Microsoft Should Open Source Windows?

Lora Bentley

The Wall Street Journal is calling on Microsoft to open source Windows, according to's Matt Asay. He quotes the publication as follows:

Why can't Windows be proprietary, for-profit and copy-protected -- while at the same time be open for user control and inspection? If Windows were a car, you'd never be able to open the hood and see what was underneath.

Asay likes the suggestion, arguing that open sourcing the Windows programs wouldn't be the death knell for Microsoft's business. Instead, he says, "it would give Microsoft's ecosystem more control of its fate..." On the other hand, Asay's colleague at ZDNet, Dana Blankenhorn, sums up his thoughts in this headline:

Windows will go open source when pigs fly.

I tend to agree with Blankenhorn. Windows is Microsoft's flagship product. The company has been so resistant to open source in the past, I think it would take an awful lot before its leaders would give in -- on Windows especially.


Besides, the WSJ writer is asking for code that's available for inspection, not code that users can see and change and add to and distribute. Granted, I don't have the benefit of the full WSJ piece; I am limited to Asay's brief quote. But as I understand it, code that's available for inspection and open source code are very different things.


Microsoft may well decide to make a copy-protected Windows available for inspection someday, but I can't see a true open source Windows happening any time soon.


To be fair, Microsoft has made significant progress when it comes to open source. It wasn't long ago that the company claimed Linux and other open source software violated 235 of its patents, and then used those threats to strike partnership deals with several Linux distributors. Novell, of course, is the most prominent Linux distributor to partner with Microsoft thus far.


Slowly but surely after that, however, the folks in Redmond began to admit that they needed to move to more of an "open-friendly" stance, and they took steps to make that happen. For instance, two of Microsoft's shared source licenses were approved for Open Source Initiative certification; it expanded the Open Specification Promise; and more recently, the company partnered with SpikeSource to certify open source applications for Windows Server 2008.


Microsoft will certainly work for increased interoperability between open source applications and its Windows product line -- and Windows code that's available for inspection would undoubtedly aid interoperability efforts -- but that's a far cry from actually open sourcing Windows.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jun 10, 2008 10:38 AM Bob Tapscott Bob Tapscott  says:
You are missing the point. The Wintel alliance of faster and faster chips, and slower and slower software will not be disrupted by either player. They both win, since the only answer is to buy a faster PC with what will ultimately be a slower OS. The only real hope is for IBM to open source OS/2 which is superior to every operating system that Microsoft has ever released. Reply

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