Open-source CodePlex helps Microsoft grow up

Microsoft's code-hosting site is growing at a torrid pace, helping the software company get in a position to grasp its open-source opportunity.

What a difference a year makes. In the case of CodePlex, Microsoft's open-source code-hosting site, a year has seen Microsoft make serious progress toward real open-source savvy. The site has more than 120,000 registered users and 7,500 projects.

I've noted for years that open source should be an opportunity for Microsoft, not a threat. Windows, for example, should be the world's biggest open-source platform, but it's not, and Microsoft has only itself to blame for this.

But perhaps the rising popularity of CodePlex can help change this. The numbers, as called out by Microsoft's Peter Galli, are impressive:

  • Visits to CodePlex more than doubled in 2008 to more than 19 million;
  • New registered users were up more than 70 percent to more than 66,000;
  • The number of new projects more than doubled to 4,542 in 2008; and
  • Microsoft refreshed the underlying CodePlex software 12 times in 2008, introducing a range of new features.

Beyond sheer statistics, however, Microsoft learned to manage open source responsibly in 2008. Microsoft progressed through fits and starts, releasing projects like Sandcastle as "open source" without actually providing the source. Microsoft's open-source team, led by Sam Ramji, however, quickly fixed the problem and has largely managed to avoid similar subsequent snafus.

In this and in other ways, Microsoft is maturing in its perspective of open source. Microsoft has struggled for years with open source's non-existent acquisition fee, but it has simultaneously grown less surly and more realistic about competing with open source.

Open source is one of Microsoft's greatest opportunities, if it would just seize it. Open source gives Microsoft (and every other vendor) an efficient, nearly friction-free method to get one's software into the hands of the widest group of potential buyers. In a recession, the company that has the most people trying its software will almost certainly be the one that has the most people buying its software.

Why not have that software run on Windows? Or tie into SQL Server? Or SharePoint? This is Microsoft's opportunity and, if CodePlex's growth is any indication, it's one that Microsoft is starting to take seriously.

You can follow me on Twitter at mjasay.

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