Ten years ago, the mere suggestion that Microsoft could one day open source Windows would have resulted in much laughter, and you might have even found yourself checked into a facility to monitor your mental health.
Today, though, things are certainly different. The entire landscape has changed dramatically over the past ten - even five - years. Mobile is an order of magnitude more popular than it was when Windows Vista hit the scene, and the same could be said about cloud storage - it's now everywhere.
Could Microsoft really take one of its biggest money-earners and convert it to open source, though? I think the question is more "Will it have to?" and the answer to that is "Maybe." On the desktop, Windows is the de facto OS. While OS X and Linux have a fair share, it simply pales in comparison to the foothold Windows has. Servers are a different story, though; there, the tables are turned, and it's Linux that dominates.
Flickr: Timothy Appnel
At a conference held earlier this week called ChefConf, which revolves around a rich administration tool, one of Microsoft's top engineers, Mark Russinovich, said this about going open source, "It's definitely possible." This is someone tightly integrated with all things Windows development, and holds the respected title of Microsoft Technical Fellow. If he thinks open source could happen, then I think it's fair to say that it could happen.
While it seems obvious that going open source would reduce Microsoft's revenue, it might not affect it to the degree we might all be thinking. Companies like Red Hat build their business off of a free / open source OS, and make the money via support and packaging it all up.
It's worth noting that Microsoft isn't that allergic to open source; it made the server-side component of .NET open source this past fall, and 20% of the servers running behind its Azure cloud platform run Linux. You read that right: despite Linux being a competing OS, the fact that it's open source made it valuable even to Microsoft.
Could we see an open source Windows used in the enterprise?
With that all said, it's not as though Microsoft is going to turn around tomorrow and tell us it's going open source. Again, the company makes enormous revenue from selling Windows, so when it goes open source, it's not going to be "just because"; it's going to be because it has to.
It's fun to imagine what things would be like with an open source Windows OS, though. We wouldn't be tied to the Windows Microsoft thinks we should have; like Linux, there could be a multitude of different community-created variants that cater to different niches. It goes without saying that features and customization options would be kicked-up a notch. We'd also surely see community-sourced software repositories, allowing us to install a multitude of common applications without even opening up a Web browser.
It's fun to think about, at least.