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.


  • Congrats! Yyou guys do a good job! But it is a pity that 95% of all commits for the last several months are done only by Sébastien Ros.

  • This can be reason 10 billion why I love Orchard.

  • This is what makes Orchard so awesome and fun to work with. This is what gives Orchard that extra edge over other opensource cms.

  • Orchard is more valuable to me than just a great way to build websites. For a greenhorn .NET developer like me, Orchard is a classroom. Everything from how this project is managed to how the code is written is quite a learning opportunity for me. I especially admire that our contributors have come from all over the globe to work together, build something great, and share it freely. If more industries could find some capacity to facilitate open projects the world would indeed be a better place. My thanks to the entire Orchard team and to Microsoft.

  • More companies need to be as open and transparent as you are about what happens with the project and where it is going. Too often companies over-promise and under-deliver, and it's been shown that tons of people with a little bit of time can accomplish more than small groups of people with lots of time.

    However, I'm glad there's a small group of "overseers" to guide the project so it doesn't land in dev-hell. I'm even thankful for a "benevolent dictator". :) Thanks for all you are doing and I'm very excited about the future!

  • @Andrei: the other features are being integrated as I write this. Once they are, you will see lots of check-ins from other people. What you see right now is mainly the result of working in separate branches (a good thing).

    Another thing to take into account is that in previous releases, 99.9% of the code was provided by Microsoft, so even if that 95% figure was real, it would still be an improvement.

  • How does this differ to how .Net MF is run?

  • @Joe: I don't know. How is .NET MF run? I couldn't find any info on governance on their site.

  • I just know that it became an open source project. I have no idea how, if any, public insight turns into governance rulings for releases. The only line that I can find is about the different divisions, namely: "Core Technology Team
    Microsoft and non-Microsoft engineers who are the gatekeepers of the core implementation and subsequent releases"

    Microsoft does have copyright messages on the page.

    Scott Guthrie or Colin Miller might be able to answer some of these questions though.

  • @Joe: that says nothing about them being elected by the community. It only seems to indicate that they are taking advice from or gave commit rights to non-MS people.

  • btw, it doesn't look like you have had any meetings in the last two weeks. Are the meeting notes not released yet or are you to busy with 1.4 to have regular meetings?

  • One of the best engineered CMS's out there and great job guys.

  • @stromblon: no, we have had meetings every single week since the election. What made you think we didn't?

  • I dunno - that's why I asked about it. I figured you might know Scott.

  • @Joe: I don't, sorry.

  • @stromblom: that's because I didn't send notes last week.

  • There has been a lot of negativity regarding Orchard in the blogosphere lately, not really about the open source aspect. Specifically in relation to its architecture and that it may be "over-engineered" to some degree. Personally, I do not see it as an ideal learning tool for someone coming to MVC for the first time.

    That Microsoft is opening this up to the community is commendable. But I've never been a fan of open source. By its very nature there is not the same accountability and sense of ownership as when developers have to answer and account for their work contributions and design decisions.

    Not trying to be the party pooper here, but am I the only one who even questions the value of open source projects these days?

  • @Anthony: really? Can you give me some pointers? Apart from Rob's post, I haven't read those.
    As for the value of open source, well, you're probably not the only one, but that's fine, as there is plenty of choice out there. My personal opinion is that OSS authors are putting themselves (not their company) on the line, and are producing works of love. Closed source on the other hand cultivates a spirit of secrecy and puts their authors in ivory towers.

  • While I appreciate the fact we are making Orchard more open by giving it to the community I wonder if this is a sign from within MSFT around the commitment to continue to fund developers working on the project. A bit like a kid sharing a toy because they are tired of the toy.

  • @Todd, that hypothesis doesn't resist scrutiny: Orchard was open source from day 1.

  • Betrand, What I mean is, by transferring greater control to the community does this signal MSFT is stepping back a bit and will not continue to make the same investments in Orchard? It is a question not a hypothesis.

  • Doesn't withstand scrutiny :)

    Thanks for Orchard

  • @Todd: no. Transferring control to the community was the plan from the start. It's weird how if we don't give enough control to the community, we're accused of not understanding open source, and if we do, we're accused of losing interest ;)

  • Since when does asking a question mean someone is accusing you of something. Have you hever heard of MSFT walking away or stepping back from anything before? I honestly don't see how this not a fair question? You sound offended and that was not my goal in asking.

  • @Todd: please calm down, Todd. I'm not offended and neither should you. I didn't mean "accused" in a very strong way (hence the lame little smiley face I included). Maybe it wasn't the best choice of words. Sorry about that.
    Yes, Microsoft has walked away from many things, and it bugs me as much as anyone, if not more: some of my projects, which I cared a lot about, got that treatment in the past. So I agree it's a fair thing to ask, and I'm answering you the best I can. Precisely because I've wanted to protect this project from such outcomes, it's been my intention from the start to involve the community in a meaningful and real way. This is not Microsoft losing interest, it's the Orchard folks making sure that if that ever happened (which, again is definitely not the case here), if that ever happens, it won't hurt the project because it's already in a position to continue without Microsoft. It would be sad and difficult to lose their support (we get developer resources, PM resources, Azure instances and money that we're trying to make the best usage of), but it wouldn't kill us. That is what this means.
    I hope this helps clarify.

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