Face it, few open source projects would really benefit from
stolen Microsoft code. Most open source or free software projects
are, in fact, based upon POSIX or other UNIX-like APIs, and it
would be fairly pointless.
Only a couple of projects really come to mind: office products
needing access to proprietary file formats (like Word and Excel
documents), Windows API execution projects like WINE, and file sharing projects like
Samba, for instance.
Could it really happen? What would be the impact if it did? I'd
hate to speculate as to what the repercussions would be if
copyrighted Windows code was found in a GPL'd open source project.
It would be a bad thing all around, because the bearer of the
license would have to remove the offending code. Possibly they
might also suffer tangential side effects attempting to implement
the features on which the code snippet was based.
But is it a likely scenario? I had to get a good idea, so I
contacted Jeremy Allison of VA Linux. Allison is one of the lead
developers on the Samba team, and he took time out of a busy day
preparing for a
tutorial on porting NT server applications to Linux at the
"That couldn't happen. The internal infrastructure of our code
is completely different from theirs," he explained. He also said
the code would be fairly useless anyway, as Samba does things
differently from Microsoft's server code.
Would anything from the Microsoft code base be useful at all? I
had to ask this as well. Allison was pretty frank:
"Probably the one or two pieces that would actually help would
be some of the header files. These would provide things we actually
need, knowledge of bits on the wire."
He's referring to the undocumented SMB (Server Message Block --
the protocol Windows clients use by default when connecting to a
server) protocol extensions Microsoft has been creating with
practically every new version of their software for the past few
years. But even this, Allison explains, would be easy to spot
coming from some unknown source:
"It would be obvious. Win32 code is obvious. You can't mistake
it when you see it. The notation is instantly recognizable. For one
thing, Microsoft programmers have to go through massive work to
make sure it's thread-safe. This isn't a problem with the Samba
team faces -- this condition only exists on NT."
It's things like this that make you realize we're on pretty
solid ground. Linux doesn't just provide a different way of
designing and implementing software solutions -- it provides a
cleaner way as well. The times I've found someone who has coded on
both sides of the fence have pretty much vindicated this point of
view. Microsoft's coding tools produce ugly code, with work-arounds
for bad system design lurking under the hood and fingerprints to go
While we may not be totally safe from a code infection, the
reassuring facts are it won't happen by accident. The word is
already out not to use any of the code, but should someone decide
to do the dirty deed, it's not going to be easily committed.
Paul Ferris is the
Director of Technology for the Linux and Open Source
Channel at internet.com, and
has been covering Linux and Open Source news for over 2 years. He
is an editor for Linux Today
and a contributing author on other channel sites. He has used Samba
for years in a past life, and found it to be a wonderful piece of
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