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Microsoft forms, funds new open-source foundation

Elizabeth Montalbano | Sept. 11, 2009
Sam Ramji, the interim president of the new CodePlex Foundation, will leave Microsoft Sept. 25

When asked what differentiates the new foundation from existing open-source organizations, Ramji said that while most now are focused on promoting the work of specific projects, CodePlex will complement the activity of those and other open-source projects while keeping in mind considerations such as patented technologies and other interests of commercial software companies.

O'Grady acknowledged that it is complicated for commercial software companies to allow their developers to contribute code to open-source projects because of legal liabilities, and having a foundation devoted to helping them navigate that complexity is a valid mission.

"If you're a Fortune 50 organization and one of your developers comes to you and says, 'I want to contribute to an open-source project,' how do you protect yourself from liabilities?" he said.

However, O'Grady added that other open-source foundations would argue that they already balance open-source and commercial interests side by side quite well. "Is it truly a differentiator for CodePlex? That remains to be seen," he said.

Microsoft historically has had a thorny relationship with the open-source community, but in the past couple of years Ramji's Platform Strategy Group has been trying to work more closely with open-source companies.

Ramji said Thursday that Microsoft remains committed to open source and the group he heads will continue at the company without him as Microsoft searches for his replacement. Microsoft also will continue to support other open-source projects -- such as its current work with Apache -- with funds and code contributions.

"The formation of the foundation is the culmination of what many at Microsoft have been working toward as an open-source strategy," Ramji said. "We hope the foundation will bring commercial software developers and open-source software developers closer together."

At the same time, however, Microsoft has continued to pose a litigation threat to open-source companies over patents it claims to hold for technologies incorporated in open-source software, including Linux. Microsoft has consistently and quietly been striking patent deals with Linux distributors. Some of the deals call for the companies to pay Microsoft to license patented technologies.

One case did go to court earlier this year, when Microsoft brought a patent suit against GPS device maker TomTom over patents included in the Linux implementation TomTom uses in its devices. TomTom eventually paid Microsoft out of court to settle the case, which Microsoft claimed was a patent case and not an attack against Linux.


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