Shared Source 'Moving to the Middle'

Microsoft's code viewing initiative re-establishes itself against a sea of open source projects as it celebrates its million-customer milestone.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Seeing a need to compete more with the open source movement, Microsoft has been broadening the horizons of its Shared Source Initiative.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software vendor is wooing open source advocates as part of the Open Source Business Conference 2004 here this week. Microsoft is a gold sponsor of the OSBC, and is participating in panels and presentations at the event. The company said it wants to demonstrate that its software is transparent, even in a limited capacity. The Shared Source Initiative lets licensed developers in any country view, modify and redistribute changes to the source code.

Over the past three years, Microsoft has periodically opened more shared source to include more development and infrastructure technologies. While shared source has been a mainstay for governments, universities and certain systems integrators, Microsoft has lately extended the program to include corporations such as Citibank and UBS. Microsoft's recent announcement that it would offer royalty-free licensing for its Extensible Markup Language schemas in Office 2003 has both the software giant and open source advocates claiming victory for the open standards movement.

"The line between commercial and non-commercial open source is changing and Microsoft is part of that same process," Microsoft Shared Source Initiative manager Jason Matusow told "Something like shared source is a way to provide source code, but still we can learn from open source as a model. There is a great deal to learn from the community participation no matter if you are talking about open or proprietary models. It's really a move to the middle."

And it's a move many companies are making, according to Matusow, who cited IBM , Sun Microsystems and Apple as three companies influencing open source development in the enterprise. As a commercial company, Microsoft's traditional business model is rooted in selling its software, but at the same time, Matusow said the company recognizes source code access raises the amount of trust some customers place in Microsoft products.

"Microsoft's value proposition has been around for a long time providing great software," Matusow said. "Customers receive very high value and [shared source] has played out to be a very good bet. There is value in modularity."

Launched in 2001, the Shared Source Initiative was established to address broader customer interest and build on Microsoft's 1991 efforts to share Windows source code with academics. The current spectrum of Microsoft technologies include some 14 different aspects including Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, Windows CE 3.0, Windows CE .NET, the C#/CLI Implementations, as well as components of ASP.NET and Visual Studio .NET.

"When ASP.NET was released, it was a big thing," Matusow said. "There are currently about 800,000 downloads of the source code. Clearly these are very large communities that can look at the code and benefit from it."

The company Monday said it has reached a milestone of one million participants, each benefiting from Microsoft's shared source ventures. Some are even making money off of it, according to Matusow. Under Microsoft's CE Premium Shared Source program, wireless chip designers like Intel, Hitachi, ARM and MIPS are all part of Microsoft's CE .NET team where letting them modify the code and commercially distribute those modifications in Windows CE-based devices and keep the earnings.

Still, Matusow said the majority of Microsoft shared source customers, including its inner circle of Most Valuable Professionals (MVP) are quite content with Microsoft's code just the way it is.

"When we asked people about the importance of open source code in general, about 60 percent said that it was absolutely necessary to see and modify source code," Matusow said. "Fewer than five percent said they even looked at the source code and only one percent modified it."

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