Public development in the enterprise

Public development sites such as SourceForge.net and Microsoft's forthcoming GotDotNet Workspaces provide many tools for collaborative development. But Larry Seltzer has a hard time imagining enterprises using them.

I've known about SourceForge.Net for years. It's a public service provider from the Open Source Development Network (OSDN) that hosts open-source projects, including some fairly prominent ones like MySQL and JBOSS.

SourceForge.Net hosts the project, providing a repository for all the files and other data related to it and tools to manage the project.

But I never seriously considered its role in the enterprise until I heard about a new Microsoft site called GotDotNet Workspaces. Workspaces, which is still in beta stage, is basically an attempt at the same sort of service. Microsoft hasn't tried very hard to publicize it, and in fact my attempts to contact someone at Microsoft to talk about it went unanswered. The only publicity it has received so far was related to a controversy over the licensing for projects hosted on the service.

The original licensing language for GotDotNet Workspaces said that by hosting the project on the site you were granting to Microsoft full licensing rights to it. The old language was plainly nuts. They have since modified that language to say that by posting your code you grant to all site users rights to use it, modify it, redistribute it, and so on. Here's the actual language:

"By posting Your Stuff to a Workspace, you understand and agree that you're giving a license under your intellectual property rights to all authorized users of the Workspace, including the rights to download, copy, modify, distribute, and repost. In addition, you're giving Microsoft all the necessary rights to make Your Stuff available as part of the Project."

("Your Stuff"--aww, what a bunch of regular guys.) It's pretty classic open source "stuff" as they might say, but there's still a controversy brewing on the site.

I haven't actually written code in any of the projects on these sites, but I really like them. I've worked with more formal team development products like the Rational product line, and while these are considerably more powerful they are intimidating in their complexity. For most development projects they just aren't worth the administrative overhead.

But much as I like them and try as I might, I can't see an enterprise using these public internet-facing services for actual development projects. True, individuals in an enterprise might do well to participate in projects whose product is being used in the enterprise in order to see that their interests are represented.

But far more interesting is the possibility of private projects. SourceForge.Net has the technical capacity for private projects, but doesn't implement them. GotDotNet Workspaces allows for private projects, but the terms of use indicate that the "Your Stuff" clause applies to private projects as well, which doesn't seem to make sense to me. They'd better clear that up before they go final on this.

GotDotNet Workspaces is also a proposed poster child for some Web services. For instance, Microsoft hints on the site that they will provide Web service-based interfaces to the site from Visual Studio.Net for source control. They also may provide Web service interfaces for the Bug Tracker, News, Releases, and the File Share.

The real enterprise solution at this point appears to be SourceForge Enterprise Edition. This is a souped-up version of the SourceForge.Net software that you purchase and run on your own servers. On top of the capabilities of SourceForge.Net it includes much more powerful project management features, including import capabilities from Microsoft Project and Rational ClearCase. According to the GotDotNet Workspaces FAQ: "We're entertaining the idea [of letting you deploy the Workspaces software on your own servers] for the future, but there are no firm plans as of yet."

Running your own development servers is simply a better, streamlined system for distributed development. Even if VA Software, owner of OSDN, isn't interested in becoming a private fee-based ASP for development, someone else can do it by using SourceForge Enterprise Edition.

I really think there's a market for this, especially for development projects that have been wholly or partly outsourced. The ability to run the project on a secure but Internet-based service without having to let consultants inside your firewall seems appealing to me. There are already other organizations that use SourceForge Enterprise Edition as an engine for walled-off projects on their site, such as SystemC. Running these projects on a service also provides for off-site backup.

It's easy to see how this market is likely to shape up, assuming the vendors execute well and Microsoft clears up any remaining licensing issues. GotDotNet Workspaces could easily become a popular place to develop .Net projects, and SourceForge-based sites could be popular for less-Microsoft-oriented projects. Both markets are potentially large, but it must be a scary prospect for some IT shops to run a development project on such a service.

Would your company consider hosting its own development servers? TalkBack or send e-mail to us.