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The Leak

Week of February 14, 2004

It's official: the source code to Windows NT4 and Windows 2000 has leaked, and it appears to have come from Microsoft partner Mainsoft.

Windows users worrying about further attacks because of this leak can relax - at least on this count. Malware authors haven't needed source code up to now, and they've been doing very well - so well, in fact, that it's hard to imagine any software company looking worse.

As time goes on, people will of course discover 'gems' in the source - indications of just how bad the programming has always been in Redmond, and graver vulnerabilities than even now make use of Windows untenable can arise. But it will be a while yet, and if you are still surfing the net with Windows, you have plenty of time to get out.

The BBC have, as always, been able to summarise things excellently. In a Q&A article published online yesterday, they attempt to list the ways the leak will hurt Microsoft in the short term.

  1. It is yet another security lapse during a month that has seen the appearance of the fastest spreading virus ever as well as the discovery of yet another critical vulnerability in the Windows operating system.

  2. Microsoft's growth has come about because of its tight control of its intellectual property - the source code of its products. This has helped it maintain a stranglehold on the desktop computer market. That hold has been demonstrably loosened now.

  3. It might be the last straw for people tired of the security headaches that Windows creates.

  4. For Microsoft to have this code paraded in public is hugely embarrassing. Not least because the code is littered with profanity and might show that many Microsoft programmers do not do a very good job.

    In the past independent programmers that have deconstructed other Microsoft applications have been shocked at what they found within the code. Rivals and critics will be able to see exactly how Microsoft staff do their work.

So the hurt is more towards the corporation than the user - at least in the short term. Simultaneously, given all the expected questions such as 'what is source code?', it is more evident than ever that programming is anything but a wannabe art, and that the public at large really have no clue what is going on.

What is going on is 'egg in your face' for Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates. Never a man driven by pride in his work, Gates is finally feeling the crunch of an industry against him.

Windows users have been given more than adequate time to get out. Being connected on the Internet has changed all the rules. You can't have a rinky-dinky pseudo-technology out there trying to protect you. People are bringing class action suits against Microsoft for this, as they should. As Bill Joy, cofounder of Sun Microsystems, put it:

They took systems designed for isolated desktop systems and put them on the net without thinking about evildoers.

It might take a rocket scientist - or at least a user adept at Unix - to understand why Windows and Microsoft products in general are generically flawed, but it doesn't take more than common sense to see Microsoft have finally had it.

And good riddance.

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