Microsoft Ponders Full Reuse License for CE, Rotor Work

Microsoft licensing execs may soon allow developers to truly profit from the work they do cleaning up and improving Microsoft's CE and Rotor code, the head of Microsoft's Shared Source program Jason Matusow told Integration Developer News. Learn how you might profit from Microsoft's plan to launch a "non-commercial derivative license" program for CE and Rotor.

Tags: License, Windows, Developers, Open Source, Shared Source, Microsoft, Matusow,

Microsoft licensing execs may soon allow developers to truly profit from the work they do cleaning up and improving Microsoft's CE and Rotor code, the head of Microsoft's Shared Source program Jason Matusow told Integration Developer News.

Currently, CE and Rotor developers can view, debug, modify, distribute -- but not commercialize -- their value-add modifications, Matusow said. That is called a "non-commercial derivative license," in Microsoft parlance. "Today, we are working on defining terms for a 'full commercial derivative license' for Rotor and CE developers," Matusow said. "We would like to start having some of our Shared Source code base under a commercial derivative license so that a developer could change the code -- even just re-write one bit, put his name on it, and sell it."

The new licensing, Matusow admitted, would be another approach toward seeding the market. But, he added that new technologies need many approaches to help them grow. "We have already given C#, and CLI [Common Language Interface] to the ECMA standards body, so we are relinquishing control of that technology to the standards body," he said. "New licensing would be another approach. We want to see an interesting technology grow, and so [with Rotor and CE] we want to put it out there [to the developer community] under commercial licensing and let a thousand flowers bloom."

Matusow also told OET about the Shared Source movement throughout Microsoft. "Many many product groups at Microsoft are now looking at how they should assess their code base, and the need to make some of that available to developers. For example, we will put out a Shared Source program for the Windows Media Player." But many other groups at Microsoft have Shared Source questions on their near-term agenda, Matusow said.

"The SQL Server team will go through a different decision process from the Rotor team, the [Microsoft] Money team and the Windows team. They will all have to look at their constituency and figure it out how source code access will be applicable," he said. "For instance, if I gave you access to source code for PowerPoint, would it help you? And, if it would, how would I share it?"

Giving ISVs Windows Source Access?
The momentum for Shared Source is even prompting very private and discrete discussions within Microsoft on how to make Windows source more available. Today, Windows developers have access to Source for reference only. No modification is permitted, and there is no Shared Source Windows license for ISV. Finding a way to license Windows to ISVs "is something we're looking at, and it's something we want to do," Matusow told OET. "But it's very complex. In fact, it is our most complex problem to solve -- how to license Windows to the ISV community." One of the big reasons a Windows licensing program is so difficult to come up with, Matusow said, is the sheer size of the program --100 million lines in Windows XP, for example.

[Word that Microsoft is looking for better ways to license Windows comes as the company announced it would release more than 370 APIs and 113 communications' protocols under the Department of Justice consent decree.]

Matusow gave no timetable for any new Windows, CE and/or Rotor licensing, but said his Shared Source group was already in talks with the technology groups that run those programs at Microsoft.

Matusow also told OET that the concepts of Shared Source reflect a "movement to the middle" between totally proprietary and totally "open and free" software, and that the flavor of Microsoft's Shared Source program in some ways was based on lessons learned from watching the Open Source community. He also said that in the course of the last year or so, more groups at Microsoft are assessing how much and in what manner they can make their source code available to developers, system integrators and ISVs.

More Matusow "Points of Interest" on Shared Source
In our wide-ranging interview, Matusow commented on a number of aspects of how developers engage with Microsoft, and the ongoing concern among Open Source developers that 'Shared Source' is a half-measure, and that Microsoft needs to be even more open. Here are some notable highlights.

On Microsoft's view on "source access"…
We have learned about how to engage developers more from Open Source as a model for access. But, at the same time, we are a commercial software company. We're about selling software, and we have to have that affect the way we think about our IP [Intellectual Property} assets and we work with our code base and make decisions on what to make available and how.

On other software firms' views on "source access"….
Look at IBM, Sun, Intel, Oracle -- any of the major long-term software houses. They are all making the same assessment that source needs to be more available. Now, the marketing for each company will always be different. Some are going to wrap their cloak around the message "We're an Open Source company." But is IBM an Open Source company? Clearly they are supporting a lot of Open Source technologies, but IBM is not going to "open source DB2 or Notes or Websphere -- those software packages that are large revenue generators.

On end user benefits of shared source (for Windows)….
Unisys is building hardware abstraction layers (HALs) based on Windows source access to be able to understand the nature of the interaction between hardware and software. At the level they are working on kernel, they don't have access without the Shared Source program. Others like Proctor and Gamble, UBS, Avanade, are all Microsoft source licensees of the Windows product. While I can't give the name of the firm, there is also a large financial institution that had created a custom built trading application, and their developers were concerned about how it interacted with the encrypted file system and the device drivers that were needed on laptops to pre-deploy them. They were able to do better pre-deployment engineering and security audit of the encrypted file system because they had source access.

On who licenses Windows…
All told, Matusow said there are 150 organizations that license Windows source code today, and the licensees break out into four segments: enterprise customers (with 15,000 Windows seats or more), academics, OEMs (PC and hardware makers), and system integrators.

We put out the enterprise source license program more than a year ago, running a year before that in beta. It was eligible to 1700 enterprise companies in 32 countries, and so far we've had about 50 of them sign up. We had conversations with some 500-600 eligible companies and found out most didn't want the [Windows] source. Their CIOs would tell us, "I don't want your source code because I don't want my guys wasting time, feeling excited about Windows code, I need to have them working on the project I have them working on." Or, they would tell us, "I build cars. I make shoes. I make pharmaceuticals. But I want my system integrator to have it." Until that research, Microsoft had no SI program, nor had they planned on having one, Matusow said. Now, there is such a program and the top 150 SI firms are eligible. (Compaq and Avanade are the first two.)

On developer interest in Open Source….
Developers are not religious in nature, generally. I think you would find 95 percent of LinuxWorld attendees for example, are attracted to cool technology. I don't think many of them care if it was invented by ABC Co. They're just very interested in what [features] makes the technology cool.

But there comes a point that some technologies get so cool, there is a commercial viability that comes around. Then, people who are investing in that will want a serious return on that investment, so there will be pressure to productize it, and that's a healthy thing. That's what keeps interest and investment in the future of that technology healthy. We're in a system that rewards innovation and you reward that innovation through revenues generated. Yes, the developer wants utility, but there are also investment banks, private R&D, and government R&D that also want a return.

On commercial Linux, Open Source vendors…
RedHat, SuSe, VA Software and Ximian represent the latest category in Open Source vendor. Their whole point is: "I'm going to start from an Open Source technology base, but I also see there is a lot to be said for selling commercial software, and I'm going to try to marry those two worlds together. And I think they learned to make that mix from watching what happened to the dot-com companies. Is Red Hat giving away Linux or are they selling services? Is it a bait-and-switch? I don't think so. They are offering value as a vendor.

When the dot com boom was really flying, many had this attitude: "I am 100 percent Open Source, and I am going completely on a 'loss leader' model." Their idea was to generate a lot of interest and a big community and then monitize that later. Many didn't know just how they would, but build the community first. That was one of the main problems with the dot com boom: Companies gave away their most valuable asset at no cost and then later tried to get people to pay for it. Those companies are all quickly disappearing.