A Microsoft executive said for the first time on Friday that the software giant was thinking about publishing the source code to the Windows NT kernel under an open source licensing agreement.
While Microsoft is still ambivalent about the concept of Linux and open source software, it made it clear at the Winhec show in Los Angeles this week, that it was keenly aware of both phenomena - although executives expressed some scepticism about the immediate competitive challenge posed by Linux.
Brian Valentine, Microsoft?s vice president of Windows 2000, said: "We are seriously looking at an open source initiative around the Windows NT kernel. If there is customer benefit to [open source], then let?s do it. I have no problem with that."
Steve Ballmer, Microsoft?s president, said he did not see Linux as a true competitor yet, however, although he added that the company was keeping an eye on it and was ready to compete against it.
"There?s a lot of energy and momentum behind [Linux] right now, without a lot of design wins," he said, adding that Microsoft was aware of how appealing the open source concept was for some customers.
"There is a level of comfort that people have if they have the source code," he acknowledged, because, while most customers will never touch it, they like to know they could if they needed to.
"We?re thinking with great interest about that. As soon as we figure out what that means for us, we?ll let you know," he added.
But representatives from the open source community were quick to warn Microsoft that "open source is not magic pixie dust".
A statement issued by Eric Raymond, president of the Open Source Initiative (OSI) and other OSI members, Larry Augustin, president and chief executive of VA Research Linux Systems, Larry Wall, the inventor of Perl and Guido Van Rossum, the inventor of Python, said they welcomed Microsoft?s initiative.
But, the statement continued: "Code that?s badly designed or non functional won?t instantly improve simply by being open sourced. Before the peer review effect can benefit consumers, lots of developers must be both able and motivated to participate. We must therefore caution Mr Ballmer and Microsoft that empty demonstrations and half measures won?t do."
It added: "A partial release of components that won?t build into functioning, usable software won?t attract developers. A release of Windows that leaves the kernel, Microsoft API or critical pieces such as Active Directory?still closed will readily be diagnosed by both developers and the Justice Department as a sham. So would a license that exposes source, but denies outside developers full rights to modify, reuse and redistribute without legal hindrance."
It concluded: "But if Microsoft is sincere in wishing to join the open source community, we will welcome it. Truly open sourced Windows code would be a boon to consumers and developers everywhere."
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