Microsoft to expand ‘shared-source’ initiatives

Microsoft Corp. is preparing to expand its “shared-source” initiatives, through which partners are allowed a peek at the prized Windows operating-system source code, but the company remains opposed to the open-source ethos, and it particularly scorns the popular GNU General Public License (GPL), a Microsoft executive said last Thursday.

In a speech delivered to about 150 people at New York University’s Stern School of Business, Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s senior vice-president of advanced strategies, outlined the company’s new initiatives and argued that many developers using the GPL don’t really understand what they’re getting into.

The GPL requires that work developed using code covered by the license also be available for no more than the cost of distribution. The license is “an attempt to create a vortex that pulls a lot of other peoples’ intellectual property in … [and] ultimately undermines intellectual property,” Mundie said.

In contrast, Microsoft’s strategy is to provide a few select partners with access to its source code, without allowing those partners to modify the code in any way, Mundie said. That approach satisfies most customers, who are far more interested in interoperability and open standards than open source code, he said.

Microsoft’s Enterprise Source Licensing Program will be expanded to 12 additional countries, Mundie said. He also said that within the year Microsoft will begin licensing its Windows source code to top-tier ISVs, and that in the second half of 2001 the company will begin offering academic site licenses for Windows CE source code.

Microsoft executives have alternately respected and scoffed at the competitive specter of the open-source Linux OS over the past several months. Late last year Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer identified Linux as his company’s number one threat for the next year. But a couple of months ago Ballmer called Linux and other open-source technologies a “joke.”

Some industry observers however caution Microsoft, pointing out that despite the lack of profitable business models by many vendors, Linux has made inroads into large companies and may be difficult even for Microsoft to root out.

“You can’t ignore where Linux and open source is going. True, in some cases it is a motley crew of developers dispersed throughout organizations, but [Linux] is a stable and fairly lightweight environment. You can’t take those things away,” said John Dunkle, president of Workgroup Strategic in Portsmouth, N.H. “This feels like a campaign to cast many aspersions on the credibility of Linux,” he said.

Still, Microsoft executives believe their current policy of sharing source code only with its biggest and best customers, who need it to customize mission-critical applications and other projects, is the way to go.

Microsoft officials see the GNU GPL as a land mine of sorts for those developers who combine their own proprietary code in with code borrowed from the open-source community.

“The problem with open source is its close association with the GPL, where if you distribute software that has open source in it, then you are giving away it all away. That doesn’t make sense to us,” the Microsoft executive said.

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