Microsoft Releases Source Code For Research, Weighs More Commercial Disclosure

The company made available the source code to implementations of its Common Language Infrastructure run-time environment and C# programming language.
Microsoft on Wednesday released more than a million lines of code to some of its new .Net technologies for academic use, at a time when top executives are considering disclosure of more source code to business customers.

Under the aegis of its "shared-source" program, headed by Craig Mundie, senior VP and chief technical officer, Microsoft made available for download from its Web site the source code to implementations of its Common Language Infrastructure run-time environment and C# programming language under a license that encourages academic experimentation, but prohibits resale of any code. The released code runs on Microsoft's Windows XP operating system and the open-source FreeBSD system, and is aimed at university students and professors.

Microsoft has long been stingy with its source code--the line-by-line instructions that make software programs run. The Unix computing environment, by contrast, grew up in a milieu that encouraged sharing of source code among academics and commercial researchers. Unix derivatives, such as the Java programming language and Linux operating system, are widely used on college campuses today.

Microsoft has also made its code selectively available for research purposes over the years, and there are signs that the momentum behind so-called "open-source" development practices is changing the company's approach to concealing its code. Last spring, Microsoft launched its shared-source program, which aims to distribute code for Windows and its .Net Framework object model for research purposes.

In an interview this week, Mundie emphasized that while Microsoft Research has participated in traditional academic sharing of code, and that the company has released more code to customers and systems integrators for technical support purposes, Microsoft adamantly opposes open-source licenses that encourage the free exchange of software. "At this point, we're not looking for people to do our development work for us," he said. "We're increasingly convinced that volunteer labor in this type of process is not going to get you where you want to get."

But Mundie confirmed that Microsoft is "open to deciding" whether to disclose more of the source code to its products to large business customers who buy its multiyear Software Assurance licenses. In an interview earlier this month, president Rick Belluzzo said the company is "starting to think about" making Software Assurance agreements--in which customers pay premiums for steady access to product upgrades--more appealing by including some source-code access to facilitate system repairs. As the company seeks to recognize more software license revenue as annuities, "We need to do a better job of associating value with those bits," Belluzzo said.

Nevertheless, Mundie says an "incredibly tiny percentage" of large customers that have asked Microsoft for source-code access actually use it. Says Mundie, "The overwhelming response by corporations was, 'We're sure glad you offered this, but we don't really need it now.'"