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CodePlex and Open Source Software

As executive director of the CodePlex Foundation, Paula Hunter has a lot of irons in the fire. She recently took some time to chat with Jonathan Erickson.

Dr. Dobb's: Paula, can you give us a brief overview of the CodePlex Foundation?

Hunter: The CodePlex Foundation is a new, independent open source foundation that enables corporations to innovate with more agility by collaborating with open source communities. Our core mission is to provide governance and legal mechanisms necessary to ensure clarity and certainty for corporations that want to participate in open source. We also develop and promote best practices, processes and legal structures that meet the needs of open source developers.

We're platform, technology and license agnostic -- which is how we differ from other foundations. We made a conscious effort to differentiate ourselves in this way. This allows us to provide unique support and services that complement the important work of other foundations.

We formed to encourage greater use of OSS by corporations and developers by providing support and services to achieve the following objectives:

  • Make it easy to participate in open source
  • Provide a standard, but flexible contribution agreement
  • Create a legal entity/framework that enables code to be shared easily with reduced risk
  • Lower legal risk and costs of bringing open source projects into the commercial world
  • Reduce the time, legal complexity and expense of contributing projects to the open source community

Dr. Dobb's: To date, has the Foundation enjoyed any "big wins?"

Hunter: We launched in September 2009, and I think our biggest win is what we've accomplished in such a short time. One of those first early milestones was the publication of our Project Acceptance and Operations Guidelines where we mapped out our mission and guidelines for submitting a project to the Foundation. We introduced a "Project Gallery" model as an organizational structure for managing Foundation projects. The museum metaphor provides a way to group projects within a taxonomy, similar to how art collections are organized and presented in a museum exhibition. For example, sponsors can host entire galleries of projects with related applications and technologies. Introducing these guidelines has helped us attract interesting projects and project sponsors, and we're picking up momentum.

So far, we have the ASP.NET Open Source Gallery that has four active projects. The Web Forms MVP project is the most recent addition to this gallery. We also have the Systems Infrastructure and Integration Gallery, consisting of two active projects with more on the way.

We'll continue growing these galleries and adding new ones along the way. That's the beauty of it. The community can have a strong influence on the types of projects and applications we support simply by submitting to sponsor a gallery.

Dr. Dobb's: What will the Foundation be like two years from now?

Hunter:More projects, more galleries, more sponsors, more community, more impact, more independence. I've set a goal for 2010 of adding at least two sponsors, at least two more galleries, and at least one additional board member. In two years I plan to have more sponsors -- which will prove our independence for those who are still skeptics -- and a tiered sponsorship model. I'm working to attain 501.6c status as a non-profit organization, and looking at different models under which we can accept members at different levels of participation and contribution. The goal is to diversify the organization, increasing our footprint, influence and credibility in the OSS community, and demonstrating our value to commercial software companies, non-software companies that use OSS, and enterprise IT.

Dr. Dobb's: Looking beyond the Foundation, what do you see as opportunities for developers in the next year or so?

Hunter: Open source developers have become mainstream. The big opportunity for them is to take advantage of the status they deserve as major influencers in the software development world. Open source dominates in cloud and mobile and is a large part of the virtualization market. As the focus moves from operating systems to cloud-based, virtualized environments delivered to end users on mobile devices, the opportunity for open source developers just grows. It's a very exciting time to be part of the community.

Dr. Dobb's: As executive director of a not-for-profit entity, what's the toughest part of your job?

Hunter: Managing expectations is the toughest job. I have to answer to the Board, take advice from the Board of Advisors, honor the intent of our founding sponsor Microsoft, and provide an operational and technical environment in which our galleries and projects flourish. It's a balancing act I've done before at non profits and open source foundations -- I expected it, but it's always a challenge.

Dr. Dobb's: Your biggest surprise?

Hunter: I have been pleasantly surprised at the level of support and readiness to discuss our mission within the open source community. Skeptics often have the loudest voice, and I heard and read their complaints before I accepted this position, but the people that I have worked with over the last decade, who represent some of the best and brightest open source developers and business professionals in the industry, have been encouraging and supportive. That's not to say that they don't have some criticism, but thus far it has been very constructive.

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