Microsoft Goes Open Access; When Will It Go Open Source?

from the just-a-matter-of-time dept

Even though Microsoft is no longer the dominant player or pacesetter in the computer industry — those roles are shared by Google and Apple these days — it still does interesting work through its Microsoft Research arm. Here’s some welcome news from the latter: it’s moving to open access for its researchers’ publications.

In a recent interview with Scientific American, Peter Lee, head of Microsoft Research, discussed three main motivations for basic research at Microsoft. The first relates to an aspiration to advance human knowledge, the second derives from a culture that relies deeply on the ambitions of individual researchers, and the last concerns “promoting open publication of all research results and encouraging deep collaborations with academic researchers.”

It is in keeping with this third motivation that Microsoft Research recently committed to an Open Access policy for our researchers’ publications.

The new open access policy provides some background for the move:

Microsoft Research is committed to disseminating the fruits of its research and scholarship as widely as possible because we recognize the benefits that accrue to scholarly enterprises from such wide dissemination, including more thorough review, consideration and critique, and general increase in scientific, scholarly and critical knowledge.

Of course, that’s hardly an original insight. It’s been known for many years that opening up in order to allow others to review, critique and build upon your work is far more efficient for everyone than locking it up and preventing all those things. It’s the basis of all science, for example. And closer to home for Microsoft, the benefits of opening up software have been evident for decades — ever since Richard Stallman launched his GNU’s Not Unix project, based on sharing and collaboration.

Given the fact that Microsoft Research evidently gets this, the interesting question is whether the main Microsoft management ever will. After all, the longer it holds out against releasing its main products as open source, the longer it deprives itself of all the advantages that Microsoft Research is now embracing.

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Comments on “Microsoft Goes Open Access; When Will It Go Open Source?”

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37 Comments
alternatives()says:

The source is open

but not to you.

Select governments get access and if you are a very large customer you can get access as I understand.

On occasion claims are made that ‘the bad-guy hackers’ have code for certain specific releases but that sounds like the 2011 vintage claims that the NSA has access to all kinds of citizen data.

DannyBsays:

Re: Re: The source is open

Yes, select governments, like China, can get access to Windows source code.

Remember the DOJ vs Microsoft antitrust case? Microsoft (Jim Alchin) testified that Windows 98 is inherently insecure. (gee, why didn’t you tell people that before they bought it?) And revealing the source code would compromise national security.

Yet Microsoft was making a big deal that some select companies and governments could get access to the source code “under glass”. That is, you can see it, but you cannot touch it. And China was one of them.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: The source is open

If you think that the bad guys DON’T have access to it, then you are clueless, uninformed, naive, and very, very stupid.

Of course they do. Microsoft’s source code is spread around so many government agencies and large corporations that it i absolutely impossible for it NOT to be in the hands of the bad guys. Whether they hacked in to get it, or bought it from insiders with access, or picked it up from an accidental leak are all interesting possibilities…but the fact is yes, they have it, they’ve had for years, and they’re almost certainly getting near-real-time updates of it.

Keep in mind this is a company which has spent its entire existence demonstrating that it is profoundly clueless about security. (And provided another example just recently: http://www.cyberwarnews.info/2014/01/12/microsoft-no-idea-what-to-do-after-breached-by-syrian-electronic-army/) Expecting them to keep source code secret is like expecting your pet hamster to solve a differential equation.

Anonymoussays:

Look at it from a management perspective…
Open access does not change their ability to control development or patent and control use of developments.
Open source means giving up a lot of their ability to direct development, and does not work well with the use of patents. It also means giving up control over the use of what has been developed.
Therefore from a management perspective, open access publishing gives the appearance of co-operation without actually giving up any control. Open source requires giving up a large amount of control, and possibly losing out to a community that does a better job.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re:

If MS were go open source I would suggest they look at Red Hat and SUSE for working business models. What these two do is have an enterprise edition and a supported community (free) edition. The enterprise edition has paid long term support and is conservative trading more stability for new features. The community editions tend to have newer features at some small risk of stability. Here both get the insight of outsiders and a vibrant community of users from the free version to help develop the enterprise edition.

The switch will require a cultural shift within MS for it work. This is the real problem; what is management willing to surrender.

mattshowsays:

Re: Re:

Open source means giving up a lot of their ability to direct development, and does not work well with the use of patents.

I don’t understand your argument with respect to patents. To get a patent you’re supposed to fully reveal all the information necessary to implement the invention in the patent application. An open source implementation of a patented invention shouldn’t be revealing anything new – all that information should have been in the application anyway.

I suppose if you open sourced your code and it contained inventions that you later decided to patent, that could be problematic. But that doesn’t mean code can’t be open sourced, it just means you need to get your patent applications in first.

Open sourcing code (and adopting open access policies for publications) can have some beneficial effects when it comes to patents. It can be a useful way to protect your inventions that you don’t feel like patenting but you don’t want anyone else patenting either. It opens up the argument that any potential inventions contained in the code or in the journal are now known to the public. This makes it easier to cry “prior art!” if some other party tries to get a patent on the same thing (or if they do slip the patent by the USPTO, it makes it easier for you to defend against an infringement lawsuit).

Bell Labs hasn’t been publishing their Technical Journal all these years just to show off how smart they are.

mattshowsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Of course, I realize re-reading my comment that open sourcing code doesn’t just mean opening the code up to others but also granting them a license to use it. So of course, if you had hoped to license out the inventions contained in your code, that’s problematic.

Embarrassing to have missed that, but I’m happy that the first place my brain went wasn’t “But how will this affect my ability to sue people?”

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Bell Labs hasn’t been publishing their Technical Journal all these years just to show off how smart they are.

Publication does not grant a license for use, and an idea can bepatented before publication. Therefore, if a patent is held, the company can still deal with a derived idea by prohibiting a competitors use of, charge them for a license, or license the idea for use in their own products without allowing competition.

Anonymoussays:

Hate to be the devils advocate but...

As much as I love open source I do think closed source has a place and will always have a place. It makes it easier for people to want to invest. And what about games? Seems awfully hard to sell a big budget game when you just give away all the code that makes it.

Really glad Microsoft is opening up it’s research though.

John Fendersonsays:

Re: Re: Hate to be the devils advocate but...

It makes it easier for people to want to invest.

Perhaps… but I suspect that most investors simply want to be reasonably sure that their investment will yield dividends and they don’t particularly care about the development details as long as that is true.

Seems awfully hard to sell a big budget game when you just give away all the code that makes it.

I don’t follow this argument. Why would open source make selling big budget games more difficult? The bulk of what makes big budget games big budget is not development of the code, it’s the development of the artwork, video, acting, music, etc. None of that has to be included in the open source.

Not an Electronic Rodentsays:

Re: Re:

suggests that Linux and GNU should close their source and start selling because its obvious which s more in use.

Erm… not sure what you’re trying to get at. Are you suggesting that MS software is used more because it’s closed source? That’s hardly “looking at it neutrally”. Far as I can see MS became the most used OS because 1/ It was among the first to develop a relatively computer-illiterate-friendly interface and 2/ It got (illegally) copied massively 3/ Now it’s largely inertia from 1 and 2 driven by businesses who think they can’t afford to retrain their staff.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re:

The only market where Microsoft is dominant is on desktop and laptop devices, elsewhere Linux is dominant, or has a significant share of the market; like Android Phones. Linux is running on more device, from embedded device through to the supercomputers than windows. Not only does it run the Internet, it might be running your TV, Microwave or router.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“The only market where Microsoft is dominant is on desktop and laptop devices, elsewhere Linux is dominant, or has a significant share of the market;”

but Google and Apple did not develop or ‘invent’ Linux !

by saying “DOMINANT, OR has significant share” means “DOMINANT OR NOT”. Yes, I guess that is true, Linux is either dominant OR NOT dominant in areas.

Patsays:

There, I fixed it for you.

Microsoft? Sharing???
When are people going to learn???

“the longer it deprives itself of all the advantages that Microsoft Research is now embracing.”

“the longer it deprives itself of all the advantages that Microsoft Research is now embracing, so that they can later extend it, and then extinguish it. Business as usual for Microsoft.”

DannyBsays:

Re: Re: There, I fixed it for you.

Don’t be so harsh on Microsoft.

Sharing is a two way street.

You share your money with Microsoft, and Microsoft will share with you the honor of bowing to their whims and change technology and rewrite everything whenever Microsoft says. Remember VB6? Remember XAML? Silverlight? Remember the classic desktop interface prior to Windows 8?

out_of_the_bluesays:

Seriously? Minion thinks Microsoft is doing anything but PR here?

That there’s ANY chance it’d go open source? Whew.

Just shows the triumph of net-weenie futurist idealism over decades of everyday actualities.

And that’s why I like Techdirt! It’s the HOOTIEST site on the net!


Microsoft sticks to its bad ideas only because can’t come up with worse.

03:31:20[d-962-2]

John Fendersonsays:

Re: Re:

Nobody has followed Microsoft’s lead in many years. There may be an exception to this — although I can’t think of one offhand — but in every relatively recent case that there is a similarity between a feature in a Microsoft product and one in an open sourced project, the open sourced one had it first and Microsoft copied from them.

This even extends to Windows 8 — the terrible notion that one UI should fit all platforms originated in the likes of KDE and Ubuntu.

John Fendersonsays:

Re: Re:

didn’t they make Office’s file layouts an open, international standard?

That’s a misrepresentation. They fought hard against that happening for a lot of years, including making frequent, arbitrary changes to the format regularly to foil the ability for non-Microsoft tools to use the format. I don’t know if it’s quite right to give them credit for losing that battle.

Microsoft Research is committed to disseminating the fruits of its research and scholarship as widely as possible because we recognize the benefits that accrue to scholarly enterprises from such wide dissemination, including more thorough review, consideration and critique, and general increase in scientific, scholarly and critical knowledge.
Translation: Somebody woke up and smelt the coffee.

SpoiledBratsays:

Mostly Harmless

The lack of thoughtful comments here is disappointing — I hope none of you write code in similar manner. Please do yourselves a favor and look deeper than the surface of this issue, especially if you are expecting to become, and remain, relevant in a technology related career.

Thoughtful conversation and discourse, outside of Washington D.C., often leads to a stable source that only needs to be compiled to do real work.

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