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'Shared Source' initiative fails first big test

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Microsoft's much-ballyhooed 'Shared Source' initiative appears to have failed its first big test. With a great deal of swagger, Microsoft announced a partnership with defense contractor Lockheed Martin yesterday to target US government contracts.

A perfect deal for Redmond, for who could be better than the veteran pork barrel beneficiary to grease these government deals? The two aren't exactly strangers, and what Lockheed Martin doesn't know about corporate welfare could be summarised on the back of a bus ticket. Or as the company helpfully enumerated for us in its press release yesterday:- "nearly $18 billion of Lockheed Martin's $25.3 billion in 2000 sales were to the U.S. government."

Basically, Lockheed Martin promises to read some of the latest Microsoft white papers, and gets Microsoft to pay for training its engineers up to MCSE level. With this aim, Lockheed Martin's Robert B Coutts, tells us:-

"Given the desire of federal agencies to rapidly move toward an e-commerce model, Lockheed Martin and Microsoft together can provide advanced solutions that enable multiple systems to operate seamlessly in a highly secure fashion."

Now one of the pesky side-effects of raising the issue of open source in such a dramatic way, as Craig Mundie has done recently on behalf of the Evil Empire, is that the worker bees of the news wires, whose job depends on double checking the figures in the press release before scooting off to the next assignment, now include the subject on their list of standard questions.

And so Associated Press duly reported:-

"The agreement does not give Lockheed Martin access to Microsoft's source code, the blueprint for its popular software programs. The software giant is notoriously secretive about its source code, although company executives recently said Microsoft would make its code available to some business partners."

Eek. Now who would have ever dreamed of asking such an impertinent question, if it hadn't been for Mundie's great Shared Source adventure? Not the kind of reporters who are usually ushered in to report on such routine financial deals, we suspect.

And so by raising the very issue of software "openness", Microsoft has created a kind of honesty test for its own code licensing practices, and it's going to be dogged by this until it announces that source code licenses don't matter.

Reporters are now primed - by Microsoft's own PR effort - to ask if source code has been "shared". If it hasn't, then the deal is going to be reported as a kind of Lavender Wedding (that's a staged affair where one of the partners is a homosexual) in which no body fluids (or source code) have been exchanged.

Alas we can't help reminding ourselves of our first reaction when Mundie took the stage, which is that Microsoft simply took aim at the wrong end of the Linux phenomenon. There's plenty to criticise about the limitations of the bazaar development model, and plenty of situations that Microsoft can reasonably argue that having one company calling the shots makes for a smoother relationship. But by raising means, not ends, Microsoft has picked the weakest possible position from which to make its case. And it has to be said, even our friends who depend on the company for their livelihoods, don't particularly want it to be likeable or even ethical. Just so long as it works. Source licenses, for Microsoft, are proving to be an itch it shouldn't but couldn't help scratching. ®

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