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Opening Windows: Is Microsoft really embracing open source?

Date: April 15, 2015 Author: Stephan Buys Category: Article Technology Tags: , Comments: 0

Opening Windows: Is Microsoft really embracing open source?
When Microsoft engineer Mark Russinovich reportedly declared the suggestion of Windows going open source as "definitely possible", you may have glanced at the calendar and dismissed it as an April Fool's joke. However, the comments - made at this year's ChefConf in California - are causing a buzz in the tech world. So could it be true? And if so, what does it mean for the average Windows user?

First, a quick explanation of what we're talking about: There are two main types of operating systems - closed source and open source. Windows is currently closed source, meaning that the code is kept secret and only Microsoft can modify and update it. Linux, on the other hand, is open source - meaning that all its code is free and open to the public, and anyone can tinker with it and make their own, custom version.

The war of open source versus closed source has been raging for many years, with plenty of heated language exchanged on both sides. Open source evangelists maintain that the wisdom of the crowd creates better, more stable software. Microsoft, on the other hand, has for many years been quite clear in viewing closed source as essential to its profits and business model. Former Windows bosses have previously described open source as an "intellectual property destroyer", and even gone as far as describing Linux as "a cancer". Strong words indeed.

That's why making Windows open source would be such a revolution. However, looking at Microsoft's recent activity, perhaps people shouldn't be so surprised. Windows 10 is, after all, being offered as a free update, and its .Net framework was made open source last year.

For many observers, going open source may appear to be a kind of surrender to the software pirates - the scourge of Microsoft for so many years. However, open source doesn't mean free computing. Products such as online storage, IT support services and cloud-based apps continue to be things that users will need - and will pay for - even if they don't have to pay for the operating system itself.

Russinovich was reported as saying "it's a new Microsoft". The official line from the company, however, is that they "have not made any open-source policy or business model changes for Windows". Time will tell whether Windows will be opened.

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