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According to Matusow, there’s no contradiction here. He describes Microsoft’s source code licensing efforts as “a spectrum approach,” with terms tailored to what is appropriate for each specific product. Greater access to Windows code would be of little benefit to customers, he says, because no enterprise would want to take on the responsibility of maintaining its own custom version of the OS.
“The primary use for having Windows source code is as a reference mechanism,” Matusow says, “an encyclopedia, as it were, that I could turn to if I’m creating a custom application on top of Windows and I want to look at those interfaces and really understand how they work.”
Giving it away
IBM has pursued open source much more aggressively than its Redmond-based rival has. But in truth, the two companies see the market for open software in similar terms.
“I think it’s quite true that for an awful lot of business people and consumers of technology, access to source code isn’t terribly important,” says Doug Heintzman, director of technical strategy at IBM’s software group.
Heintzman cites the relatively small number of organizations that employ development teams with sufficient expertise to tackle a code base as complex as that of Windows, or indeed the Linux kernel. He says that with the exception of those working on very specialized projects, such as embedded systems, few organizations will ever touch a line of open source code.
Unlike Microsoft’s Shared Source program, part of the openness of true open source projects is a license to freely distribute the code, which virtually eliminates the originating company’s ability to profit from per-seat or per-site licensing. So why, then, would IBM turn sophisticated products such as the Eclipse development environment or the Cloudscape embedded Java database -- which Heintzman says represent tens of millions of dollars of development investment -- over to the open source community?
The answer is that IBM expects to see returns in other ways. Cloudscape and Eclipse, in particular, have been warmly embraced by Java developers. IBM hopes that their free availability will serve to stimulate and encourage the Java development community -- from which IBM, with its industry-leading WebSphere J2EE platform, stands to profit greatly.
But Heintzman believes open source has direct benefits for customers, as well. Even if few companies modify open source code at the organizational level, a large number of independent developers regularly contribute. Heintzman compares open source development to a “matching grant program,” in which every investment IBM makes in a body of code is multiplied by contributions from around the globe.