The software maker is revealing its Windows source code to some systems integrators. But analysts say the move is more symbolic than material.
About 150 enterprise systems integrators are eligible to receive no-cost access to the source code for the Windows operating system, Microsoft said. The integrators, which manage other companies' computer systems, will be eligible only if they have more than 1,500 clients with a Microsoft Premier Support Agreement.
The offer is an extension of the company's Shared Source Initiative, which lets some of Microsoft's partners see portions of the source code for Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows .Net Server, Windows CE 3.0 and Windows CE .Net.
Microsoft allows customers and partners to view the source code, but they can't change it or share the code with others.
Although the code revelations aren't unprecedented--a year ago, the company disclosed that it had begun showing the code to some larger customers--they do stand in stark contrast to Microsoft's typical conduct of closely guarding its most valuable property.
The source code includes the basic instructions underlying the parts of the operating system that most people see. An equivalent property elsewhere in the corporate world would be the recipe for Coca-Cola.
Even as it has made some nods toward openness, the software giant has long castigated the open-source format that is a hallmark of rival operating system Linux. Programmers are free--and even encouraged--to view and modify Linux as they see fit.
Microsoft said it was opening up the code to systems integrators to provide them with more in-depth knowledge of Windows and to let them troubleshoot problems more quickly. Some of the company's large customers had been calling for the source code to be more readily available to the integrators that provide day-to-day support, Microsoft said.
Analysts viewed Microsoft's latest move as lacking in substance.
"The reason, from a development perspective, that this won't be perceived as more open is (that developers) can't make any changes" to the Windows source code, said John Meyer, an analyst at Giga Information Group. "This is all marketing fluff, in my opinion."
Meyer said Microsoft made the move for two reasons: to appease a faction at the company and to satisfy a recent court order. On Friday, the federal judge overseeing the company's antitrust case with the Justice Department and a number of state attorneys general ordered Microsoft to reveal portions of the Windows source code, including parts of XP and XP Embedded, to nine states that are pressing ahead with litigation.
"This is another legal tactic so they can say, 'Now we've opened it up to all the states,'" Meyer said.
He also described an internal rift at the Redmond, Wash.-based company between one faction, identified with Chairman Bill Gates, that wants to keep Windows private, and another that wants to see Microsoft's .Net software-as-a-service platform--key to the company's future--available on Sun Microsystems' Solaris, among other operating system.
Because the .Net application server and Windows are so tightly intertwined, it is impossible to reveal too much of the operating system without opening up .Net, Meyer said.
".Net is really an application server built into the OS," Meyer said. "The underpinnings of the .Net platform will never be provided to companies so they can manipulate it to their advantage."
Reuters contributed to this report.