Microsoft may publish some source code

The Linux movement has Microsoft thinking about -- but not yet embracing -- open source, the company's president, Steve Ballmer, said last week.

"We have something we must learn from Linux, and we must respond to this area of -- excuse the words -- open source," Ballmer said in a presentation at Tibco Software's annual customer conference here.

Ballmer's comments continued a theme Microsoft executives first broached publicly last month at WinHEC, the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference.

Open source is software whose source code is distributed freely, usually on the Internet, so that developers can make changes. Perhaps the most famous open source program is the Linux operating system, developed in 1991.

"What [Linux] caused us to do was really focus and ask what is it about the Linux model that really rivets people," Ballmer said. "Initially, some people thought it was the price, but I frankly don't think that's the case. In almost every application that we talk to people about, people want a good price, but the most important thing is to get a platform that does the job and is reliable."

For that reason, he said the Linux open source development model is "interesting" but of limited value.

"[Open source] means different things to different people, but certainly there's the notion that there are parts of our source code that if published would help you be more effective in your job," Ballmer said.

Microsoft is now trying to determine which portions of its source code to release and whether the code should be licensed or available to everyone via the Internet, he said.

"I don't think everybody really wants to dig through the code that puts out menus, but there are parts of the system where if you have the source code, I think people would feel that to be more effective," Ballmer said.

Ballmer hinted that one area would concern portions of the code that related to database connectivity, which many developers find "complicated and difficult to understand".

"We do have a team out thinking through what kind of strategy is appropriate to make our source code, or parts of it, more available to customers so they can be more effective in what they do," he said.

"I don't call that a full embrace of the open source model," he added. "On the other hand, we're trying to understand what it is that really brings the benefit."

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