Microsofts Newest Shared Source License: Whats the Catch?

Microsoft is offering its volunteer army of Windows experts a chance to share its source code. Here's the fine print.

Microsoft announced Wednesday that it is offering to share its Windows source code with its "Most Valuable Professionals" (MVPs) with roots in the Windows arena. So, whats the catch, if any?

First, the newly minted "Most Valuable Professional Source Licensing Program" (MVPSLP) is currently open to a subset of Microsofts volunteer community army. There are 1,800-plus MVPs out there; 1,200 of these specialize in Windows Server System, Windows and Windows "visual development" (GUI/Internet Explorer) topics. It is these 1,200 who have the option of joining the new program.

MVP shared-source licensees dont get access to all of Windows. According to Jason Matusow, who is manager of Microsofts shared source program, depending on whether you count Windows binaries as part of the source, licensees have access to between 50 percent and 90 percent of the Windows source code.


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The ten percent that is completely off limits includes third-party code which Microsoft includes in Windows but is not authorized to license directly; cryptographic code and "high-value" intellectual property, such as Microsofts product activation code, Matusow says. Matusow says Microsofts goal, over time, is to shrink this ten percent to as small a percentage as possible.

In order to license the Windows source, MVPs must sign a master source-code agreement which provides them with a three-year source grant. In order to qualify, MVPs must reside in one of 27 pre-approved countries; be at least 18; and maintain their MVP status. Microsoft does not charge MVPs to license its code, and they are encouraged to use their access to assist the community at large (not just within a single company, as is the case with other Microsoft source licenses) in understanding Windows-related topics.

Once an MVP is granted a shared source license, Microsoft provides him/her with a smart-card access to the MSDN Code Center Premium Web site. Microsoft provides an index to its Windows source base, enabling licensees to search for particular code segments across Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 and all of the related beta releases and software development kits.

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