Update: Microsoft to expand 'shared-source' initatives

ITworld.com –

Microsoft Corp. is preparing to expand its "shared-source" initiatives, through which partners are allowed a peek at the prized Windows operating-system source code, but the company remains opposed to the open-source ethos, and it particularly scorns the popular GNU General Public License (GPL), a Microsoft executive said Thursday.

In a speech delivered to about 150 people at New York University's Stern School of Business, Microsoft's Craig Mundie, the company's senior vice president of advanced strategies, outlined the company's new initiatives, while arguing that many developers using the GPL don't really understand what they're getting into.

The GPL requires that work developed using code covered by the license also be available for no more than the cost of distribution. The license is "an attempt to create a vortex that pulls a lot of other peoples' intellectual property in ... (and) ultimately undermines intellectual property," Mundie said.

By contrast, Microsoft's strategy is to allow a few select partners access to its source code, without allowing those partners to modify the code in any way, Mundie said. That approach satisfies most customers, who are far more interested in interoperability and open standards than open source code, he said.

Microsoft will announce Thursday that its Enterprise Source Licensing Program will be expanded to 12 additional countries, Mundie said. He also said that within the year Microsoft will begin licensing its Windows source code to top-tier ISVs, (independent software vendors), and that in the second half of 2001 the company will begin offering academic site licenses for Windows CE source code. Microsoft was unable to provide a list of the 12 newly added countries, although a spokesman said they are primarily in Europe and Asia-Pacific.

Straying widely from the prepared text of his speech, Mundie repeatedly emphasized the "confusion" Microsoft perceives around the open-source issue. "You'll hear people talk about open source and open standards. These two things are orthogonal. If history is any guide, the open-source environment actually has a tougher time generating standards because of the fragmentation," he said.

Mundie outlined Microsoft's history of shared software, from its decade-old program of licensing Windows source code to about 100 academic institutions to its much-publicized recent initiative to allow key enterprise customers access to the code. Microsoft's customers are more interested in seeing the company focus on interoperability and standards that allow communication among programs and platforms than they are in source-code rights, he said.

In the past, Microsoft hasn't exactly developed a reputation as a staunch defender of interoperability, but Mundie suggested that the company is becoming more interested in playing nicely with rival developers. The prepared text of his speech states that the move toward a pervasive computing environment of disparate devices "will not come about due to any one company's, or even a single group of company's, efforts."

Mundie defended Microsoft's unabashedly for-profit model, and compared the open-source movement to the recently burst dot-com bubble. Companies such as Red Hat Inc. and VA Linux Systems Inc. that attempt to make money from open-source software are giving away their most valuable asset and hoping to profit from ancillary revenue streams -- a business model that the recent economic downturn has exposed as unsustainable, Mundie said.

He also spoke about the "tightrope" Microsoft walks as it balances its customers' need for access to its source code against the company's fiscal interest in keeping that code secret. Domestic intellectual property laws and the rigor with which they're enforced play a large role in how Microsoft decides which companies in which countries can participate in its Enterprise Source Licensing Program, Mundie said.

Particular venom was aimed at the GPL, with Mundie warning that it creates a walled garden around the software it covers and cuts it off from future proprietary expansion and distribution. Several other large software companies have tentatively embraced the license -- most notably IBM Corp., which recently earmarked more than US$1 billion for Linux development.

In Thursday's New York Times, IBM Vice President Irving Wladawsky-Berger said the company is comfortable with GPL, and that it has "a lot of lawyers" who green-lighted IBM's open-source plans.

Mundie fired back in his speech, saying that "if you want to develop under GPL, you should make sure you have as many lawyers as IBM. We have a lot of lawyers too, and we have made a decision that the risks associated with developing under that license outweigh the benefits."

An IBM spokeswoman said the company is currently refusing further comment on Mundie's speech.

A representative of the Free Software Foundation (FSF), whose leader created the GPL in 1984, refuted the notion that companies using the GPL are naive about its implications. Contacted after Mundie's speech, FSF Vice President Brad Kuhn, who didn't attend the talk, pointed to Cygnus Solutions, acquired by Red Hat in January 2000 in an all-stock deal then valued at more than $670 million, as an example of a company successfully commercializing software released under the GPL.

"We designed the GPL to defend the freedom of users and programmers" to copy, modify, and redistribute code at will, Kuhn said. "(Microsoft's) aim is to take away those freedoms."

During his speech, Mundie lightly touched on Microsoft's highly touted .NET initiative, linking it to a coming "third phase" in the Internet's evolution. Initially, the Internet's development focused on the creation of the hardware "plumbing" that makes the Net run; next came the "publishing" phase, which ushered in e-mail and browsers, Mundie said.

Now, the Net is entering a third phase that Mundie's prepared text referred to as "a shift in focus from individual Web sites or devices to new constellations of computers, devices, and services that work together."

It's that constellation Microsoft's .NET -- which is designed to be "user-centric rather than device-centric" -- will tap into, Mundie said.

"If Internet Three is going to emerge the way we think it is, it is going to demand a lot more software," he said. "Most of the world's programmers have sat out the Internet. They haven't had anything to do -- the two killer apps were already there, e-mail and browsers. ... Now, those programmers are going to be given ... new generations of devices, a new platform, to go get creative on, and we're very enthusiastic about that."

Enthusiastic, so long as those programmers' steer away of GPL.

"We should be clear: We are not in the business of giving away our sources or giving away our software products. We are a business, and we want to create value over time in that business," Mundie said. "Fundamentally, the thing that informs our choice is this belief in protecting intellectual property."

None of this rhetoric is new for Microsoft, said Chris Le Tocq, principal analyst with Guernsey Research in Los Altos, California. "I don't think anyone could describe any of this as shocking."

Microsoft is rolling out its public relations armada when it comes to open source, he suggested.

"This is really a PR campaign to try to persuade developers and customers not to move in the open source direction," he said. "Microsoft is feeling threatened by the open-source movement and has customers and enterprises that are looking to take advantage of code sharing."

Microsoft is co-opting the catch phrases of the open-source movement for its own purposes, Le Tocq said. The company has been touting its adoption of XML (Extensible Markup Language) and referring to it as "an open language," without plainly stating that its own XML work is proprietary, he said.

"They cleverly associate the word 'open' with XML. What they don't mention is that to see the XML file definitions for Microsoft Word, you have to sign a file license that says you will never use the code," he said.

Top 10 Hot Internet of Things Startups
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies