On Tuesday, Microsoft announced the availability of over 1 million lines of Windows and .NET source code to universities and other academic organizations as part of the company's Shared Source initiative. Microsoft expects the code to be a valuable addition to computer science curriculums, though it's unclear how the company can hope to quell the uprising of support in such places for the open source Linux operating system, which makes all of its underlying source code available for free. Academia is one market that Linux is quickly dominating, thanks to its openness and free cost. But Microsoft says that its technology is more pervasive in the workforce and thus provides students and professors with real-world experience.
"The academic community plays a critical role in the software ecosystem as the launching pad for the next generation of developers," said Eric Rudder, the senior vice president of the Developer Platform and Evangelism Division at Microsoft. "Academia has delivered many breakthrough innovations through pure research. With the Shared Source ... implementation, we hope to see great innovation around .NET technology."
Unlike Linux, however, the code released under the Microsoft Shared Source initiative cannot be rolled back into custom versions of Windows or .NET. Instead, Microsoft is providing select source code that will run on Windows XP and FreeBSD, a Linux-like open source solution, that lets students examine the .NET Common Language Infrastructure (CLI) and C# programming language under the hood. Students can make modifications to the code and see how that affects things, but they must agree not to use the code for any commercial purposes.
As an added incentive, Microsoft has launched various initiatives aimed at getting the academic community back into the Microsoft fold. Schools that sign up for the Shared Source program are given free or low-priced software, and of course students have always been able to purchase software at a steep discount.