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January 2012 - Posts

About Orchard Governance and Microsoft

Sunrise on a volcanoBack in September, we did something with Orchard that is kind of a big deal: we transferred control over the Orchard project to the community.

Most Open Source projects that were initiated by corporations such as Microsoft are nowadays still governed by that corporation. They may have an open license, they may take patches and contributions, they may have given the copyright to some non-profit foundation, but for all practical purposes, it’s still that corporation that controls the project and makes the big decisions.

That wasn’t what we wanted for Orchard. We wanted to trust the community completely to do what’s best for the project. This is why we organized elections for our new Steering Committee and had five members elected. Anyone who had ever posted anything on our forums that wasn’t spam could be a candidate, and had five votes to cast.

We got 9 candidates, and after a week of vote casting, we had our committee elected (see http://orchard.codeplex.com/discussions/271355 for the details of the vote). Our five members are elected for a year and they each get a vote in any major decision. Two out of those five are Microsoft employees, which means the company doesn’t even have a majority (even though I have a veto right that I never used, as the elected “benevolent dictator” of the group). We have public online meetings every week.

The committee’s role is to give the project’s strategic direction, and to decide what feature areas are going to be in the next releases. It is not to make technical decisions or build the product (more on that in a moment). The weekly meetings are used to give status on current development, do bug triage and make decisions as needed.

This was not just the right thing to do. It did have a very visible impact on the involvement of non-Microsoft developers. Shortly after the election, we started calling for teams to form around our 1.4 release’s features. Feature teams are being given a feature scope by the committee, and they are then free to make their own decisions on technical design. They regularly interact with the committee, which gets to decide when the features make it into the main branch.

This was quite successful as we are preparing to launch what will be the first release of Orchard where entire features have been written by the community. In fact, 3 out of 4 of the new feature areas of 1.4 have been written mostly by non-Microsoft developers.

To my knowledge, this makes Orchard the most open of all Microsoft-initiated Open Source projects. It now belongs entirely to the community, and absolutely everything is not only done publicly but also in a way where community participation is actively sought after and encouraged.

My hope is that as the project becomes more and more successful, our model gets copied by other corporate-initiated projects, at Microsoft and elsewhere. I would love to hear your thoughts, dear readers, on this.

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