Microsoft president Steve Ballmer is never going to throw the source code of Windows NT wide open, but at the behest of developers, he plans to open it more than just a crack.
Specifically, Ballmer said Microsoft will weigh requests for opening segments of code based on whether or not it will help developers.
Although many Windows applications run smoothly on top of the operating system with nothing more than the standard application programming interfaces between them, many users said they would appreciate the option of being able to tinker with NT to hook in to areas that Microsoft hasn't anticipated.
Developers working on device drivers, security or proprietary hardware have been stymied by NT's "black box" impenetrability. Most major commercial Unix operating systems aren't open source either.
Ballmer said developer need will be the criterion Microsoft uses to determine what to release. Speaking at Microsoft's Business Applications Conference in Las Vegas earlier this month, Ballmer said the technical flexibility that open source code gives developers has been the reason why initiatives such as Netscape's release of Mozilla and IBM's embrace of the Apache Web server have become more popular.
To open NT entirely, however, would be to give it away.
"Can we provide our software products for free? The answer to that is no," Ballmer told an audience of 3000 developers.
But releases of small, helpful snippets are becoming more common at Microsoft, he said.
And Ballmer wasn't making promises only about NT's source code. He also said Version 5.0 is about eight to 12 months away.
But Jeff Price, Microsoft's lead product manager for Windows NT Server, didn't confirm Ballmer's statement. Price said no ship date has been tagged on NT 5.0.