Show us the source, then Mr Mundie – developers

Letter to Hobbyists reaches Version 3.0

Some Microsoft updates just take longer to arrive than others. It's taken 25 years to refine Bill Gates' Open Letter to Hobbyists, and in the best tradition of second system syndrome, the follow-up is not only massively bloated, but a lot less usable than the original.

"As the majority of hobbyists must be aware, most of you steal your software. Hardware must be paid for, but software is something to share. Who cares if the people who worked on it get paid?" asked the 20-year old William H Gates III, and yesterday Microsoft VP Craig Mundie posed the question again. Only in a much more long winded way.

Now, as then, it was an attempt to grab the intellectual high ground, 'Accessibility with Reponsibility' was the title, one of those hideous and instantly forgettable phrases New Democrat/Labour [delete where applicable] politicians employ when triangulating, or stealing their opponents' clothes. It joins the 'shared source' we first heard yesterday.

Mundie's proposals were modest. No new educational licensing initiative was made. Microsoft will extend its enterprise source licensing program to 12 new countries and add a new program to license source to ISVs. CE source is already available in a limited way to IHVs, and Microsoft will extend this to academic institutions. The rest were old initiatives or, in the case of .NET, a hand wave. Mundie said .NET had been submitted to ECMA, but that involves no opening of source code at all.

If as the press release suggests, Mundie wanted to stress "that shared source is not an attempt by Microsoft to pose as an open-source company," (I think you're safe there, Craig) nor "an attack on proponents of the open-source software movement," then it failed.

He recklessly compared the GPL to the giveaway, fomenting economic instability. The GPL, you'd better know, is "a intellectual model that ... drives [the public sector of knowledge] apart". A better argument, and one that Mundie ignored almost completely, would have been that integrating consumer-friendly technology is best undertaken by individual organisations - not proven - and ceding that the computing infrastructure is well taken care of by the authentic software sharing model. But he couldn't really say that, could he?

Software libre developers lost no time in responding.

Jeremy Allison of the Samba Project made the point most succinctly in a comment at LinuxToday

"I wonder if Microsoft would share some of their source to make interoperability with Microsoft Windows 2000 domain controllers easier for Samba ? I'm eagerly waiting the first "shared source" release of that code. I wouldn't even need to change any of it - just read it :-)"

Linux kernel developer Alan Cox thought the argument was fundamentally miscast:-

"Free Software is about generating revenue from doing work the customer wants and will pay for. It recognizes that much of the software world is now commodity and that proprietary software with all its overheads is in fact not a sustainable business for commodity products," he wrote here. "'Shared Source' is a very misleading name. Sharing is a two-way process."

Microsoft really can't win here, though. The right to make money from software by "hoarding" the source code is a case that can be well made by a small software company, and not so well made by a convicted monopoly that's associated with depriving other software companies of their livelihood. ®

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