Microsoft claims it is learning valuable lessons about code sharing from the open source community.
During a recent visit to Australia, Microsoft’s global shared source manager, Jason Matusow, said the software giant officially began its shared source initiative two-and-a-half years ago but had been sharing as far back as 1991.
It was implemented in response to customer demand as they were considering open source, he said.
Microsoft has four methods of sharing code as there is no “one way” to do it.
“Firstly, we provide the source code for all Windows versions to existing enterprise customers so they can see it to perform security audits, but not modify it,” Matusow said. “The new development license, as seen with CE.Net, allows developers to modify and resell code without license fees to Microsoft.
“Our teaching and research license provides Windows source code to universities, which can be modified for research. Finally, our business development license provides 100 per cent of the CE.Net code base to partners who can modify and redistribute their code while retaining copyright.”
Matusow said the software giant wanted to hear from organisations if they were concerned about the way in which Microsoft shared code.
On the topic of the GPL’s requirement to release any changes under that license, Matusow said Microsoft had co-operated.
Microsoft chose not to build commercial applications on top of GPL software, Matusow said.
“If you ask Red Hat whether a dynamic link to GPL software would be of concern they would disagree,” he said. “However, if you ask that question to the Free Software Foundation they would think it is.”
Matusow was referring to two outcomes of commercialising open source — quality and price.
“If you look at how companies are commercialising open source it is increasing the pressure for software quality to go up with software prices going down,” he said. “This shows with companies such as Red Hat meeting service level agreements through licensing.
On the emotive topic of Microsoft’s recent licensing agreement with The SCO Group over the use of its code, Matusow said it was necessary for its Services For Unix product.
“Sun’s cross licensing agreement was crucial for SCO, not ours,” he said.
Matusow laughed off any suggestions that Microsoft was anti-open source when software such as OpenOffice competed with its commercial offerings.
“We are learning from open source,” he said. “Putting open source software on Windows is a good thing.”
Matusow said Microsoft had never been a services company and the value to cost ratio of its software was good.
“If this was not the case people would stop buying our products,” he said.
“There is a lot of internal discussion at Microsoft about our older products and whether they should be released in the public domain; components from older operating systems are often brought forward into newer products which would make open sourcing them difficult,” Matusow said.
“The more we hear from our customers about it the more we need to look at it; source code is interesting to many but useful to few.”