November 24, 2004

Windows developers share open source philosophy

Author: Tina Gasperson

Does the open source community embrace any group that chooses to develop and distribute code freely? If so, then the folks at must be part of that open source community, even though they are all loyal Windows members develop extensions for the .Net compact framework and share the source code with anyone who wants it and is willing to agree to the license terms. The code license is the same "shared source" license that got Microsoft some play on Slashdot earlier this year. The developers at say they are working in the spirit of the open source movement. got its start when a group of .Net developers started hanging out in discussion forums when the .Net compact framework was in beta testing. Neil Cowburn, one of the original members of the advisory board, says they were writing "snippets of code" for people who were experiencing frustrations with the compact framework.

After months of answering questions in this way, Cowburn and his friend Chris Tacke noticed that the snippets were getting longer and longer. They decided it would be a good idea to create a Web presence and repository for all the source code they were creating. That was the beginning of Once only a collection of disparate "islands" of code, OpenNETCF has grown into a complete small device framework that extends the functionality of the .Net compact framework. "We basically take all the elements of the framework and we stretch them as far as we can," says Cowburn.

They chose what they call open source licensing in order to promote the .Net compact framework. "We wanted other people to learn from what we had done in writing the code. The easiest way was to release the source code. It's a great learning tool, and a really good showcase of what is actually possible with the .Net compact framework."

He says the advisory board originally wanted to go with the Lesser General Public License (LGPL), an OSI-approved license, but, ironically, it was not as open as they would have liked. "It didn't meet our requirements. If we used LGPL, any source code had to be propagated [by those who modified it] -- we found that too restrictive," says Cowburn.

The board decided to adopt a slightly modified version of the ASP.Net shared source license. "The only restriction we wanted to put in place was that they couldn't take the source code and sell it [unmodified]," Cowburn says. "That license protected us in other ways, in terms of indemnification and making sure the intellectual property stayed with us from the original source code."

Microsoft made news in May when it releasedWindows Installer XML (WiX) under IBM's Public License and placed the code on SourceForge, and again in June when it eased restrictions in its shared source license for the Windows CE operating system. Cowburn says Microsoft has learned from the Linux community that user and developer communities "really do matter," and that the company is striving to accommodate that fact.

"Having used Microsoft software for many years, it's interesting for me to see the shift in mental attitude toward the way they approach their partners, developers, and customers. It's going to take a long time before that matches the solidarity felt amongst Linux users, but they are getting there," he says.

Cowburn says that Linux has challenged the perceived wisdom of decades of computer science, and has "rewritten the rules" on developing software. "The days of software developers yearning to work on a large project and not being able to for various reasons, like not being employed by a big software house, are well and truly over."

Cowburn says that although most of the members of OpenNETCF are Microsoft MVPs, they have no other affiliation with Microsoft, and Microsoft does not fund the OpenNETCF project in any way. "We don't collect any money whatsoever -- we're not sponsored by anybody. But Microsoft fully supports this from a moral standpoint. They think it's great what we're doing with .Net, because it showcases what is possible with the platform."

"We're just developers who are evangelizing the platform, hoping to ensure that people realize how powerful it actually is."

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