Microsoft says it is learning valuable lessons about code sharing from the open-source community, declaring that free software on Windows is "good".
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During a visit to Australia this week 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 the company has been sharing as far back as 1991.
The initiative began in response to customer demand as they were considering open source, he added.
Microsoft has four methods of sharing code as there is no "one way" to do it.
"First, 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. The new development licence, as seen with CE.net, allows developers to modify and resell code without licence fees to Microsoft, much like the BSD licence," Matusow said.
"Our teaching and research licence provides Windows source code to universities which can be modified for research. Finally, our business development licence provides 100% of the CE.net code base to partners who can modify and redistribute their code while retaining copyright."
Matusow said Microsoft is keen to hear from organisations if they are concerned about the way in which the company shares code.
"Whether we are manipulating source code once it has been shared or not can be verified by government departments," he said. "Microsoft Research provides grants which can be used for work that will remain in the public domain."
Matusow said Microsoft has co-operated with the General Public Licence requirement to release any changes under that licence
"We've modified GPL code and given the changes back. For example, we have done work on GCC [GNU Compiler Collection]," he added.
Matusow said Microsoft chose not to build commercial applications on top of GPL software.
"If you ask Red Hat whether a dynamic link to GPL software would be of concern, they would disagree. However, if you ask that question to the Free Software Foundation they would think it is," Matusow added, 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 like Red Hat meeting service-level agreements through licensing. Also, we feel that our integration work will make Windows a better choice than Sun's Java Desktop System."
On the subject 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, adding that "Sun's cross-licensing agreement was crucial for SCO, not ours."
Matusow said Services For Unix won the best of show award at the recent LinuxWorld Expo, and he laughed off any suggestions that Microsoft is anti-open source when software such as OpenOffice competes with its commercial offerings.
"We are learning from open source," he said. "Putting open-source software on Windows is a good thing. For example, Microsoft supports Intuit whose software competes with Money."
Matusow said Microsoft has never been a services company and the value to cost ratio of its software is good. "If this was not the case people would stop buying our products," he added.
"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.
"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."
Rodney Gedda writes for Computerworld Today