Microsoft: Don't call our extended source-code licenses 'open'

Microsoft Corp. is planning to broaden its existing source-code licensing agreements further later this year, adding two new programs that seemingly take a page from the open-source playbook.

Microsoft Corp. is planning to broaden its existing source-code licensing agreements further later this year, adding two new programs that seemingly take a page from the open-source playbook.

NEW YORK -- Even though Microsoft is making its crown jewels -- its Windows source code - more widely available to selected hardware vendors, academic institutions and software vendors, the company is working overtime to distance itself from the open software movement that made such code-sharing a common expectation and standard practice.

"Our choice is to give the customers what they want, and that is standards for interoperability, more than source code," said Craig Mundie, Microsoft senior vice president of advanced technologies.

On Thursday, Mundie addressed an audience of academics, students and press here at New York University's Stern School of Business. He was invited by the school to speak on "innovation in the software industry."

Mundie spent a little more than an hour outlining what he called Microsoft's "shared source philosophy." While he acknowledged that open-source software and "commercial" software share some of the same underlying goals and philosophies, during most of his talk he chose to highlight why Microsoft believes the open-source business model is unsound and unsustainable.

During his speech, Mundie said that Microsoft plans to extend over the next few weeks its Windows 2000 customer source-code license agreements to 12 additional countries. He did not name the countries, but did say that they would be ones that had "an intellectual property protection regime."

Microsoft originally launched a program via which it broadened its Windows source license to include Windows 2000 customers last year, and discussed the new program, dubbed the Enterprise Source Licensing Program, in March.

Via the new licensing agreement, Microsoft has more than 1,000 customers who need access to the Windows source code. So far, 100 are evaluating and two dozen have signed up, according to Microsoft officials. Unlike the open-source GNU General Public License, the Windows 2000 customers are not allowed to modify the source themselves.

Microsoft also is developing a program via which ISVs (independent software vendors) will also be granted Windows source licenses, Mundie said. Microsoft plans to launch that program later this year. He said he did not know how many ISVs will be accepted into the program, but it will be those who are supporting Microsoft's .Net "expanded Internet environment" initiatives.

Mundie added that Microsoft plans to extend its OEM source-code license agreements later this year as well. Microsoft plans to add an academic site-license option to its existing Windows CE Platform Builder program.

Microsoft licenses Windows and Windows CE to OEMs already. The company claims that a dozen OEMs currently have access to all or part of the Windows source code. But the goal of the academic site-license option is to allow students and university applications to do more Windows CE development, he said.

Mundie emphasized throughout his talk that Microsoft is not interested in playing in the open-source business.

And he repeated several times in the course of his remarks his quip that "open source and open standards are orthogonal to one another." Mundie said that "open source has a tougher time getting to standards due to the fragmentation" inherent in the community -- a claim challenged by one student in the question-and-answer session following his speech.

"We are not in the business of giving away our source," Mundie said. "We want to create value over time."

Mundie did not bring up Microsoft's checkered past in regards to open source. Over the past few years, various Microsoft executives have talked about possibly opening the Windows source, seemingly in an attempt to ride on the open-source movement's coattails. Microsoft also has toyed with the idea of porting its Office desktop suite and finding partners to port its .Net framework to Linux, sources have said. In addition, Microsoft a few years ago authored a series of memos, which came to be known as the Halloween documents, that outlined possible ways the company could derail the open-source train.

"There's a community of people that believes no software should be covered by intellectual property law," Mundie continued. "The GPL sweeps together people's IP (intellectual property) as the price you pay for contributing for the community."

While established for-profit companies, ranging from IBM to Oracle Corp. have backed open-source to varying degrees, Mundie said Microsoft was not interested in participating at all.

"If you want to develop under the GPL, you should have as many lawyers as IBM does," Mundie quipped. "We have a lot of lawyers, too, but decided the risks (of GPL) outweigh the benefits."

Mundie attempted to cast doubt on the sustainability of the open-source model for open-source participants, as well as for for-profit companies that are trying to build on top of the model.

"Today, any government putting work under GPL is walling it (the work) off from commercial business," Mundie told the audience. He said that many commercial ventures were leery of using anything covered by the GPL, fearing it could limit their attempts to commercialize related products in the future.

"At the end of the day, it's all about choice. And individuals, academics, business and government all must make policy decisions now," Mundie concluded.