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Microsoft makes a college try

Spooked by the growing popularity of Linux and Java, the software giant is opening up its source code to up-and-coming programmers on college campuses.

Spooked by the growing popularity of Linux and Java software, Microsoft is opening up its source code to up-and-coming programmers on college campuses.

Microsoft said Wednesday that it will share with students more than a million lines of source code--the underlying software blueprint--for its .Net Internet initiative, including the code for its Shared Source CLI implementation, which takes aim at rival programming language Java. The code will be available on the Windows and FreeBSD operating systems.

The company, notoriously secretive about its source code, called the move an initiative to "promote programming language innovation and XML Web services research." Observers, however, said that Microsoft's move is an effort to thwart the popularity of Java and the open-source Linux operating system in computer science departments.

Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik told CNET News.com on Tuesday night that Linux is the subject that college-age programmers really want to learn right now. Szulik was at the Hudson Hotel in New York as his company unveiled its efforts to target corporations.

"Like any significant paradigm shift, this is going to start in academia and move into the masses," Szulik said of the spread of Linux. "And dissatisfaction with the incumbents is going to help it." Rob Perry, an analyst at The Yankee Group, said he doesn't think Microsoft's latest move will be a threat to Linux. "One, this is not an open-source offering; you can't take what you've learned here and extend it to other applications," he said. "And two, it's not the entire platform; it's only a component of .Net."

Microsoft is aware of the key place that universities can hold in the development of an operating system.

"The academic community plays a critical role in the software ecosystem as the launching pad for the next generation of developers," Eric Rudder, senior vice president of the Developer Platform and Evangelism Division at Microsoft, said in Wednesday's press release unveiling the academic initiative.

Though Microsoft is far from offering an open-source environment such as Linux, it expects that the shared-source effort will enable students to study the code and develop more applications for it. The Shared Source Initiative has already led to collaboration with Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Intel.

"Microsoft is making an effort to appear open, and they are hoping that this will accomplish that objective," said Mike Gilpin, an analyst with Giga Information Group.

"It's just a battle of perceptions," Gilpin said, noting that the move isn't likely to have the same kind of commercial repercussions that would come from a fuller move to open source.