Late last week, Microsoft notified its internal and external support organizations that approximately 1000 of its biggest customers will gain access to the source code for Windows so they can find bugs, write more efficient software, and gain a general understanding of how the OS works. Microsoft is extending the offer to customers with more than 1500 inhouse Windows licenses who hold Microsoft Enterprise Agreement or Upgrade Advantage volume licenses. Previously, Microsoft gave code access--on a case-by-case basis--only to select customers, such as PC makers and financial and academic institutions. This expansion of the program comes in the face of the open-source software threat, in which platforms such as Linux come with full source-code access. Windows, conversely, is a closed, proprietary system.
Microsoft is offering read-only access to the source code for Windows 2000 (all client and server versions), Windows XP, and all associated service packs. Microsoft says that the source code's availability will help only those companies with the engineering resources to understand it: Windows is a complex system with tens of millions of lines of source code. Many companies, when asked about the source code, actually declined because they wouldn't derive any business benefit from the experience. But enough corporations were interested that Microsoft expanded the program. Customers who do get the source code won't be able to modify it in any way, and they won't be able to create differing versions of the OS. They can, however, report bugs directly to Microsoft.
Certain circles see the opening of the Windows source code as inevitable. Open-source partisans have long called on Microsoft to make its OSs and applications more open, citing quick turnaround for bug reporting and security fixes. Whether Microsoft expands this program further depends on the market. If Windows continues to lose ground to Linux, for example, it wouldn't be surprising to see a dramatic shift in Redmond regarding source code, which is currently viewed as the company's crown jewels.