Expect to see more Microsoft source

Where the DoJ failed, open-source and security issues look set to prevail - at least in part. Office will not be the last Microsoft application opened up for governments

At the height of the Department of Justice antitrust case against Microsoft, one of the proposed remedies was that Microsoft should provide access to its source code.

Microsoft, naturally, argued with great vehemence against such a remedy. But what the DoJ failed to achieve in a single mighty blow, the combined forces of open source and security seem to be achieving by a gradual process of erosion.

Throughout the 90s, the though of letting anybody other than its most trusted partners, such as SGI or Unisys, anywhere near Windows source code was anathema to Microsoft. As more and more university students emerged with intimate knowledge of Linux and open-source software, Microsoft began to get edgy. After all, applications are the lifeblood of any operating system.

So in spring 2001 Microsoft created its Shared Source Initiative giving governments, universities and large corporates unprecedented but still tightly controlled access to Windows source code. It was a flop. Eighteen months after its launch, Jason Matusow -- the man in charge -- told us that of 2,300 organisations in 32 countries that were eligible to receive the source code only 150 took the company up on its offer. Even when the SSI was extended to embrace most trusted professionals, only 27 initially agreed to Microsoft's terms and signed up.

So Microsoft added the Government Security Program, which was considered by many at launch as an attempt to counter growing government interest in open-source software, and the growing distrust of "Security through Obscurity".

There is international distrust of Microsoft -- often seen as dangerously American -- and its approaches to security and file format control. This makes open-source alternatives all the more viable to many governments. Cost issues are just icing on the cake.

Microsoft may be able to stand firm against the DoJ, but it cannot fight foreign governments head-on. The best it can do is bend in the breeze and hope that things go its way.

Two years ago almost to the day, when Matusow predicted that Office could be opened up, he also talked about Sequel Server and Exchange. As the threat to Microsoft increases, we should expect to see more applications to join the Shared Source Initiative and the Government Security Program.

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