Lest CodePlex perplex
by Richard Stallman
Many in our community are suspicious of the CodePlex Foundation. With
its board of directors dominated by Microsoft employees and
ex-employees, plus apologist Miguel de Icaza, there is plenty of
reason to be wary of the organization. But that doesn't prove its
actions will be bad.
Someday we will be able to judge the organization by its actions
(including its public relations). Today we can only try to anticipate
what it will do, based on its statements and Microsoft's statements.
The first thing we see is that the organization ducks the issue of
users' freedom; it uses the term “open source” and does
not speak of “free software”. These two terms stand for
different philosophies which are based on different values: free
software's values are freedom and social solidarity, whereas open
source cites only practical convenience values such as powerful,
for more explanation.
Evidently Microsoft would rather confront the practical competition
of open source than the free software movement's ethical criticism.
Its long standing practice of criticizing only “open
source” does double duty: attacking one opponent while
distracting attention from the other.
CodePlex follows the same practice. Its stated goal is to convince
“commercial software companies” to contribute more to
“open source”. Since nearly all open source programs are
also free software, these programs will probably be free, but the
“open source” philosophy doesn't teach developers to
defend their freedom. If they don't understand the importance of this
freedom, developers may succumb to Microsoft's ploys encouraging them
to use weaker licenses that are vulnerable to “embrace and
extend” or patent co-optation, and to make free software
dependent on proprietary platforms.
This foundation is not the first Microsoft project to bear the name
“CodePlex”. There is also codeplex.com, a project hosting
site, whose list of allowed licenses excludes GNU GPL version 3.
Perhaps this reflects the fact that GPL version 3 is designed to
protect a program's free software status from being subverted by
Microsoft's patents through deals like the Novell-Microsoft pact. We
don't know that the CodePlex Foundation will try to discourage GPL
version 3, but it would fit Microsoft's pattern.
The term “commercial software companies” embodies a
peculiar confusion. Every business is by definition commercial, so
all software developed by a business—whether free or
proprietary—is automatically commercial software. But there is
a widespread public confusion between “commercial
software” and “proprietary software”. (See
This confusion is a serious problem because it falsely claims free
software business to be impossible. Many software companies already
contribute to free software, and these commercial contributions are
quite useful. Perhaps Microsoft would like people to assume these
facts are impossible.
Based on these facts, we can see that CodePlex will encourage
developers not to think about freedom. It will subtly spread the idea
that free software business is impossible without the support of a
proprietary software company like Microsoft. However, it may convince
some proprietary software companies to release additional free
software. Will that be a contribution to computer users' freedom?
It will be, if the software thus contributed works well on free
platforms, in free environments. But that is just the opposite of
what Microsoft has said it seeks to achieve.
Sam Ramji, now president of CodePlex, said a few months ago that
Microsoft (then his employer) wanted to promote development of free
applications that encourage use of Microsoft Windows
Perhaps the aim of CodePlex is to suborn free software application
developers into making Windows their main platform. Many of the
projects hosted now on codeplex.com are add-ons for proprietary
software. These programs are caught in a trap similar to the former
Java Trap (see
That would be harmful if it succeeds, because a program that
doesn't run (or doesn't run well) in the Free World does not
contribute to our freedom. A nonfree program takes away its users'
freedom. To avoid being harmed in that way, we need to reject
proprietary system platforms as well as proprietary applications.
CodePlex free add-ons to a proprietary base increase society's
dependence on that base—the opposite of what we need.
Will free software application developers resist this attempt to
undermine our progress towards freedom? Here is where their values
become crucial. Developers that adhere to the “open
source” philosophy, which does not value freedom, may not care
whether their software's users run it on a free operating system or a
proprietary one. But developers who demand freedom, for themselves
and for others, can recognize the trap and keep out of it. To remain
free, we must make freedom our goal.
If the CodePlex Foundation wishes to be a real contributor to the
free software community, it must not aim at free add-ons to nonfree
packages. It needs to encourage development of portable software
capable of running on free platforms based on GNU/Linux and other free
operating systems. If it tries to seduce us into going in the
opposite direction, we must make sure to refuse.
However good or bad the CodePlex Foundation's actions, we must not
accept them as an excuse for Microsoft's acts of aggression against
our community. From its recent attempt to sell patents to proxy
trolls who could then do dirty work against GNU/Linux to its
longstanding promotion of Digital Restrictions Management, Microsoft
continues to act to harm us. We would be fools indeed to let anything
distract us from that.