Microsoft expands 'Shared Sources'
- By John K. Waters
In the middle of last week's coast-to-coast, week-long launch of its new Office System, Microsoft also announced that it is expanding its Shared Source Initiative to include a new category of developer among select non-Microsofties with access to the Windows OS source code.
The Redmond, Wash.-based software maker officially began granting access to its OS source code to some governments and technology companies about two and a half years ago. Microsoft says it will now provide similar access to individuals who have made significant contributions to Microsoft's online support community. The company is calling these individuals "Most Valuable Professionals," or MVPs. Microsoft will determine which MVPs will be eligible to receive the Windows source code.
Microsoft estimates that some 1,200 of its 1,800 MVPs already have access to source code components for Windows CE .NET, ASP.NET, Visual Studio .NET and Passport Manager. The new license expands that access to include Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 source code. With this announcement, more than 650,000 developers now have access to Microsoft source code, said company reps.
"I'm a huge fan of the MVPs," Jim Allchin, Microsoft group VP, said in a statement. "They do a great deal to help Microsoft customers. Giving them access to one of our most valuable assets, Windows source code, is a testimonial to how much we value this dedicated group of people."
Although Microsoft is giving eligible developers some access to its source code, this program isn't an open-source model, which allows developers full access and the ability to make changes and then distribute the changed code. MVPs can look, but they're not allowed to make modifications or to use the code for their own projects.
Microsoft's position on open source is well known, but CEO Steve Ballmer added some clarification last week at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2003 conference in Orlando, Fla. "Why should code written randomly by some hacker in China and contributed to some open-source project -- why is its pedigree by definition somehow better than the pedigree of something that is written in a controlled fashion?" he asked attendees, adding, "I don't buy that."
Speaking specifically about Linux, Ballmer asserted that the key flaw in the open-source model is that no one can be held accountable for flaws in the software. "There's no roadmap for Linux," he said. "There's nobody to hold accountable for security issues with Linux. We think it is an advantage that a commercial company can bring. We stand behind the products. We indemnify for the intellectual property that's in the product. We provide that product with a roadmap. If there are problems and people do have security issues, they know where to send e-mail and give somebody a hard time about it."
Microsoft started its MVP program in the early 1990s, the firm's Allchin said. The Microsoft MVP Award is now given to outstanding members of Microsoft Technical Communities for their contributions in hundreds of online and technical communities, including Microsoft public newsgroups, he noted. Microsoft MVPs are not Microsoft employees, he added, and Microsoft provides a small "award of software," but no monetary payment. Microsoft also gives its MVPs training options, as well as access to company officials.
Microsoft is delivering its source code to eligible MVPs via a Most Valuable Professional Source Licensing Program (MVPSLP), which "recognizes individuals with expertise in one or more Microsoft products and technologies for their active participation and efforts to help other Microsoft customers."
Currently, the Shared Source Program does not provide access to applications in Microsoft's Office suite, but company officials have suggested that the company is considering the pros and cons of opening Office apps to its MVPs in the future.
More information on Microsoft's Shared Source Initiative can be found at www.microsoft.com/sharedsource.
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John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached