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What if Microsoft released Windows as Open Source?

Date/Time Permalink: 09/26/06 03:23:09 pm
Category: General

It has been announced that Windows Vista will be a WGA-pumped machine. In this article, I just loved how they refer to "non-genuine customers" - a charming name for what you and I call "thieves". One wonders why go to all this trouble - simpler solutions present themselves. Red Hat, Novell, and Xandros have shown the way.

Let's open it for discussion: pick a still-somewhat restricted open source - not free software - license. Say that the Windows source code could be freely distributed and modified, but binary copies of Windows were still taboo to trade hands except by buying them through Microsoft. What would that really do to Microsoft's profits?

Well, the pirate market, which has proven itself unstoppable, would simply switch to source distributing. I'm sure that it's still easier to compile a tarball than it is to crack copy-protection, particularly when cracking cripples functionality in many cases. Since Microsoft got no money from them, they're no loss - in fact they're a gain, since Microsoft doesn't have to spend so much time chasing them any more.

98% of its customer base would go on as before, blissfully unaware of what had changed. After all, I'm constantly having it thrown in my face that Joe Sixpack won't switch to Linux because he isn't 'leet enough; well, I guess that rules out Joe for running compiles of Windows source, too, wouldn't it? All I hear is how granny can't use Linux because she wants to just plug in her printer and make it play; granny's copy of Microsoft Visual C++ Studio is safely gathering dust on the shelf, then.

So, what is to be gained?

Microsoft gains a ton of free labor. With a whole software community doing it's own bug-fixes, Microsoft need never worry about a patch again. They can simply accept patches from the open source community and redistribute them, or just let the community trade patches themselves, if they wanted to. Give that this Washington Post figure of a virgin Windows XP install running to 987 MB and with full released patches installed on the system it would grow to 2.43 GB, I figure that means Microsoft would be getting about three-fifths of it's development for free - and the hardest three-fifths at that. All they have to do is release on time, then sit back and party.

Users who need Microsoft for work but constantly complain about its security and bugs can be told "Shut up and fix it yourself.", or can at least trade the fixes amongst themselves. Which they will only be to happy to do.

Microsoft's legal troubles world-wide vanish. With an open-source version freely available for download, they can move with impunity and never fear an anti-trust lawsuit again. They can roll the legal budget into R and D.

The bad press against them trickles to a tiny drip. Look what opening the source base did for Sun's Solaris. Look at how old tech companies like IBM suddenly get a halo when they move into the open source neighborhood Look at the free word-of-mouth open source software gets from it's loyal fans - we aren't called 'zealots' for nothing!

And to close the argument, MS code has been leaked before. The sky did not fall on their head because of it.

So, why doesn't Microsoft release open source? What could possibly be the downside?

UPDATE: 3/16/08 Another view on this subject by Sam Varghese of ITWire. It only took 1 1/2 years for somebody to ask this question again!

UPDATE: 1/30/09 I said it first, but Daniweb says it again

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