Last week at the BUILD conference in San Francisco, Microsoft made a surprise announcement that they have created a new .NET Foundation. The stated goal of the new foundation is to be an independent forum to foster open development and collaboration around the growing collection of open source technologies for .NET.
Is is just me, or does this sound a little bit like deja vu?
Back in April 2012, I wrote a blog about another surprise announcement from the software giant related to the creation of a wholly owned subsidiary named Open Technologies Inc. The subsidiary was intended to help facilitate the interaction between Microsoft's proprietary development processes and the company's open innovation efforts and relationships with open source and open standards communities.
And of course prior to the formation of Open Technologies Inc, Microsoft had also previously created the Outercurve Foundation ( formerly known as the Codeplex Foundation ) back in 2009, a 501(c)(6) organization separate from Microsoft whose mission is to enable the exchange of code and understanding among software companies and open source communities.
I was invited to be a founding Director in the Outercurve Foundation along with Bill Staples, Stephanie Davies Boesch, and D. Britton Johnston from Microsoft and Miguel de Icaza from Xamarin ( formerly Novell ) and was deeply involved in establishing its operational details, including governance models for its open source initiatives, membership structure and community engagement. In fact, I remember some very passionate discussions related to the question of whether the Outercurve Foundation should be focussed specifically on .NET technology ( my preference ) or if it should be platform agnostic - with the final decision being the latter. However if you take a look today, you will notice that all of the 27 projects that the Outercurve Foundation manages are based on Microsoft technology.
So the .NET Foundation is in fact the third attempt by Microsoft in 5 years to create a legal entity that can satisfy its specific business and legal requirements for engaging with the .NET open source community. Why is it so difficult to get this right?
Well the basic challenge is how a company like Microsoft can maintain some measure of control and influence over its IP while still granting freedom to developers so that they can have the maximum flexibility to utilize it in any environment without restriction. This is the same challenge that any company faces who wants to embrace open source and share their IP with the community. And since there are so many options available depending on the requirements, it is not always easy to get it right the first time.
Based on the limited information that has been made publicly available about the new .NET Foundation, it will be led by a three member board that will include representatives from Open Technologies Inc., Microsoft Corporation, and Xamarin CTO Miguel de Icaza. In the upcoming months, the .NET Foundation will be inviting many companies and community leaders to join the Foundation, at which time it will establish its Board of Directors, charter and governance model.
As pioneers of open source in the Microsoft ecosystem, DNN Corp is excited about Microsoft's recent announcement and see it as another evolutionary step in the company's path towards embracing open source ideals and methodologies. The addition of the Rosalyn compiler and other .NET technology will have tremendous benefits for the Microsoft open source community in terms of transparency, collaboration, and interoperability with other platforms.
Hopefully the third time's the charm for Microsoft.