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By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2004-03-14 Print this article Print

Microsoft has long maintained that its code is its most valuable intellectual property, often dubbed the "crown jewels," and has thus aggressively restricted access to that code. But other software companies, such as Sun Microsystems Inc., of Santa Clara, Calif., are less worried about sharing their source code with customers, developers and academic institutions.

Programmer Riley said he believes that, among software vendors, IBM probably does the best job of keeping its source code secure while still letting those who need to see it do so.

John Fowler, Suns chief technology officer for software, said Sun is much less protective of its Solaris and Java source code. Sun is also meeting with those parties who are pushing for an open-source implementation of Java.

"We take a far more laid-back approach," Fowler said. "We license the source code fairly liberally and quite widely. Solaris source code is licensed to hundreds of academic institutions for $100; we also have 50 commercial licensees. We are in general happy for people to look at the source and tell us what we ought to be changing—developers, partners and academic institutions—and allow them to download the actual code, which they can change as long as this is for noncommercial reasons," he said.

Fowler said Sun is fundamentally different from Microsoft with regard to its source code. "Preventing access to my source is not central to my business model," he said. "Preventing access to source is central to their business model, as is trying to avoid having people have compatible implementations of protocols, data formats and other things."

But Microsofts Matusow disputes that claim, saying Fowler is muddling some ideas relative to standards and the role that standards play for things like communication protocols.

"He is ignoring the fact that we have published, under the Consent Decree, more than 280 application programming interfaces but also made available for licensing the communication protocols for both client and server," Matusow said. "Aside from those issues, he is correct that if you release all of your source code, then you do have an impact on competitive differentiation."

Its hard to argue that Microsoft has not enabled an ecosystem around Windows, which supports some 75,000 applications, Matusow said, adding that Microsoft also won the Best in Show award at LinuxWorld in 2003 for interoperability with its Services for Unix product.

"[Fowler] may very well be giving away more of the source," Matusow said. "But I cant comment on the effect of that on Suns business model except to say that you can judge that for yourself."

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Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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