by jonrosenberg on July 26, 2007 12:00pm


This is my first blog post on Port 25, and timely as my team and I are attending OSCON with the folks from Bill Hilf’s team.

I have some thoughts regarding the future of open source and how an organization matures along with the movement it helped to create.  As Director of Source Programs at Microsoft I can attest to the value of keeping up with your own growth.  We started on a journey, over three years ago, with the release of Windows Installer XML on SourceForge.  At the time, the project required the approval of our Group Vice President and a herd of lawyers.  The reactions of our colleagues were mixed, although as far as we know, none of our kids were beaten up at school as a result of what we were doing.  Today, Microsoft has published 175 projects on CodePlex, we have written a pair of open licenses that are under a page in length and over the 500-project mark in adoption as others in the community have decided to use them. I also run a training class that teaches people around the company how to engage in open source projects and make them successful.  The volume of projects over the past year has forced us to develop processes for approving and publishing projects that are easy to understand and administer. 

As Microsoft’s engagement with open source grows, we have to move from being trailblazers to being road-builders.  When you’re blazing a trail, organization, bureaucracy, and majority rule are a burden. In the beginning, a passionate group of people with strongly held beliefs and the will to persevere in the face of doubts and doubters is what it’s all about. When the trail is blazed and you’re keeping a four-lane road open, the challenges are very different.  Traffic laws, driver’s licenses, public works, and law enforcement are all necessary and these things require the broad support of the people who use the road and live on the adjacent property.  There’s nothing quite as effective in gaining this support as giving people a voice in how things are run.  As we look forward to the next three years, we already see the needs of our constituents driving our priorities for licensing, infrastructure, and process.  Although open source at Microsoft and the OSI are two different animals, I would submit to you that both are at a point in their maturity where their constituencies need to become more involved to maintain growth.
While it’s important to focus on the needs of a growing community membership, it’s also important to remember why you started it in the first place.  In Microsoft’s case, the reason is simple: Customers.  IT professionals told us they wanted both platform choices and platform interoperability.  Developers told us that they wanted more open collaboration and that the language of that collaboration is code.  In response, Microsoft has reached interoperability agreements with several key vendors of open source software, CodePlex is now supporting 2,000 collaborative development projects, and the features of CodePlex itself are largely driven by the votes of the community.

Today, we reached another milestone with the decision to submit our open licenses to the OSI approval process, which, if the licenses are approved, should give the community additional confidence that the code we’re sharing is truly Open Source.  I believe that the same voices that have been calling for Microsoft products to better interoperate with open source products would voice their approval should the Open Source Initiative itself open up to more of the IT industry.
So what about the flip side of the OSI becoming a membership organization?  Could they really be voted out of existence or rendered ineffective?  It doesn’t seem likely to me.  Participation in the OSI and adherence to OSI licensing guidelines and Open Source definitions is entirely voluntary. If it isn’t serving the best interests of the community, the community will go elsewhere.  Anyone considering an effort to “vote the organization into the ground” would surely realize that such heavy handedness would be self-defeating.  That’s not to say that a new membership structure wouldn’t lead to change, but I believe that these changes would have to be the result of vigorous consensus building and that’s probably not a bad thing.

I look forward to the submission process and welcome feedback from the community as we continue to grow together.