Microsoft Depends On Shared Source, Dips Toe In Open-Source Waters

The software vendor will add to the 20 products it now offers for source-code inspection under its Shared Source Initiative.

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

April 7, 2005

2 Min Read

The man at Microsoft responsible for studying the open-source-code movement and figuring out the company's response says Microsoft's own Shared Source Initiative is working out just fine.

Jason Matusow, director of the Shared Source Initiative, said Microsoft would continue to add to the 20 products that it currently makes available for source-code inspection. Matusow was a session speaker Wednesday at the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco.

Shared Source is a program that allows Microsoft customers and independent developers to download Microsoft source code, examine it, and copy it for their own use. Academic researchers may go further and tinker with the source code, as open-source-code programmers do. But professional and commercial developers may only look at and use the source code. They can't modify and copy it for distribution or embed it in products without a Microsoft license.

Matusow said the success of open-source projects he has studied is based in part on the development team's ability to listen to users' experience with their code, creating an ongoing feedback loop to the team. "Being receptive is where Microsoft stands most to learn [from the open-source example] and do a better job," Matusow said.

On the other hand, some of the biggest success stories in open-source software, such as the JBoss application server and MySQL database, have become commercial companies. They control the open-source code much like a proprietary company because they employ the primary developers of it. Such commercial open-source ventures reduce the distinction between open-source and proprietary code, he said.

In one case, Microsoft has taken the aging Windows Template Library, a wizard-based system used by C++ programmers for building graphical user interfaces, and made it available under an open-source-code license on SourceForge, which hosts open-source projects. Developers who continue to make use of Windows Template Library may modify it and contribute code back to other developers under the Common Public License. The CPL is an open-source license authorized by Eric Raymond's Open Source Initiative organization.

Giving an aging technology to an interested community of developers may be a good path for Microsoft to follow, once the company no longer wishes to develop the technology itself, Matusow said.

Several developer tools are available from Microsoft as Shared Source, including samples, FlexWiki, and Visual Academic Tools. In addition, Microsoft has made its Windows Installer XML available as shared source that may be commercialized and distributed. WIX allows developers to build program installers for Windows machines out of XML source code, and Microsoft's move to offer the tool as shared source has proven popular.

Microsoft also took the Python open-source scripting language and produced a version for its .Net architecture called IronPython, which is available under a "permissive, BSD-style license," Matusow said. BSD licenses are approved by the Open Source Initiative and allow commercial products to be built on top of open-source code.

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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