Does Microsoft like free software enough to offer Windows 7 to the free software community? The American company, which has, to everyone’s surprise, already declared showed its love to Linux and even published tens of thousands of patents in its favor, has been encouraged to do so since January 13 by the FSF. It accompanied its demand with a petition, endorsed by almost 6,000 people.
The request from the FSF, whose mission is to promote free software, came on January 23, after the end of the extended support of Windows 7 on January 14. The FSF believes that the end of operating system maintenance should not necessarily mean the termination of the operating system. Perhaps the OS can be given new life by becoming free software.
Microsoft already made the Windows calculator open source in the spring of 2019. Previously, the Redmond firm also made available to the public the .NET framework, the CNTK machine learning tool, and MS-DOS. These acts have been noticed and appreciated, but their scope is still relatively modest compared to what the company could accomplish.
Windows 7 was released in October 2009. Standard support for the operating system ended on January 13, 2015. On that date, no new features were available. Then, on January 14, 2020, security patches were discontinued. As for third-party software, updates are also scheduled to be stopped, such as Google Chrome, which will be discontinued in 2021.
The proof of love may not arrive
Switching to Windows 7 as free software would allow those who can and wish to do so to appropriate an operating system that is considered one of Microsoft’s most successful. In addition to the ability to customize and evolve it, this change in status would potentially entitle it to updates and patches, if the community rolls up its sleeves.
Microsoft no longer hides its fondness for Linux, but the FSF would like to see a more substantial show of love.
It is unlikely that Microsoft will satisfy the FSF’s request, at least for the time being, as the group has not yet completely cut the ties with the OS: there is still a paid and specific extended support for businesses, which will be active until January 2023. The group foresees a mechanism to raise the price of services so that companies will be pushed to migrate.
It is therefore not the day before tomorrow that the free software community will be able to study and modify Windows 7, or even share their changes. That could take years, by the way: as an example, the source code of MS-DOS was only released in 2014, whereas its support ended in… 2001. Assuming the same timeframe is maintained for Windows 7, no release will occur before… 2033.