Windows 'could' go open-source, but is that a good idea? [Update]

open windows field

Today, a Wired article proposes that Microsoft could open-source Windows, quoting Azure chief technology officer Mark Russinovich who says "it's definitely possible". Well sure, anything is possible, I suppose. But it's certainly not probable.

A Microsoft spokesperson tells me the company has "not made any open-source policy or business model changes for Windows". Still, if nothing else, it does provoke thought. The ultimate question, for me, and hopefully you, is does it make sense? Is an open-source Windows a good idea?

From a security standpoint, there are two schools of thought. Some people think closed-source is more secure, as hackers and bad guys cannot see the code. While that makes sense, others feel that open-source allows the public to help identify weakness in the code, allowing for faster discovery and quashing of vulnerabilities.

I subscribe to both theories, but if the Windows source code was released tomorrow, it would be a security nightmare. Why? Since it did not start as open-source, the amount of vulnerabilities discovered would likely be crushing. It would be hard to keep up.

The closed-source nature means that only Microsoft employees get to review it. I am sure the team is talented, but not comparable to the entirety of the public.

Most importantly, however, enterprises would not likely embrace it. There are many companies that use Windows, not to mention the US government, that have contracts with Microsoft and depend on the security of Windows. Quite frankly, it could be a matter of national security. There are likely countless other roadblocks on the road to open-source Windows too.

Russinovich shares that beyond ideological roadblocks, there are technical and legal issues too, such as intellectual property concerns. He even jokes that there may be profanity in the code!

Let's not forget, however, that Microsoft is a publicly traded company, with the ultimate goal of making money. Such a move would have to make financial sense, and I don't think it does. True, Microsoft is just about to give away Windows 10 to consumers in the first year, but that supports its goal of making consumers sticky and dependent on its services, plus getting all Windows users onto the same version.

Some may say forked versions of Windows would be counter-intuitive. Or would it? If forked versions of the Windows operating system drive adoption of Office and other Microsoft solutions, then maybe it could be a good thing. With that said, however, the same could be said of delivering Office to Linux.

So, to you dear readers, I ask the question: would an open-source Windows be a good or bad thing? Sound off in the comments.


Jim Zemlin, executive director at Linux Foundation shares the following with BetaNews.

"Certainly we see a very different Microsoft today than a decade ago. They can see that open source software has become a dominant force in the industry. Microsoft is a smart company and is doing a variety of things to contribute to open source software and support its customers. 

Obviously Windows remains an important source of revenue for the company so it is particularly interesting to see them make statements like this publicly. We'll see what the future holds, but more source code out in the open under an open source license is almost always a good thing."

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