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Microsoft mulls open source models

But don't hold your breath, and if it happens, check out the horse's dentistry carefully...

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Microsoft is thinking about open source. It's not necessarily thinking about opening up its source code yet, it's just thinking - and that appears to be the sum total of company president Steve Ballmer's views on the subject, as expressed at WinHEC yesterday. He was at pains to stress that "Most CIOs don't want their people to touch the source code", but he did admit that some liked "a level of flexibility, or comfort, that people have when they have the source code, just in case". But as to whether Microsoft will release any source code, Microsoft has spoken with a forked tongue before. The Active Group of the Open Group was supposed to have been a vehicle for source code to be made available, but the talk proved to be a canard designed to delude the naive into thinking that Microsoft might do the unthinkable. When Microsoft sits on the fence, it says it will ask its customers. Windows VP Brian Valentine told WinHEC that Microsoft had been doing market research on whether customers want open source code. But we know from the Microsoft trial that Microsoft's idea of market research consists of telling a market researcher what result it wants -- and so we know the answer to this one without having to wait. When Valentine says "We are seriously considering it. To some extent, I do not have a problem with having the code out there," we can read between the lines that this is another example of Microsoft trying to look like a regular guy. If Microsoft releases any code, it will be an incomplete, a partial release to gain headlines, and not to designed help developers. Carl Stork, now described as general manager, Windows hardware strategy and evangelism [a fonctionnaire in the Department of Fiction in the Ministry of Truth, we would suggest] noted in response to a question that Microsoft already publishes volumes on software development kits. He was of course trying to hint that the stuff that Microsoft does release is code rather then incomplete APIs. It's also interesting to note that "Windows hardware strategy" is part of Stork's job description. Presumably that means keeping Intel in line, and maybe devising a secret price list for device manufacturers who want their drivers in Windows. Ballmer is clearly trying to slow things down on the source code release front. He said: "We are trying to understand this whole notion of open source". This is nonsense of course. The Halloween documents show that Microsoft has a chillingly clear understanding of Linux, its ilk, and especially the culture - and that it doesn't like it. So when Ballmer said the company is "thinking with great interest" about releasing its source code, what he really means is the opposite. But that's propaganda for you. Halloween, incidentally, tends to follow the "pervert and survive" Microsoft strategic approach. If you give people bits of the code to play with, you can then suck them further into the swamp via Microsoft-specific code and features. So any "open source" strategy will likely be a case of casting the net wider then reeling them all in again, rather than the genuine article. ®

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