In what might be a minor move at any other company, Microsoft’s decision to move FoxPro to its CodePlex open source site is big news. And good news, too, in my opinion (one that I share with Jason Matusow, apparently.)
Why is it big news? An increasing number of companies have started to treat open source as a dumping ground for old, unwanted code. FoxPro certainly seems to fill that description, though not for existing customers that use it and rely on it. But this move is bigger than just one piece of code. It reflects, I believe, a shifting mindset within Microsoft.
No, it won’t be licensed under an OSI-approved (read: open source) license. It will be under one of Microsoft’s Shared Source licenses, as Mary Jo Foley points out. That’s OK, because I think this decision is less about open source and more about collaborative community development. Very few get this aspect of open source right, and I’m hoping that Microsoft will do better than many of the rest of us.
Microsoft, for all its faults, has traditionally understood the importance of developers better than most companies. Steve Ballmer’s famous developer dance is just one indication of this. To the extent that Microsoft can figure out the open source development model, and marry it with the passive-aggressive open source licensing model, it will win big in this new world of software.