Getting at Windows Source

With echoes from Jim Allchin's attacks on open-source development models still reverberating, Microsoft moved in recent weeks to quietly expand its Enterprise Source Licensing Program

With echoes from Jim Allchins attacks on open-source development models, particularly the GNU General Public License, still reverberating, Microsoft moved in recent weeks to quietly expand its Enterprise Source Licensing Program. The pilot program, which makes Windows 2000 client and server source code available only to the companys largest corporate users, is not yet an open-source development model, but it moves more in that direction than Microsoft has ever gone before. Wed like to see Microsoft go further.

Only about 1,000 Microsoft customers are eligible so far (to be eligible, a customer must have at least 1,500 Windows 2000 licenses), but even this small a group can make a difference. The ability to track down an infuriating bug and nail it to the wall is what enterprise developers demand to keep pace with e-business timetables.

Thats one of the things in it for Microsoft, which has never shied from getting free help from customers to make its job easier. The huge beta programs Microsoft carries out are close cousins of the come-and-get-it download free-for-all that ensues when a new version of the Linux kernel is posted or a beta of a newer Linux distribution is released.

Microsoft doesnt have any problem with the concept that many eyes, including those of unpaid volunteers, make all bugs shallow, in Linux-speak. However, in the land of the sighted, the one-eyed vision of a "black box" beta test no longer affords adequate perspective. Wide beta software distributions have excellent marketing value, but they arent the best way to fix code problems.

Microsofts blind spot is that it has held fast to the notion that customers need to find and identify problems without seeing source code. We disagree. The best documentation has always been reading the source.

We dont have a problem with protecting intellectual property—how far to go in protecting that is something every content creator can decide for himself or herself. But we do advocate access to source code. There is no conflict between the two; thats what copyright is all about. Sun makes its Solaris source code available for free to anyone who signs a source licensing agreement.

Full access for anyone to the source for Windows 2000 is where wed like Microsoft to go. Customers of all sizes can benefit. Whats more, the makers of infrastructure products that customers depend on can much better integrate those wares into Microsoft environments with access to the source.

The result will be more robust and reliable Microsoft environments at less cost to Microsoft itself. Is the chief software architect listening?