Tuesday, April 05, 2005

20 million perfectly useless lines of code

The NYT has an article about MS being forced to make concessions in how it licenses its source code to people interested in looking at it.

The thing I don't understand about source code licensing is that, unless the source code comes with a bunch of people who actually know it, it's pretty much useless. Even if you get documents covering the overall architecture is, what the main modules are and what the high-level call flows are [and those documents don't generally exist in a useful form even inside Microsoft, trust me =)], you're not going to get very far in terms of understanding 100K lines of source [for a smallish MS product], let alone the tens of millions of lines of code in Windows.

So, unless

- you have lots of money to hire lots of smart people willing to devote months/years of their time trying to reverse-engineer the code
- you don't want to do anything to the code other than something simple like adding a couple of menu items that end up calling your code
- you want to reverse-engineer something reasonably straightforward, like a file format

... I just don't see what good the source code does you without access to people who actually understand it. It's a bit of a paradox -- if the code is simple enough that you can really understand it, then it's probably easier to just write it yourself to begin with. And if its functionality is complicated enough that you really don't want to re-write it yourself, then chances are pretty good that you won't ever understand it without lots and lots of hard work.

So, I just don't get why anybody would license source code. I must be missing something.


Anonymous Michele said...

You got a point here...

4:23 AM  

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