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Microsoft expands 'shared source' effort

The company is allowing "MVPs"--individuals who have been recognized by the software maker for their contributions to its online support community--access to its source code.

Microsoft said on Wednesday that it is expanding its program that allows outsiders access to the company's source code.

The "shared source" program already allows some governments and technology companies access to some Microsoft code. The company is now adding a new category to those eligible to view its code: so-called Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs), individuals who have been recognized by the software maker for their contributions to Microsoft's online support community.

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"I'm a huge fan of the MVPs. They do a great deal to help Microsoft customers," Jim Allchin, Microsoft group vice president, said in a statement. "Giving them access to one of our most valuable assets, Windows source code, is a testimonial to how much we value this dedicated group of people."

Allchin added that giving such people greater access to Microsoft code will help them "do even more for technical communities around the world and will thus strengthen support for everyone using the Windows platform."

Those eligible for Microsoft's various shared-source programs are permitted to see some of Microsoft's code, but they can't make changes or use it for their own projects. That contrasts with open-source projects like Linux, in which developers may see the code, make changes and then distribute modified code.

MVPs were already given access to some Microsoft source code, including components of Windows CE .Net and Visual Studio .Net, but under the new program, they will gain access to Microsoft's core Windows operating system code, including Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.

Microsoft is making the Windows code available to about 1,200 of the 1,800 MVPs--those that specialize in the Windows, Windows Server System and Visual Developer areas. The MVPs, while not paid by Microsoft, are given access to training by the software maker as well as discounted software and access to company officials.

The company expects a high number of the eligible MVPs to take part, said Jason Matusow, manager of Microsoft's shared-source program. Earlier this year, the company ran a test program in which 200 MVPs applied to see Windows code. Microsoft accepted 31 applications; 27 of those applicants eventually agreed to Microsoft's licensing terms.

Although for now, the program does not extend to applications like Office, Matusow said Microsoft would consider expanding it if that would help MVPs in their support efforts.

In general, Matusow said, Microsoft is seeing strong interest in the shared-source program. The company has worked to steadily expand it but still places limitations on where and with whom it shares its code.

"If you are sharing everything, you'd be sharing with both the good guys and the bad guys," Matusow said. "Fundamentally, we are working with a very trusted group of individuals."