Microsoft will Open Source Windows (or die!)

I have said on a number of occasions that Microsoft should Open Source their Windows Operating System (and their Internet Explorer).

However, it bears repeating.

I realise it is unlikely to happen in the near term but, I firmly believe it will happen in the not-too-distant future (when Microsoft realises that they can’t compete with Open Source).

If you take it simply from a numbers perspective, Microsoft has 70,000 employees. If we say 40,000 are actively programming code for Microsoft (the rest being admin, management, marketing, etc.) then you are looking at a maximum of 10,000 who would have contributed to the development of Vista, Microsoft’s current Windows incarnation. I suspect the number is lower.

Vista is estimated to have cost Microsoft $10 billion and six years to develop and they still shipped a fairly shoddy product.

Presumably Microsoft will want to re-coup that investment before it even thinks about Open Sourcing Windows.

Compare that with the various Linux distros. It is estimated that around 100,000 people have contributed to Linux’ development! I recently installed Ubuntu on my laptop and it simply blows Vista away in terms of performance and reliability.

Why are Ubuntu and the other Linux distros so good?
Lots of reasons but a few jump out:

  1. With open source development, you are getting the “Wisdom of Crowds” – the more people involved in the development, the better the end-result
  2. Open-source development is peer reviewed so bugs are caught earlier in the process and any which make it into a release are fixed quickly
  3. In open source projects the code is written by people who self-select for jobs they have an interest/skillset in
  4. Feel free to add more in the comments!

The upsides for Microsoft of open sourcing Windows are myriad, for example:

  1. If/when Microsoft open source Windows, their Windows piracy concerns will suddenly disappear
  2. Microsoft drastically improves its reputation as an anti-competitive bullying monopolist
  3. The next operating system they write would cost a fraction of the $10bn spent on Vista and would be much higher quality

The economics of Open Source are counter-intuitive. IBM spends around $100m a year on Linux development. If the entire Linux community puts in $1 billion worth of effort and even half of that is useful to IBM’s customers, then IBM gets $500m of development for $100m worth of expenditure.

If Microsoft could, in one fell swoop, get rid of their Windows piracy concerns, write better quality software, improve their corporate image, and radically reduce their development costs, do you think they would do it?

15 thoughts on “Microsoft will Open Source Windows (or die!)”

  1. I’d say the speed at which new features can be brought to the platform is a major advantage on the side of Linux. Also, given the extent to which open source apps have been made cross platform I think diversity in user platforms is handled much better.

  2. It’s a good idea in theory, but sure Windows is a big money earner of Gates and his band of merry Redmond men?

    Could Microsoft survive on it’s ancillary products alone?

  3. “The next operating system they write would cost a fraction of the $10bn spent on Vista and would be much higher quality”.

    I think it all pivots on whether MS understand the ecosystems surrounding successful free and opensource projects such as Ubuntu. I think they’re only beginning to demonstrate this understanding with projects such as IronRuby. Creating such an ecosystem is essential to fostering the support of individuals talented enough to make this happen. I think turning the MS behemoth away from a closed model towards the free world will be a monumental task, and one that if fumbled would be devastating.

  4. Why would MS do opensource? Surely there is more profit in selling something as opposed to giving it away for free.

  5. It’s an attractive theory but IBM’s big culture shifts came on the back knowing what it meant to lose, big time. I question whether an organisation that doesn’t know what it’s like at a deep experiential level to have power on a vast scale (and they weren’t called Big Blue for nothing) taken away from it in a seismic way is capable of really embracing a model based on the giving of gifts. The dominant culture at MS would have to be turned upside down for that to happen, however much it might seem to those of us on the outside to be a beneficial, essential move.

  6. Tom – you seem to constantly forget that MS sell to large non-tech corporations. These large corporations don’t want opensource nor do they care for it. They want “a complete solution” provided to them by another corporation who are responsible for that solution should it all go wrong, in return they pay good money for it.

    It’s a different world for consumers. Totally different. The stakes in this world change. Eitherway – MS will survive on corporates.

  7. Open Source or die?
    Microsoft would rather die… As much of a great movement Open source is – by my understanding, it is purely based on freedom!

    Apple was born from an Open source society but soon Steve was no longer such a nice “player” because money and ‘hacker freedom’ are not really good for business.


    “If Microsoft could, in one fell swoop, get rid of their Windows piracy concerns, write better quality software, improve their corporate image, and radically reduce their development costs, do you think they would do it?”


    They would rather “try” to handle piracy than substitute it with “free windows” at least they still manage to sell something (several million copies) because as long as the most consumers are concerned “MS – windows + it’s products” is the only way to get things done on the computer and as for the software brakes, “it’s because of those bloody hacker” (bad code – does not even cross their minds) Microsoft is well branded and people are very brand loyal – in that order.

    The software quality would improve dramatically if they when Open and the speed at which security can be upgraded would also be sweet… Not to mention there could be less malicious software making a dummy out of the platform 🙂

    If they go “Open” it would be sweet, but from a business point of view I suppose that would be the equivalent of death for MS.

  8. Read somewhere that I’d trust that Oracle (similar Corporation to Microsoft) has only 1 in 8 employees developing software. Even being conservative and doubling the numbers, that leaves under 20,000 developers for *all* for Microsoft products (knowing Micosoft’s product range, my best guess would be only a third of these actively worked on Vista). That works out at 7,000 full time people.

    To discount the ‘100,000 developing Linux’ (and having contributed to open source myself’) I would guess that most of this number were one-off contributions. If we take a 1/10th as hard core developers, we’re left with 10,000 hard core Linux contributors.

    So, the numbers are not that much different. But I bet on a group of committed volunteers over a bunch of (mainly time serving) employees any day!

  9. That’s a fair point Paul and I’m not about to argue the numbers as they were wild speculation but I think we both agree that programmers who self-select (your committed volunteers) are far more likely to produce a quality product than time serving employees!

  10. “With open source development, you are getting the “Wisdom of Crowds” – the more people involved in the development, the better the end-result”
    Read the Mythical Man Month

  11. @Jaime: “Open Source” does not mean it’s free, it just means that the source code is available to view. You may still have to buy it before you can do so though. 🙂

  12. I say they should make it free, and anyone should be able to customize it and redistribute it. When Microsoft should do after making it open source is sell support – maybe make a deal with the computer companies, then they should also get the companies shipping the OS to include some really nice programs and charge a fee, eg. MS Office or something. Then they are making good money, the OS is open source and everyone is happy 😉

  13. Here are a few reasons why Windows may not open source their product.

    They want control. They want control, that’s plain and simple. Why do you think they made WGA?

    They want profit. Plain and simple. Even if they did go O-S they would charge up the ass for it. If they cannot move it for a hefty fee as an Open Source product, they are afraid that their profits will tank. But don’t worry, they’ll use Xbox and Zune profits to make up for it like they always have.

    They want to control the quality of 3rd party content. Only the people who support Microsoft by selling products on their line of Operating systems (adobe, etc) will get to see the Microsoft code. They want themselves (and whomever gives them money) to be the best developers on their system. That’s why they don’t want people digging around in their code.

    -continuing with the last paragraph, why do you think their windows phone 7 code is so locked down and integrated? They don’t want other developers making better plugins and software for it. They want themselves to be their best developer.

    Open Source developers might make too many changes. They want to control all the changes. They want to keep control of it by keeping the way their lame-ass kernal (NT) is.

    Other people will distribute copies. No, I don’t mean free versions of Windows. If windows open-sources their product, they are pretty much giving away the rights to their code by placing it under the GPL license (should it truly be open source). This means someone can change the UI or DLL extention and then release a complete OS for themselves. Other Open source communities will get access to code that will improve their own products better (ReactOS, Wine).

    The only reasons I think Windows would go Open Source would be Microsoft saying, “We surrender”. But as long as they have 90% share, and they can keep abusing it like they always have, we will never see this happen.

    Here’s an open source advantage now.
    NO BACK DOORS, or complicated patches. You can do anything you want, copy it to as many computers as you want, patch it to all hell without needing holes, hack it as much as you want, customize it, AND IT’S ALL LEGAL.

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