Welcome to the first of what I hope will part of a regular series of articles under the (not very creative) moniker of “The CodePlex Corner.” I´ve had the idea of a frequent column focuses on the community Open Source SharePoint options for a while. Originally I posted this article on NothingButSharePoint.com in July 2012 but for a few reasons I never got around to developing the series any further. Since the original article was written and published, a new version of SharePoint has been released; new MVPS have been nominated and of course, new CodePlex projects have been started and launched.
Having recently checked the project count at CodePlex for anything related to our favourite Microsoft Platform, the number of projects across all iterations of SharePoint is pretty impressive. There are a few ways to set the search filters but having settled on just searching for “SharePoint” and selecting stable projects only, a search turned up 2272 items. Many of which I suspect aren´t very well known to the SharePoint Community.
What is CodePlex / Brief history of Open Source Software
To properly understand the aims of communities like CodePlex, a brief detour down history lane is somewhat necessary. Most technology orientated readers coming to NBSP.com will have heard the phrase “Open-Source” before and will very possibly have a few examples at hand from their own experiences. But having exposure to a term or a phrase doesn´t necessarily confer understanding of it. Let´s have a look shall we?
On a basic level, the notion of Open-Source can be perceived as a philosophy that encourages the no-cost redistribution and free access to a product´s design and implementation details. Whilst for people such as you and I, this translates to software source code, it has translated into a few other industries, such as OpenCola (Open Source Cola) and Brewtopia (Open Source Beer).
Specifically for software, this will pertain to having access to the source code under specific licenses (the most famous of which is the GNU General Public License (GPL)) under which further development and distribution are permitted, so long as any future advancement are made available under the same license. Another common feature of Open-Source software is that it is frequently developed in public, collaborative environments such as sourceforge.net.
As you can probably imagine, the public and free nature of Open-Source software goes against the proprietary licensing model that firms such as Microsoft are built on. Whether you see Open-Source software as a methodology, a design philosophy or cost-saving measure, it is a movement that cannot easily be ignored. Historically some quarters have championed Open Source software as a successful alternative business model to proprietary licensing (Red-hat anyone…?) they´re not as mutually exclusive now as they may have been a few years ago.
It´s on this basis that CodePlex has been born, it´s a Microsoft Project site for Open Source projects, many of which can complement and extend licensed Microsoft Products. It´s important to note though, that even though some Microsoft employees and MVP/MCC level members of the community contribute to CodePlex projects, Microsoft don´t support them in any way.
Structure of the Articles
So, with all that being said, what do I hope to achieve? I´d like to offer to the community with each article an exploration of a specific CodePlex project. Whilst some of the more famous and well published CodePlex hosted projects are well documented and explained, there are many that aren´t. As such, this can lead to confusion as to whether a project is useful, whether they may be allowed to use it or not and so on. Additionally, it can also be difficult to ascertain where on the “End User – Administrator – Developer” scale that a project can sit.
Furthermore, in the time I spend in the Technet forums, it’s very common to see CodePlex projects offered as potential solutions to whatever issue a poster may face. More often than not, many of these solutions aren’t explained, nor are they linked to useful documentation or blog posts. The point of these series of articles isn’t to create literature for other people’s work but to help fill an educational gap
After a quick discussion with Marc Anderson (SharePoint MVP responsible for SPServices) last year ago, I´ve settled on the following format for exploring any CodePlex project.
- Introduction to the project
- Link to SharePointReviews.com product review (If it has one)
- Show where the project sits on the “End User – Developer” scale
- Discuss potential pitfalls / problems plus example scenarios in which a project can be used
- Conclude and add any relevant links
Categorisation of the articles
In looking to maintain a form of synergy with SharePoint Reviews, I’ll be categorising the solutions discussed in each article into the same categories. These are
- Content Management
- Business Productivity
- Business Solutions
- Look & Feel
- Social & Mobile
- Search & Findability
Conclusion / Comments
In looking to close out, I´d like to open the floor to comments, suggestions and criticisms. I´ve got “play order” of projects that I´d like to get started with but if anyone within the wider community has something in particular they´d like to see, please let me know. If you´ve got a project yourself I can look at, or if you´ve a need for something that might be in CodePlex but haven´t found yet, I’d also like to hear from you.