Special report:Can Windows and Linux peacefully co-exist?
Third in a series.
Microsoft has slowly broadened the scope of its Shared Source Initiative since the program was launched several years ago, but only a tiny percentage of the company's enterprise customers who are eligible to view the code actually elect to do so.
Jason Matusow, manager of Microsoft's Shared Source Initiative, said there are more than 1,500 enterprises eligible to view the source code, but only 40 of them have signed up for the program, which is free. "The reality is, we've had conversations with over 1,000 customers, and they say, 'thank you for the offer,'" Matusow said. "[They say] 'I want you to do [this work], but we like knowing that the code is there if we need it.'"
Analysts are hardly surprised that so few customers take advantage of viewing Windows source code. "Why do you buy commercial software anyway?" said Al Gillen, research director of system software at International Data Corp., in Framingham, Mass. "Do you want to take your car apart to find out why the engine doesn't get more miles per gallon?"
Code review a distraction from core businesses
It is true that having the source code can help customers improve on some functions. Matusow
"We do development work, but we stop at the API level of the operating system," said Frank Hood, vice president of operations at Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc., in Winston-Salem, N.C. "Our business is making doughnuts."
Matusow said Microsoft focuses on four areas when it decided what code to offer customers: support for existing customers, opportunities for new development, educational opportunities and research and partner opportunities.
By using the code, customers might ideally develop better custom applications, improve their internal troubleshooting, self-support and security audits. "Having source code isn't a panacea, but if you are building a custom application on top of Windows and you need to look at that interface, it can be beneficial," Matusow said.
Just 1% tweak the code
In a Microsoft survey of its customers, 60% to 70% of respondents said it is critical to access source code, but fewer than 5% said they would actually look at the code, and only 1% would modify it. The fact that customers can see the code increases their trust, and they derive comfort knowing that third-party companies they lean on for services can see the code, Matusow said.
When a customer becomes a code licensee, they don't get everything -- because Microsoft doesn't release everything. It holds back all third-party code that is part of the software, as well as certain "high-value" intellectual property that it chooses not to share, Matusow said. The activation feature in Windows is one example of code that is withheld. There is also some cryptographic code that is held back due to export restrictions of the U.S. government.