MS exec makes case for open-source effort

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Selling developers on the idea that Microsoft is committed to working with the open-source community was a tall task, an executive with the software maker admitted in an interview with SearchWebServices.com. At the recent O'Reilly Open Source conference (OSCON), Jason Matusow, manager of Microsoft's Shared Source Initiative, talked about how the program works and how it can benefit developers.

What other programs are included in the Shared Source Initiative, and how does it compare to open-source? Available programs include Windows technology, the CE operating system, ASP.NET, parts of the .NET framework, Visual Studio components, Passport and other pieces of code as well. I think there are over 40 different open-source licenses today, so there's a large spectrum of how people deal with open-source. Shared source is a spectrum...

as well, ranging from reference-only agreements, where you can see the code but not modify it, all the way through [to] seeing the code and modifying it and reselling your work. What were Microsoft's concerns in implementing the Shared Source Initiative? Microsoft's business model is built around the direct commercialization of software, so we want to find a balance between providing source-code access while at the same time maintaining our business model. How would an interested developer go about viewing code under the Shared Source Initiative? Go to www.microsoft.com/sharedsource. All of the programs are listed there with an overview of what's involved and what source code is involved. Then, there are links to the source code and the available license. The only exception to that are the Windows programs. Those are dealt with on a company-by-company basis, so a developer would have to send mail to source@microsoft.com if they're interested, and we'll be more than happy to provide them with a license for review. There's no fee associated with any of these programs that [is] a revenue-generating source for Microsoft. Why should a Web services professional be interested in the Shared Source Initiative? A Web services professional is going to be interested in ASP.NET, for example, as well as potentially embedded device technology. The CE operating system is available for them, as well as a number of ASP.NET and .NET framework components for embedded devices. Have any legal disputes yet arisen from this program? No, absolutely not. On the other side of that, we've had a great deal of positive feedback from customers. We've had customers with concerns about the integration of their custom applications with Windows who have ended up working through not only their own development concerns, but also doing security audits on components such as the encrypted file system. They have then been able to do much greater deployments based on the confidence they had in the system. Transparency equals trust, in a lot of ways. A lot of folks will never look at the source code, but having it makes them feel more confident about the system. Critics say that developers who view this code are putting themselves at risk of being sued by Microsoft. How do you respond? I think that people very often overstate this issue. We're committed to working with the developer community on this. We wouldn't be willing to make that move if our only desire was litigation. Fundamentally, everybody who deals with software has to be aware of copyright law and issues around derivatives, and those issues are the same no matter whether you're using an open-source license, a public domain license, a shareware license or a commercial license. How has the open-source community responded to the Shared Source Initiative? Overall, the reception is very positive. We've been doing this for about the past two and a half years. We've participated in the past three OSCON conferences, and I've been to 30 or 40 open-source conferences all over the world. At first, I suppose there was a good deal of skepticism, but we now have over 500,000 developers involved in the shared-source program. We're getting very positive feedback from people who have the source [code] and are actively using it. How exactly does the Shared Source Initiative work with ASP.NET? With ASP.NET, you have about 30 megabytes of source code -- that is a series of applications that demonstrate how to build commercial quality applications on ASP.NET. Source code is available so that someone can pull them apart and understand how they're built. Again, the license is very similar to open-source licenses. You can see the code, you can modify the code, you can redistribute the code and you can even sell the code commercially without paying Microsoft a license fee. It's very similar to the BSD-style open-source license.

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