Ramji says that the decision to go with only five people on the board came from Microsoft's experience that larger groups often have difficulty with decision making. He added, however, "There are some best practices [for running the boards of non-profits] that we are not as familiar with as we would want to be."

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Stephanie Davies Boesch, the foundation's secretary and treasurer, is the only board member with experience sitting on a nonprofit's board.

Ramji says Updegrove's suggestion to have academic representation on the board was "outstanding. We did not think of that."

And to Updegrove's point on becoming an open membership organization, Ramji says, "our goal is to become a membership organization and Andy has some excellent recommendations for that." He says the fact that Updegrove took the time to respond "in the format that he did is more proof that there is something worth doing here."

Ramji, compares the Foundation's formation to the early days of a software development project. "We have said in these first 100 days we are looking at everything as a beta. And basically it is re-writable. Obviously, there are some areas like contributions and licensing agreements we put a lot of time into but even those can be modified."

Microsoft announced the foundation Sept. 10 with a stated goal "to enable the exchange of code and understanding among software companies and open source communities." The company seeded the group with $1 million and Microsoft employees dominated the interim board of directors and board of advisors.

Ramji says the foundation has spent the past couple of weeks listening to feedback in "Twitter messages, email, and phone calls in order to understand what people hope this can be."

Within that feedback two patterns have emerged, Ramji says. One is a call for a broad independent organization that can bridge cultural and licensing gaps in order to help commercial developers participate in open source. The other focuses on creating a place where open source .Net developers can gain strong backing.

"Look at projects related to Mono, you also can look at NUnit, NHibernate, we really feel optimistic that the Foundation could help them gain a higher level of credibility in the open source community. They feel they have been lacking that strong moral support," Ramji says.

Miguel de Icaza, the founder of the Mono project and the creator of the Gnome desktop, is a member of the Foundation's interim board of directors.

From a high level, Ramji says the Foundation stands as a sort of enabler that helps independent developers, companies, and developers working for those companies navigate the nuances and practices of open source development so that they can either contribute source code to projects or open source their own technologies.

"One suggestion has been that the Foundation should house all the best practices we have seen software companies and open source communities use," said Ramji. "We want to have a place where everyone interested in how to participate can come and read and if they choose they can use our license agreements or can use the legal structure of the Foundation to grant patent licenses and copyrights for developers and derivative works."

Those licensing agreements have a distinct focus, Ramji said, on the rights that are related to code that is being contributed and on how to contribute the patent rights on that code. Once those issues are settled, code would be submitted using existing open source licenses. Ramji says the goal is to service multiple projects, multiple technologies, and multiple platforms rather than having one specific technology base, which is how most current open source foundations are structured.

"It's early days and we have received a lot of good ideas from experts in a variety of fields from law to code to policy that is what we had hoped for," says Ramji. "Someone wrote it is nice to see Microsoft engaging early on without all the answers and to have the community solve what they would like to see. That is satisfying for me and refreshing to others. This is the right way to proceed."

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This story, "Microsoft's CodePlex Foundation leader soaks in stinging critique" was originally published by Network World.

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