User wary of MS ‘shared source’ scheme

At least one local user is cautious about the benefits of Microsoft's "shared source" plan to let large customers see Windows code.

At least one local user is cautious about the benefits of Microsoft’s “shared source” plan to let large customers see Windows code.

Under the Enterprise Source Licence Programme (ESLP) selected customers can view and debug Windows code. The programme, which has been running since January, will give about 1600 companies around the world access to the code. To qualify customers must have 1500 Windows seats.

Ministry of Social Development IT director Neil Miranda says it’s too early to tell whether ESLP will be of worth to customers. “Probably it’s a good thing. I believe at first they will provide only a little source code and then open up more as required. It could be a response to what has happened with the US government. Whether it’s token or real, ultimately I believe they will have to be more realistic.”

The ministry, which includes CYFS (Child, Youth and Family Services) has just under 10,000 Windows desktops, with HP-UX and Sun Solaris on the server side, so is big enough to qualify for the ESLP.

“The problem I would have [with the Microsoft shared source programme] is that even with their normal products Microsoft does not give you any predictability about where they’re going in the future,” says Miranda. So with shared source, I would be very careful about doing anything with the source code without the full consultation of Microsoft. I wouldn’t even try to debug it.

“I’m actually hopeful that it changes its attitude. I have no problems with Microsoft as a software shop, but it’s too dominating and it tries to control its customers’ world.”

Washington-based Microsoft shared source product manager Jason Matusow, who visited Australia and New Zealand earlier this month, says the programme is in response to customer demand.

“Shared source is Microsoft’s approach to sharing source code with customers and partners without jeopardising its intellectual property,” says Matusow.

The ESLP, which carries no fee, covers all versions, betas and service packs of Windows 2000, Windows XP and .Net server. Originally the code was delivered on six CDs of compressed data but participants found the massive source base difficult to navigate. Matusow says the code is now on a secure part of the MSDN (Microsoft Developers Network) website, which is maintained by Microsoft and is an easier environment for customers to work in.

Under the programme, companies can’t modify the code. “Large customers don’t want to be in the business of modifying Windows,” says Matusow. “They don’t want to be in the operating system business. Most do it to solve support issues and to customise applications.

“If they are building custom applications they can get a better understanding of the relationship between their applications and Windows, or get better support processes, or it can help with deployment. We’ve had a large financial institution that dug into the encrypted file systems and they were able to understand the implications of using the encrypted file system for their application stack. It has helped them move into that technology much more rapidly.”

Matusow says many customers spoken to so far have opted not to enter the programme because they don’t want IT staff working on source code.

Michael Tiemann, chief technology officer at Linux vendor Red Hat, has said that Microsoft’s claims are a ruse to hide the company’s dominance and control over choice in the software market. The shared source licence is just a mechanism to steer users’ focus away from Microsoft’s ability to monopolise parts of the software market, Tiemann says.

Microsoft is running two other shared source programmes: an academic scheme where 125 universities around the world can view, debug and modify Windows for research purposes; and a Windows CE programme where 15% of the code base is available to the public to view, debug and modify code for non-commercial purposes. Matusow says the Windows CE programme had more than 25,000 downloads in just a few months.

Matusow stresses that the shared source approach is still new to Microsoft and it is looking for customer feedback.

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