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9/23/2004
07:05 AM
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Seeing Past The 'Shared Source' Peep Show

For those of you who prefer a hands-off approach to software development, Microsoft has just the deal for you: This week, the company announced it would expand its Shared Source program for government clients to include its Office suite. But if the OpenOffice team thinks that's the worst Redmond has in store, they may want to curb their optimism.

For those of you who prefer a hands-off approach to software development, Microsoft has just the deal for you: This week, the company announced it would expand its Shared Source program for government clients to include its Office suite. But if the OpenOffice team thinks that's the worst Redmond has in store, they may want to curb their optimism.

It's clear why Microsoft is expanding the program: The company now considers OpenOffice a legitimate threat to one of its most profitable products. Microsoft's Government Security Program, which among other things allows certain clients to view some of the source code to its operating systems--and now to the Office suite as well--is aimed almost entirely at delivering an antidote to the open-source venom.

Yet that's also why Microsoft very well might turn its lawyers loose on OpenOffice, in spite of evidence that the company is more interested in settling lawsuits than in starting new ones. Anyone who dismisses this possibility is underestimating Microsoft's readiness to do whatever it takes to protect its most productive cash cow--especially now that the Linux is putting serious, long-term pressure on the OS market.

Unlike some of Redmond's other options for combating open-source competition, however, Shared Source isn't likely to cause much trouble. Microsoft's most loyal government customers aren't about to walk away just because they can't look under the hood. And fence-sitters aren't likely to stick around just to check out the Office peep show, which lets you look at the code as long as you promise not to touch.

As far as the Government Security Program goes, we know whose security is at stake here. If Microsoft keeps losing government customers to guys who walk around with penguins on their briefcases, it might actually have to explain this nonsense to its shareholders. But I have a feeling that the OpenOffice developers will find themselves looking for legal advice--for better or for worse--long before Microsoft allows that to happen.

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