By selling software through the traditional commercial model, Microsoft has been seen in some circles as the odd man out when it comes to the popular open source movement. But the company argues that it has a place in the open source model and that open source does not necessarily mean less expensive than Windows. At the recent Open Source Business Conference, InfoWorld Editor at Large Paul Krill met with Jason Matusow, manager of Microsoft’s Shared Source Initiative program, to discuss Shared Source, Linux, and Windows.
InfoWorld: Please describe Microsoft’s Shared Source program and its relation to open source and give some examples of code made available through it.
Matusow: We provide Windows 2000, Windows XP, Server 2003, all versions, all service packs, all betas [through our Shared Source program]. This isn’t just a few lines of code, this is well over 100 million lines of software. It’s arguably the largest source-sharing in the industry today, just by sheer volume. Some people would say, "Well, that’s because the software is too big." But our software deals with things like backward compatibility and the growth of technology over time. And there are a lot of arguments you can put in that vein, but let’s not digress. This is a reference grant; you can look at the code but you cannot modify it. It is not an open source license, it’s a Shared Source license. And the idea here is that people have the source code.
InfoWorld: When you say reference grant, do you mean they’re not paying for this?
Matusow: No, they don’t pay us a cent for this. They have existing support contracts and services and they’ve paid for the software in a binary form. But there’s no fee associated with this. We’ve been doing Shared Source for three years, since May of 2001.
InfoWorld: You mentioned during your presentation how very few people want to modify source code.
Matusow: If you were to go and interview Linux users, very, very few are ever looking at the source code, never mind trying to modify it.
InfoWorld: Do you see open source as a revolt against Microsoft?
Matusow: No. I think open source is a development model that is a good way to write software and there have been very interesting technologies that have come of it. I think that there is a great deal of business strategy that is been applied to the open source model.
InfoWorld: A Microsoft Distinguished Engineer recently asked how you are going to have a software industry if everything is free through open source. After that story appeared, people started sending me e-mails pointing out Microsoft released Internet Explorer for free.
Matusow: There’s a difference between a binary release and a source release. Software companies, not just Microsoft, release technologies at no cost all the time to attract developer communities or user communities. Do you remember the software game Doom? They distributed the first three levels of Doom at no cost to everybody in the world who wanted it, saturated the market with a game that outdid other people’s gaming opportunities, and then charged for the next seven or 10 levels. We gave something away for free to attract a community. That’s a long-held tradition in the software industry. Relative to open source, the reality is people have the right to license their software how they choose and the business model that they choose to pursue is also a choice that they have.