Open sourcers respond guardedly to MS overture

The open-source community responded with wary optimism on Friday to comments emanating from Microsoft that the software giant might open a portion of its Windows code if the Linux operating system continues to gain popularity.

At the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference last Wednesday, Microsoft president Steve Ballmer said that the company is beginning to realise that opening its source code could provide a "certain level of comfort" for many users, noting that Microsoft is "thinking with great interest" about the possibility of making such a move.

In response, several prominent members of the open-source community issued a letter stating that they welcome the development, but warned Microsoft that half-hearted efforts at opening the code, and ulterior motives, will not be beneficial to anyone.

"A partial release of components that won't build into functioning, usable software won't attract developers," read the letter, which was signed by Eric S. Raymond, president of the Open Source Initiative (OSI); Larry M. Augustin, president and CEO of VA Research Linux Systems; Russell Nelson, president of Crynwr Software; OSI board member L. Peter Deutsch; Perl inventor Larry Wall; and Python inventor Guido Van Rossum.

The correspondence later stated that any release of Windows that leaves integral components, such as the kernel or Windows API (application programming interface), closed "will readily be diagnosed by both developers and the Justice Department as a sham".

Despite these reservations, the response was generally optimistic, welcoming a sincere effort from Microsoft to join the open-source community.

"Truly open-sourced Windows code would be a boon to consumers and developers everywhere," the letter stated.