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Microsoft redefines ‘open source’ – look, don't touch

Redmond recalls light bulb gag for tweaking

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Remember the gag about how many Microsoft programmers it takes to change a light bulb? The answer's none: Redmond simply redefines darkness.

As a variation, try this one - how does Microsoft make Windows open source? It doesn't: it redefines free software - software that gives the user the right to change the source code, as software that doesn't give the user the right to change the source code.

In a slightly whimsical interview with ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft's Doug Miller says the company has been opening up its Windows source code, with the intention to"make this (source code) available to many hundreds of customers" Mary Jo puts the number at less than a hundred.

But it turns out, this isn't software libre at all. End users can't modify the source code, giving the statement the air of something that was dreamt up in a hurry. Microsoft has like most other major OS vendors, provided Windows source code to academic institutions for years: taking its cue from Sun Microsystems which worked academic modifications back into the old, Berkeley based SunOS successfully. But enthusiasm has waned more recently, as it did for Sun, because Microsoft increasingly viewed the exercise as a free bug fix. And lo, here's Miller expressing the hope that Microsoft customers "who find a bug... would contact Microsoft for tweaks".

Miller admits that very few customers want to see the source code - shock! - and so presumably even fewer want to find Windows bugs and pay for the privilege twice over: once for the source code license, and secondly for the company time.

And remember that not even Microsoft's biggest OEM customers and OS rivals wanted the responsibility of picking their way through the Windows source code. That suggestion was touted around the industry last spring by the AntiTrust Department as a suggested remedy against Microsoft. They received no takers. So if HP, IBM and Compaq don't want to fix Microsoft's Windows bugs, why would Marks and Spencer? ®

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