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New Twist On Code Sharing

Best Buy, Jostens, and other Minneapolis companies go live with an ambitious project to share code and pare software costs.

Eight Minneapolis-area companies have gone live with an online database of code that can be shared among members of a cooperative they've formed to try to save costs on software projects.

The Avalanche Corporate Technology Cooperative, which includes Best Buy, Jostens, and Select Comfort, said on Monday that it has put in place new systems for collaborative software development and is building up a database of code on the Web site The group started work on the database in March after the group was legally chartered as a cooperative, with rules governing how its members can share code.

"In order to realize maximum value out of this approach, we need to reach critical mass," Avalanche CEO Jay Hansen says. Hansen, a former general manager for retail software vendor Retek Inc., says he hopes to expand the group to as many as 30 members. Code sharing is just getting under way, he adds.

The Avalanche project is something of an experiment in whether large companies can share software code while protecting participants against misusing others' intellectual property. Sharing software code without landing in legal hot trouble has been a hot-button issue in information technology lately as SCO Group Inc. has sued companies including AutoZone and DaimlerChrysler over infringing on its copyrights through their use of the open-source Linux operating system.

According to Hansen, the Avalanche Cooperative's biggest hurdle so far has been resolving legal issues involved in code sharing. Companies license code they contribute to the project under a special Avalanche license. When two or more members co-develop code, Avalanche will become the owner of the new code and make it available under the license. To aid future joint development, Avalanche installed the CollabNet Enterprise Edition 3.0, a Web-hosted development site where scattered team members can store and share code.

Other members of the cooperative include Imation, Tata Consulting Services, Born Information Services, Integral Business Solutions, and Thomson Legal & Regulatory, a unit of Thomson Corp. Full members pay a $30,000 annual fee.

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