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Microsoft Opens Source Code

Microsoft will take its first step toward a true open source-like OS when it releases Windows CE 5.0 to the public July 9.

To date, the 2 million lines of the embedded OS code, version 4.2, have been available to the public as a reference guide only when developing applications for devices like clock radios, watches, etc., or to favored customers who have signed onto the Shared Source Premium program, which opens up more code and allows them to create derivative works.

The drawback, for those lucky few in the premium program, has been that they have to share that work with Microsoft, an unpalatable requirement for many companies who want to retain their competitive edges against other software makers.

John Starkweather, a product manager in Microsoft's mobile and embedded devices group, said opening up Windows CE to everyone to create applications for embedded devices is Microsoft's first foray in letting the world create applications, tinker with the code and release a product without reporting back to the company.

"If I'm OEM A and my staunchest competitor is the competitor across the pond, I don't want my competitor to know what the secret sauce is in the product," said Starkweather. "That's mine and I'm going to keep that."

That doesn't mean Microsoft is giving the code away. There is still a $3 license, or royalty, fee for every device containing Windows CE code. Also, the toolkit for developing applications runs to the tune of $995.

Microsoft has been expanding the scope of its Shared Source Initiative (SSI) for the past couple years in response to criticism that the software giant was entirely too close to the vest when it came to allowing third-party developers to create applications based on the Windows OS.

This year, the company has been championing a more transparent environment to allow those third-party developers, saying there is a great deal to learn from community involvement, which is something they learned from watching the open source movement, mainly its OS competition -- Linux.

Opening source code to interested parties is not just an exercise in community-mindedness, but rather a sound business move: Time to market and a more tightly integrated application are examples.

Starkweather said Microsoft's SSI premium customers have enjoyed a much speedier time to market with access to Windows CE code, to the tune of four months, which he said is a very quick turnaround from concept to store shelves.

When Windows CE 5.0 is available to the public in July, the company expects to boost its developer uptake beyond the 250,000 who have already downloaded the current OS. The new version will allow people to see more than 2.5 million lines of available source code -- the kernel, GUI file system, device drivers, Web server and more.

Third-party vendors and government entities, such as the National Security Agency, have contributed most of the OS minus code, according to Starkweather. He puts the total lines of code in Windows CE somewhere between 5 and 10 million.