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FlexWiki Open Source Project Has Microsoft Talking

UPDATED: Microsoft has added another project to the SourceForge.net open source software repository. This time, it is called FlexWiki, which is an ASP.NET implementation of a wiki .

As internetnews.com first reported in July, the project marks the third collaboration with SourceForge, which is subsidiary of VA Software , the parent company of slashdot.org.

FlexWiki is based on the WikiWikiWeb, which lets people collaborate on a Web site by editing pages via HTML forms. Similar to a Weblog in structure and logic, a wiki allows anyone to edit, delete or modify content that has been placed on the Web site. It was developed in 1995 by Ward Cunningham and is in use at the Portland Pattern Repository.

Microsoft employee David Orenstein, a Lead Program Manager in the Digital Documents group, began the Microsoft-friendly implementation of FlexWiki and released it to GotDotNet, the company's .NET Framework Community Web site, at the end of 2003.

At the time, Orenstein commented on his Weblog that "some amazing things have happened with FlexWiki since I put it out into the shared source community. Wow. It was so much the right decision to put this stuff up on GotDotNet."

By moving the project to SourceForge.net, Orenstein is apparently looking to kick start the project even more. "The FlexWiki developer community has kinda stalled out a bit over the past few months as I've worked to get FlexWiki to this point," he wrote on his blog Monday night. "Now we can really get going again!"

The third release has also opened a window to how some Microsoft developers view the company's latest foray into the open and shared source development community; as one Microsoft blogger noted, the company is stepping carefully in order to build trust among developers.

According to Open Source Technology Group (OSTG), both of Microsoft's past two contributions to SourceForge.net, Wix and WTL, are in the top 10 percent of active projects on the site.

The Windows installer XML (WiX) and Windows C++ Template Library (WTL) projects that it released to SourceForge.net were released under the company's "Shared Source Initiative," a program that gives access to the Windows source code to certain customers, partners, developers and academics.

Like the two projects before it, the FlexWiki project moves the code into the project under the Common Public License (CPL), which Ornstein called a "a better legal environment" for licensing rights. In his opinion, he continued, the CPL is a license that, like the Free Software Foundation's GPL , assigns ownership of the contribution to license writers and then back to the contributor.

"The advantage here is that the project gets a single, clear copyright owner, etc," he wrote. "This is an example of the kind of 'better legal environment' that I hope will make companies [even] more comfortable using and extending FlexWiki."

The project also has Microsoft's bloggers talking about the company's approach to open source projects, at a time when Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer routinely derides open source, such as the Linux operating system.

For example, Josh Ledgard program manager chief community evangelist for visual studio at Microsoft, noted that "Engaging the 'open source crowd' is something that we have historically neglected. Hell, from their perspective, some of our assaults on Linux are downright insulting. I cringe when I see the news headlines like ' Rails Against Open Source.'" Some "bridge crossing could do both sides some good," he continued.

Microsoft's Rob Mensching, who manages the company's WiX sourceforge.net project, took (polite) issue with his colleague's sentiment, noting that "Microsoft has already taken steps to try and improve our developer relations in the Open Source community via WiX and WTL. I cannot speak for Nenad and WTL but the WiX community is growing slowly. There are already a number of developers who trust Microsoft enough to work on the project and help introduce new developers into the community."

He also took aim at those that have levied comments against Microsoft's initiatives in the open source community as a potential "patent grab."

"I'm not a lawyer and I can't say I truly approve of the way that the patent system currently works," Mensching wrote. "However, the comments floating around that essentially boil down to a scenario where Microsoft sponsors an Open Source project to attract developers only later to hit the community with patent infringements are 'patently stupid'."

That kind of talk, he added, serves no purpose but to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt about Microsoft's participation in the Open Source community.

"Microsoft is taking small steps into the Open Source community," Mensching wrote Tuesday. "To some of you it may not seem like much but I can't tell you how exciting it is to watch project after project get released under the Shared Source Initiative. Things are changing around here, slowly but surely."

Updates prior version to correct spelling of Rob Mensching