September 27, 2004 3:40 PM PDT

Microsoft flexes more open-source muscle

Microsoft said Monday that it is dipping a third toe into the open-source waters, adding a collaborative creation program to the list of Microsoft efforts that the company is freely sharing.

The company is making available the code for FlexWiki, software for creating "Wikis"--Web pages designed to cover a topic by allowing any number of users to create and edit content.

FlexWiki is the third piece of Microsoft code that the company has released this year under an open-source license, all under the Common Public License (CPL). In April, Microsoft posted its Windows Installer XML (WiX) to SourceForge.net, following up a month later with the posting of the Windows Template Library (WTL) project.

Microsoft noted that both of those projects have been in the top 5 percent of SourceForge's most active projects, with 100,000 copies of WiX having been downloaded, along with 20,000 copies of WTL. FlexWiki will also be made available on SourceForge's site.

The response to Microsoft's entry into the open-source site has been relatively neutral, said SourceForge director Patrick McGovern.

"It wasn't overly positive, but I wasn't flamed," he said.

As for FlexWiki, Microsoft has been using the program internally to create parts of its "Channel 9" site for developers. Microsoft also employs the founder of Wiki--Ward Cunningham--who works in the Prescriptive Architecture Guidance unit that helps companies design systems based on Microsoft software.

While most of the code that Microsoft has made available to the open-source community has been tools complementary to its core business, the company has more restrictive shared-source programs that allow certain institutions, such as governments and universities, to view more sensitive code. Last week, Microsoft expanded its Government Security Program project to include the code for Office. Participating governments can view but not modify the source code of Microsoft's most critical products, such as Windows.

Jason Matusow, director of Microsoft's shared-source program, said the company will expand its open-source programs over time, but is moving slowly as it tries to learn how to participate in open-source communities.

"One of the biggest things for us is just learning about the collaboration process," Matusow said. "There is give and take with a community that you have to learn. Even if you are not going to take someone's suggestion, you have to consider it."

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Funny headline
If the headline read "Microsoft releases fourth open source app" people would yawn. But flexing open source muscle, whoo hoo, that's really something.
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