Developers warm up to Microsoft’s code sharing forum


A Microsoft Corp. initiative to extend an olive branch to the open source community appears to be bearing fruit.

When the Redmond, Wash-based software behemoth launched its code-sharing forum dubbed CodePlex in May last year, the site only had 12 posted projects.

Today – seven months on – there are more than 700 ongoing projects on the site, aimed at allowing developers to contribute and freely share code.

The concept is a takeoff from Wiki-based file-sharing community sites such a YouTube and Flickr.

Some developers using CodePlex say it’s also an excellent channel for Microsoft to highlight the features of its products.

At least one Canadian analyst also suggests CodePlex serves as a clever “PR play” for Microsoft that has long been perceived to be at odds with the open source community.

“In the past, the industry had been seen mostly as Windows vs. Linux, the poster child of open source,” said Stefan Dubowski, managing editor of Canadian telecom research at Ottawa-based Decima Reports.

He noted Microsoft has recently made concerted attempts to change that perception. “Microsoft appears to be trying to impress the open source community.”

Some see Microsoft’s alliance with Novell Inc. — announced late last year – as an instance of the Redmond’s desire to mend fences with the Linux world.

Under the terms of the alliance, Microsoft has said it will support Suse Linux on machines that run Windows. Microsoft will also co-develop technologies with Novell to make it easier for users to run both Suse Linux and Microsoft Windows on their computers.

The CodePlex project is seen as yet another Microsoft initiative to woo the open source community, and – unlike the Microsoft-Novell alliance – it’s been relatively uncontroversial so far.

At least one Canadian developer welcomes what he sees as the immediate exposure and handy collaborative tools that CodePlex provides.

“After I posted my module, there were more than 170 people who downloaded it,” said Chris Dufour, senior software developer for EP Canada Ltd., a payroll software firm headquartered in Toronto.

Dufour was working on an event management module for a developer conference called Toronto Code Camp and was looking for a way to disseminate his work so operators of other conferences could use it. A friend had told him about CodePlex.

He believes a key advantage of CodePlex is that it uses Microsoft Team Foundation Server tools.

Team Foundation is Microsoft’s platform for integrating development tools such as source and version controls, work item tracking, and file repository.

Microsoft placed Team Foundation tools at the backend and created a Web interface to facilitate forums, Dufour noted.

He said he could have posted his work on alternative Web sites – such as Windows Live – but in that case he or someone else, who wanted to add code to his module, would have had to “create these tools from scratch.”

For company projects, Dufour says he sticks to Team Foundation for security reasons as CodePlex is open to the public.

Jeff Zado, senior product manager for developer tool at Microsoft Canada, admits CodePlex is an “ideal showcase” for his company’s products but added that at the end of the day the site is about people sharing their ideas.

“It is a way to showcase Team Foundation and our other free tools, but CodePlex is really about the users’ creativity and how they share it.”

Enterprises seems to be adopting the Wiki-aided collaboration process that grew out of the freewheeling designer and developer culture, according to Bernie Aho, one of the founders of ConceptShare Inc. of Sudbury Ont.

ConceptShare recently unveiled a new Web-based tool that allows users to create interactive workspaces where they can effectively and visually communicate concepts, ideas and intentions.

“People have been sharing files, music and video mainly for fun. Now that technology is being brought to the professional world,” said Aho.

He said CodePlex is similar to a new site that ConceptShare is about to launch for designers, who want to discuss or share information on various topics, or post projects.

As more people use CodePlex, Zado said, Microsoft is listening intently to their feedback concerning how the site’s capabilities can be improved.

So far there have been request to add features that extend collaboration across separate but similar projects.

Aho believes the industry is headed towards greater use of collaborative tools and wikis to encourage and generate creative ideas.

Dubowski, meanwhile, said it’s very likely Microsoft “hopes to increase its level of trust among open source developers.”

Aho and Dufour don’t see any problem in that.

“I think both worlds can co-exist,” said Aho.

Dafour echoed those sentiments. “It’s a great thing actually.

There’s lot of room for everyone.”

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