The Code War?

You Know You’re Unpopular When . . .

. . . the Russians steal something from you, and even your fellow Americans are rooting for them.

(I don’t for a moment think the Russian government has anything to do with this, and neither should you.)

What did those folks in St. Petersburg do?

Looks like they swiped some of MS’s source code.

Now MS said they didn’t, but their explanations don’t make a whole lot of sense. A software program that will only be ready “three to five years down the road”? If you got into MSs networks, for a minimum of six weeks, and had
viruses trapping passwords, would that be the only thing you think you’d look at, or have the chance to look at? I doubt it. Pretty useless swipe for the future, unless of course, the code at this stage is really current code being used as a starting point.

If you carefully read the statements by MS and the FBI, they don’t know exactly what was done yet. How could they? They only noticed it Wednesday.

Now this may be a bunch of hullabaloo about nothing, but if these folks got the good stuff, the rest of this says why this is important, and what might happen as a result.

What’s source code?

When you write a program, normally you use a computer language to write the program. What you actually write in the computer language is called source code.

When you’re done writing, you normally compile the program. Compiling means a piece of software turns the instructions that you understand into instructions the computer can understand. Instructions the machine can under is called object code.

With few exceptions, when you run a program, you are running the object code of the program.

Why would somebody want the source code of a program?

First, let’s talk about why you would not want the source code of a program?

  1. You wouldn’t want it just to make free copies for yourself. All you need for that is a copy of the object code, and if you don’t mind illegality, there is no problem finding that.
  2. You wouldn’t particularly want it to sabotage a program.

First, we’re talking about Windows here. Would you even notice?

Seriously, anything that blew up everything all the time would get caught. Anything subtle might not even be noticed in the bug noise. Sticking a virus infection would be embarrassing, but not deadly.

More importantly, you don’t need source code to do any of this. There is a far more valuable use for source code; sabotaging Microsoft source code is like blowing up a gold mine.

Why the DOJ secretly loves this

Microsoft isn’t exactly open and honest about how its operating systems and programs work. There is a simple reason for this; other Microsoft programs can take advantage of certain secret features to work better than the competition’s.

Not that it’s impossible for a competitor to take Windows and, say, Office, and figure this out from the object code, but it is one hell of a lot easier and quicker to figure how a program works if you have the source code than if you have to work from the object code.

You can take advantage of the same tricks MS uses to improve your program. You can get a much better and quicker idea from looking at the source code if there are other things in the code you can take advantage of. Having the source code levels the playing field even more than breaking up MS. That’s why I’m sure the lawyers in Antitrust Division of the DOJ, sworn to upholding legality, are probably privately rooting for those Russkies.

Now I don’t know if this motivated the people who actually stole it; they may have done it for a lark, or just to help some Russian programmer friend. But that is what makes their new possession valuable to any software company competing against MS.

But surely other software companies wouldn’t pay these criminals for it?


If that weren’t sufficient comment, go back to reading Mary Poppins and Winnie the Pooh. This isn’t meant for you. 🙂

Can you say “Fight fire with fire?” I knew you could.

The only possibility that software companies won’t pay criminals for it is if the criminals just offer it for free. That is far from inconceivable.

If you’re looking for glory rather than cash in the hacker world, what greater achievement than to turn Windows into open-source? You would absolutely rule in some circles. You’d be considered a god, no, greater than a god, greater than even Linus Torvalds. 🙂

Now What Does MS Do?

Well, first, they’ll do anything and everything possible to point out any and every danger but the real one.

Second, I bet MS representatives are doing anything and everything possible in Russia to make that source code vanish before anybody else can get their hands on it. For some reason, I just don’t see the DOJ pounding on Russian governmental doors demanding immediate law
enforcement action. Even if they did, timely and effective action would probably require divine rather than governmental intervention.

That’s presuming the people who took it want to make money from it. I wouldn’t bet on that.

Don’t be too shocked if you hear in the next few days or weeks that MS source code is a hotter download than Pam and Tommy Lee used to be. Well, at least in some circles.

What can MS do? Stop selling products until they rewrite everything? No doubt they will rewrite everything, but they’re not too good at getting things out on time as it is. Just imagine what this will do to time schedules.

Don’t be shocked to see people come up with versions of Windows that are BETTER than MSs. I’m telling you, this could become an underground Linux movement.

Email Ed

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