Accessibility with Responsibility
May 03, 2001
Senior Vice President Craig Mundie this week outlined Microsoft's "shared-source" philosophy, which aims to provide greater customer access to source code while also protecting the company's intellectual property.

NEW YORK, May 3, 2001 — Microsoft is taking steps to give customers, partners and developers greater access to its source code -- the core building blocks of Windows and other software products -- while safeguarding the intellectual property that will allow it to remain innovative and successful, a top Microsoft executive said today in a speech at New York Universitys Stern School of Business.

Craig Mundie, senior vice president of advanced strategies at Microsoft, said the company is following a "shared-source" philosophy to significantly expand its source licensing programs.

The commercial software model involves establishing a strong developer community, supporting industry standards and participating in the standards process, and pursuing a business model that promotes profitability, Mundie said. It also entails significant investments in research and development that continually drive future innovation, and establishing a licensing model that provides product and source code without jeopardizing valuable intellectual property rights.

Within this model, shared source is a framework for helping customers, partners and developers understand the spectrum of options available for licensing Microsoft source code. While the company has offered various source-licensing programs for a number of years, Mundie said shared source represents an effort by Microsoft to fully address its stance on source-code sharing in relation to the open-source software movement.

As part of its shared-source approach, Microsoft is expanding several programs that license source code to academic institutions, government agencies, corporations and the development community. In addition, the company is extending these programs to offer coverage internationally.

Mundie identified several examples of shared-source programs already under way at Microsoft:

  • Research Source Licensing: For nearly a decade Microsoft Research has licensed Windows source code to universities for research and educational purposes. More than 100 academic institutions in 23 countries have Windows source code.

  • Enterprise Source Licensing Program (ESLP): Source code for Windows 2000 and subsequent releases of Windows is available for licensing at no charge to over 1,000 enterprise customers in the United States. Mundie announced a pilot program expanding the ESLP to 12 additional countries.

  • OEM Source Licensing: Windows source code has been licensed for years to leading hardware manufacturers (OEMs, or original equipment manufacturers) to assist in the development and support of their consumer and server products.

  • Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN): Over the years Microsoft has made millions of lines of source code freely available to developers through resources such as software developer kits, driver development kits, and MSDN.

  • Windows CE source code access: Microsoft is licensing Windows CE source code through Platform Builder 3.0 (generally available to all developers), and will offer academic site licenses for CE source code this year. Microsoft has also announced an expanded level of CE source access to leading silicon vendor partners via the Windows Embedded Strategic Silicon Alliance program, and to leading system integrator partners via the Innovation Alliance Program.

Besides unveiling details of shared source, Mundies speech explored why the commercial software model -- with its attendant respect for intellectual property rights -- will continue to be the foundation for innovation and the engine for economic growth. He noted that this model has made it possible for Microsoft and other companies involved in the personal information technology revolution of the past two decades "to raise capital, invest in research and development, take risks and focus on long-term success."

In contrast, Mundie pointed to the legions of companies that have struggled or failed in recent months because they "gave away their content -- the very thing they produced that was of greatest value -- in the hope that somehow they would make money from advertising or subscriptions or a wing and a prayer."

Although the shared-source philosophy embraces some of the more positive elements of the Open Source Software (OSS) movement, Mundie said Microsoft remains committed to pursuing the commercial software model to support a strong software business.

"We have been listening to our customers and studying the OSS model," he said. "There are elements to OSS that are good for our customers and partners, such as its fostering of the development community, improved feedback loops and augmented debugging.

"But there also are elements to be avoided" in the OSS model, said Mundie, "such as a strong possibility of unhealthy forking, interoperability concerns and significant licensing issues." Forking is when the code base for a piece of software splits into separate directions, essentially becoming two or more different pieces of software.

There are risks involved in building a business model on open-source software, Mundie said. For example, the GNU General Public License (GPL) under which some open-source software is distributed "fundamentally undermines" the commercial software model because it compromises intellectual property protection.

If software companies are unable to make money from their innovations, then reinvest that revenue in research and development, "their business model just isnt viable," he added.

The GPLs viral nature poses a threat to the intellectual property of any organization that derives its products from GPL source, Mundie said.

Mundie noted that Microsofts shared-source approach -- like the open-source model -- provides opportunities for researchers, customers and outside developers to examine Microsoft source code and help the company improve it. However, he added, maintaining control over its source code is crucial -- not only for Microsofts long-term profitability, but also for preserving the stability, compatibility and security of its software for customers.

Mundie stressed that shared source is not an attempt by Microsoft to pose as an open-source company, or an attack on proponents of the open-source software movement. Rather, he said, Microsoft is trying to foster an intellectual model that encourages commercial software companies to interact with the public, and allows them to contribute to open technology standards without losing their creative assets.

"It means keeping the commercial model but adapting it to the needs of the next generation of personal information technology, as we are doing with .NET," Mundie said, referring to the XML Web services platform Microsoft will use to link applications, services and devices. "It also means sharing knowledge, through source code and broader interaction with others in the technology community, while respecting the importance of intellectual property rights.

"If we combine these approaches in the right doses," he said, "there is cause for great optimism about the economic road ahead."

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