Relations between the open source movement—particularly the communities behind various distributions of Linux—and software giant Microsoft have always been contentious. On one hand, Microsoft claims to be embracing open source development efforts and working to integrate and support open source tools in its own commercial products and applications…on the other hand, for years Microsoft has claimed Linux infringes on oodles of Microsoft patents, and the company has passive-aggressively leaned on organizations and even its own customers not to stand with Linux if—or when—fireworks erupt.
Now, the company has announced it is putting $1 million towards the CodePlex Foundation, a new “completely independent” non-profit intended to facilitate open source code exchange between commercial software developers and open source communities. And the CodePlex Foundation will be run by Sam Ramji, who just stepped down as the lead on Microsoft’s open source platform efforts.
The ostensible mission of the CodePlex Foundation is to increase participation in open source projects by commercial software developers. Rather than focusing on a particular project—like Apache or Mozilla—the CodePlex Foundation aims to address a wide spectrum of projects “with the licensing and intellectual property needs of commercial software companies in mind.” The foundation claims one measure of its success will be a growing number of commercial software developers working on open source projects.
The move is being met with some skepticism from the open source community, unsure how the CodePlex Foundation plans to operate or what it brings to the table other open source organizations do not. For the next few months, the CodePlex Foundation will work on answering those questions as well as defining its governance, procedures, and operations—the foundation will also set up a permanent board of directors and executive director.
The move also follows Microsoft’s divestiture of some 22 software patents that are widely regarded as possible candidates for legal action should an intellectual property battle ever erupt between the Linux community and Microsoft. According to Linux Foundation, Microsoft put together the package of patents “relating to open source” with the idea a patent troll would snap them up, and then engage in legal action against Linux and/or other open source efforts—thereby, Microsoft wouldn’t have to blacken its reputation by initiating a legal battle directly. However, the open source-friendly Open Invention Network managed to acquire some of the patents, obviating much of the potential threat. “This deal shows the mechanisms the Linux industry has constructed to defend Linux are working, even though the outcome also shows Microsoft to continue to act antagonistically to its customers,” wrote Linux Foundation President Jim Zemlin.
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