MS: Open-source model 'definitely worth emulating'

Microsoft continues to expand its Shared Source Initiative (SSI) across the company, in response to customers' growing interest in open-source technologies and as part of Microsoft's overall effort to create initiatives that build community among customers, software partners and OEMs.

Analysts said that SSI, launched in May 2001, is a trust-building effort in that it gives large organizations an opportunity to view or work with Windows code. Microsoft says it has shared its source code for about 10 years, mostly through ad hoc programs. The company recently expanded its shared-source licensing program for Windows CE.

But not just anyone gets to have a look at Windows code. In this Q&A interview, Jason Matusow, Microsoft's SSI manager, explains who gets to participate in the program and describes the progress SSI is making.

What's an example of how an enterprise might use the source code?
We had a financial institution in New York that was slowing down a deployment of Windows 2000 on laptops because they had custom-built trading applications, and they weren't sure how it was going to work with an encrypted file system. They were able to pull apart their coding -- and the Microsoft APIs they were sitting on -- and understand their relationship more closely. It greatly increased their confidence, and they were able to deploy double the number of machines, and it was a higher quality of rollout. They also happen to have a development staff of more than 700 engineers. Were you surprised that only 100 companies wanted the source code?
Yes and no. We would have wanted it to be higher. We have the infrastructure and capability for it to be higher. But this is not revenue generating. So, for us, it's whatever the customers want.

The program came about because customers were saying open-source is interesting, that there are concepts that they like. They wanted to know what we were doing. And how many enterprises are actually viewing your source code?
Very few. We've offered this to well over 1,000 of them directly and have had fewer than 100 accept. The reason is that source code is not a panacea. The ability to see source code is much more important than [actually seeing it].

Here's an analogy. The SEC mandates that public companies disclose their financial information. There are specialists who know how to look at that information, but the average investor never will. Their trust in the system is much higher because they know there is a mandatory disclosure. Who is eligible to view Windows source code and, once they get it, what can they do with it?
We don't give this to everyone, nor do we give anyone unlimited rights. We are limiting the community who can get to the source code to about 4,000 organizations in 62 countries. This is whom we've identified as eligible.

Enterprise partners, OEMs [and] governments can see the source code but not modify [it]. It's a reference grant. It's a way for them to improve support [and] do better pre-deployment engineering. They can work with the code for security audits.

Generally, with security, they will not take an end-to-end look at the code, but they will look at the encrypted file system. Or, if they are writing custom applications, they may want to understand [the Windows] API set.

The one wrinkle is the academics. There are 125 universities in about 30 countries that have had Windows source code for about 10 years. They have the rights to modify it for research purposes. How extensive is Microsoft's shared-source program today?
Today we have source-sharing programs across six different products, and we are looking to expand those across the company. We have the Windows source-licensing programs, where we are sharing the Windows source base with enterprise customers, systems integrators, OEMs, academics and governments. We are sharing Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, all versions, all service packs and betas. Of those who are eligible, how many are enterprise customers?
There are about 1,700 enterprises eligible, that have to have about 1,500 seats of Windows or [be] covered by Enterprise Agreement and Software Assurance. Anyone who meets that bar can receive source code. If Sun [Microsystems] meets that bar, they can receive Windows source code. What are some other things that the open-source community does that Microsoft would like to adopt?
The way people interact. Microsoft has arguably pioneered development communities. We didn't invent the concept, but we have well over 3 million Visual Basic developers. There is MSDN [Microsoft Developer Network], TechNet, C++ development, and now the C# community.

There is a long history. We have worked with [our] community, our customer base, newsgroups and partner relationships. There are 32,000 certified partners within Microsoft, but each community is separate. The open-source development model -- the way people exchange ideas -- is definitely worth emulating.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Windows expert Mark Minasi talks about Linux versus Windows Is anyone excluded from the program?
ISVs are the only ones. ISVs are the ones we would like to share our source code with, but it remains the hardest nut to crack in terms of some intellectual property concerns. We understand the benefit. But if an ISV wants to sign up to support their own internal infrastructure -- and not to support the development of their own internal products -- then they can get Windows source code.

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