Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Thursday 12/02/2004Hard day at work and late night at the computer: ping! Did you know, says the IM, that Microsoft's source code for Windows 2000 and NT has escaped onto the Web?

Thursday 12/02/2004
Hard day at work and late night at the computer: ping! Did you know, says the IM, that Microsoft's source code for Windows 2000 and NT has escaped onto the Web? And indeed it has: at least, something that looks very convincing is out there.

It turns out not to be the full source -- which at 50GB, according to MS, would take some downloading even for those with the fuller pipe -- but around 1 percent of it. But it's interesting enough, according to those who've seen it. I particularly admire those who've gone searching through it for swearwords (plenty of those) and comments saying: "Don't do this, it won't work". Hallmarks of the real thing, and indeed Microsoft comes clean later and says the files are real.

Which raises a number of interesting issues. If someone finds a bug, are they morally obliged to report it? Or does that mark them as in receipt of stolen goods, copyright-wise, and thus marked for life as evil? That's a real risk: it is possible in law to sue someone for stealing software if they write something that can be shown to have been influenced by someone else's code, without permission. It's called tainting, and now Microsoft's private bits are in the field the company can in theory start hauling open software people over the coals on that pretext.

Which is daft. Firstly, while Microsoft programmers are just as smart as anyone else, there's nothing going on under the hood in Windows 2000 that gives it some untouchable edge. Software that does smart things does them openly -- the idea of underlining spelling mistakes with wobbly red lines was a good one, but having seen it any word processor programmer would be perfectly capable of writing code to make it happen. That's almost always the case.  Secondly, who is going to write another Windows 2000?

Microsoft should publish a lot more Windows code and get with the programme. As many people know, there's a lot more out there that is being kept off the Net by people who fear it could be traced back to them. One by one, they'll give in to the temptation -- or have the code lifted from them by others -- and the stuff's going to get out there anyway.  Might as well get some brownie points, answer some of the arguments of the Linux crew about accessibility, and  concentrate on the next products, not the last.

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