What is this CodePlex all about?

So CodePlex is out in the wild and there are a few showcase projects setup, but what’s it all about?

CodePlex.com is a simple but highly functional online collaboration venue for distributed, community-collaborative software development. For the last year, a team in Microsoft has been putting together this tool which is the first Visual Studio Team Foundation Server (VSTFS) over the Internet. For Microsoft, their primary objective with CodePlex is to enable Windows and .NET developers to write, share, and consume source code and applications. It’s that simple (and free).

Korby Parnell and his team designed CodePlex as a replacement for GotDotNet Workspaces, and if you’re like me, it kicks the llama’s ass. CodePlex is written from the ground up in C# utilizing .NET 2.0 technologies and built on VSTFS. CodePlex enables geographically-distributed teams to enjoy the benefits of VSTFS over the Internet which is pretty cool if you’re familiar with the capabilities of VSTS. If not, then you should check it out.

Much like the multitude of Googles projects, the site is marked as beta but unlike Google, this won’t stay that way for long as this is their final release before production. Between now and the end of May they are on boarding a small number of high quality “Showcase” projects. There’s some cool stuff there like NUnitLite, the Commerce Starter Kit, Atlas Control Toolkit, a meta generator for the BDC, IronPython (a Python implementation on .NET), and of course my SharePoint Forums Web Part (#2 on the activity chart!). The plan is to go public sometime in June where any project can join up and be hosted there.

The first thing everyone will do is compare this to the highly populated SourceForge. I’ve been a member on SourceForge since 1999 so yes, I think they have a lot to offer. The services have grown with things like the new support for Subversion (which blows CVS out of the water so go get it if you’re on CVS now). Side by side, both CodePlex and SourceForge offer project hosting with similar features (file releases, source code, issue tracker, documentation). The Web Interface for CodePlex seems nicer but it’s the Team System integration where it really shines.

Once a project has been created for you on CodePlex and you’re ready to upload source files and binaries, you must download and install one of the following Team Foundation clients. Whereas the Web site is designed as the primary interface for project administration (manage members, write documentation, delete off-topic discussion threads, etc.) and project evaluation (download and install SharePoint Forums, engage in discussions, read documentation, submit bugs, etc), all version control and many work item tracking functions must be performed using one of the following VSTFS clients:

  • Visual Studio .NET 2005 Team System
  • Visual Studio .NET Team Explorer, stand-alone GUI client
  • TF.exe, a stand-alone command line interface

The Visual Studio Team Explorer client comes with Visual Studio Team Foundation Server and is also available for download from the Microsoft Download Center as a CD image file (you can rename this to ISO which is the same thing).

SourceForge has changed over the years. In writing this blog I wanted to post the stats to the site, which used to be on the front page. This listed the number of projects and users (which was pretty astronomical) but is now missing since the last layout change to the site. SF seems cleaner these days, but cleaner doesn’t mean better. CodePlex is simple and intuitive to view and navigate but can stand some improvement (as demonstrated by the various suggestions we’ve already made in the discussion forums there). Besides all that, hopefully CodePlex won’t become the ad-ridden marketing tool that SourceForge has become where it’s just pimping it’s Enterprise version (in this case, VSTFS).

Unfortunately, for us with WSS sitting on top of VSTFS now there’s no CodePlex for you to host behind your firewall. Microsoft does not have any plans to release the source code and, according to Jim Newkirk “The software is designed to run in the Microsoft data center, so it isn't something that could realistically be hosted in another environment.” Bummer. I’m sure some people will cry foul because they can’t get the source code but free is good so we’ll take anything at this point. It does show you that such a beast can be built and TFS can be used, like SharePoint, as an application delivery platform (if of course you have a year and a lot of smart softie brains). 

Microsoft expects CodePlex to emerge as one of the most popular, if not the de facto collaboration venue for community software development projects that target or extend Microsoft products and platforms. CodePlex is and will remain a free, Internet-based edition of Visual Studio Team Foundation for the use of Microsoft valued developer and IT Pro customers.

Will CodePlex turn into just another SourceForge, with thousands of abandoned or empty projects? To prevent project spamming and to ensure that CodePlex remains a bastion of the highest quality open and shared source projects rather than empty test projects and code-free wonders, the CodePlex team is reviewing and approving/denying all new project requests (with the help of a few CodePlex community members) through the end of the calendar year. 

Time will tell.

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