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Microsoft Bares CE Source to OEMs

Aiming to make its Windows CE operating system more attractive to device manufacturers, Microsoft late Wednesday debuted the Windows CE Shared Source Premium Licensing Program (CEP).

CEP, a program under Microsoft's Shared Source Initiative, qualified OEMs, silicon vendors and systems integrators will have full access to the Windows CE source code, and will additionally have the right to modify that code and commercially distribute those modifications in devices.

Premium source code access is vital to enabling our long-standing optimization efforts around Windows CE .NET on the ARM architecture," said Mike Muller, chief technology officer at ARM, one of the companies that embraced the new program. "The results enabled by this program directly translate into competitive advantage delivered to the entire ARM partnership. Premium source access, along with out on-site people in Redmond, has increased the effectiveness of our collaboration efforts."

The company already licenses the CE source code to academics and researchers, but the program announced Wednesday is the first time Microsoft has opened the code up to third-party modification. A number of companies have already leapt on the program, including ARM, BSQUARE, Hitachi, Mitsubishi Electric, MIPS Technologies and Samsung Electronics.

"Having the rights to modify the Windows CE .NET source code allows us to bring optimized and differentiated devices to market quickly," said Shigeru Matsuoka, general manager of the Mobile Information & Communication Appliance Division, Ubiquitous Platform Systems, at Hitachi.

Microsoft said CEP also includes a customer feedback program, which allows customers to give Microsoft guidance on future development of Windows CE -- a program which somewhat resembles the more wide open collaboration in the open source community.

The company has already created a similar program for its Passport digital identity service, and has even taken steps to open up some of its Windows source code to certain customers, partners, developers and academics.

"Microsoft is definitely making a push to "open" their technologies," said Ronald Schmelzer, founder and senior analyst of research firm ZapThink. "It's not clear how far this will go, but there are indications that various different market sectors are demanding that Microsoft open up their technologies so that buyers won't feel locked in to the Microsoft solution. In particular, the US government is one of those forces demanding those changes -- and not from a Department of Justice perspective, but rather as a customer of Microsoft's."

Still, Schmelzer said it is a mistake to confuse Microsoft's Shared Source Initiative with open source.

"These notions are totally different," he said. "Microsoft is just giving us a cursory peek under their kimonos in order to give comfort to customers, but by no means are they intending to share development of their offerings with others. That's the potent notion in open source: community development. I don't think Microsoft will ever go there as it simply is not in their (and some would argue their customers') best interest."