But, given all the pressure that Microsoft is under these days from different quarters, what if the company decided to reveal those jewels? Would it have any impact on FOSS? Would people in the FOSS sphere really care? Would it make a difference?
Microsoft's own people don't think much of the idea; general manager Bill Hilf was recently quoted as saying that open sourcing Windows was more hassle than it was worth and the company saw little to gain from releasing code.
But what do people on the other side of the industry think? I asked a number of people from different sections of the FOSS community for their opinions and, if nothing else, the ideas they had are interesting. It's fair to say that nobody is jumping with excitement at such a prospect. I haven't paraphrased much as that would detract from each individual's flow of thought.
Linux kernel hacker Jonathan Corbet, who also runs the Linux Weekly News website, said he thought a proposition such as this was "idle speculation" as he thought the chances of this sort of code release seemed pretty small. However, he said, if it did eentuate it would "certainly make some kind of difference, but just what that difference would be depends on a few things."
"I don't imagine Microsoft will be releasing that source anytime soon. If they did, though, they would almost certainly choose a licence which is not compatible with the GPL. Imagine, for a moment, that they went with a very permissive licence like BSD. Then developers could grab interesting bits and re-use them elsewhere; that could help speed the development of interoperability projects like Samba and NTFS.
"There's probably something else of interest in there, but I don't know what it would be, offhand. More likely, though, they would pick a licence which would keep Windows in its own silo, much like Sun did with Solaris. In that case, one might be able to peruse the code for ideas and understanding of how things work, but not use the code itself. Probably a lot of developers would refuse to go near it out of fear of being accused of copyright or patent violations."
And, he added, whether Windows would gain a development community of its own depended on the quality of the code and how Microsoft managed it.
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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.