Microsoft is preparing to expand its "shared source" initiatives, through which partners are allowed a peek at the prized Windows operating system source code, but Microsoft executives say the company remains opposed to the open-source ethos and scorns the popular GNU General Public License (GPL).
In a speech at New York University's Stern School of Business, Microsoft's senior vice president of advanced strategies, Craig Mundie, 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 licence also be available for no more than the cost of distribution. The licence 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 has expanded its Enterprise Source Licensing Program to 12 additional countries, Mundie said. He said that within the year Microsoft will begin licensing its Windows source code to top-tier ISVs (independent software vendors). In the second half of 2001, the company will begin offering academic site licences for Windows CE source code, he added.
Microsoft executives have alternately respected and scoffed at the competitive spectre of the open-source Linux OS over the past several months. Late last year, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer identified Linux as the vendor's No. 1 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 organisations, but [Linux] is a stable and fairly lightweight environment. You can't take those things away," said John Dunkle, president of analyst Workgroup Strategic. "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 customise 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 that combine their own proprietary code with code borrowed from the open-source community.
"The problem with open source is its close association with the GPL - if you distribute software that has open source in it, then you are giving it all away. That doesn't make sense to us," the Microsoft executive said.