Taking its cue from the open source community, Microsoft Corp. is offering post-secondary computer science students an inside look at the code for its forthcoming .Net software.

The company last month announced that it would provide

more than a million lines of its source code, including the Shared Source CLI implementation through its Academic Alliances program. In Canada, Microsoft has formed alliances with 35 colleges and universities.

Michael Flynn, senior product manager for Developer Tools at Microsoft Canada Co., said the company wants to better prepare students to create Web services based on XML for .Net and Shared Source, which offers the kind of “”write once, run anywhere”” compatibility of Java.

“”The whole beauty of shared source is you’re free to look at source code all you want, but we protect our intellectual property from it,”” he said. “”In other words, you can’t just go and build another common language interface from the actual source code and call it your own.””

Many schools have for years been tinkering with the Linux source code, which is freely available on the Internet. In some ways, it started as an academic project by Helsinki student Linus Torvalds. Flynn denied Microsoft’s move was an attempt to counter Linux or Java, but he admitted that the open source movement created new demands from the academic community.

“”It’s not a push, it’s a pull,”” he said. “”We’re responding to feedback and demand from the academic environment around the world. It’s only been in the last year or so. It’s essentially since the schools have started to look at operating system source code from other manufacturers that they immediately want the same opportunity with Microsoft.””

Kevin A. Schneider, a faculty member of the software engineering department at the University of Saskatchewan, said students can often benefit from hands-on experience at the code level.

“”Something in computer science which has been greatly lacking in the education process for students is looking for something beyond just toy examples or code that somebody maybe created in a lab project and has never really be used,”” he said. “”In previous years, we’ve been saying, here’s a nice way to structure things, but by that point no one’s doing it in the industry because it’s just too inefficient.””

Flynn said the impact of using software source code would depend on individual students’ career path.

“”If you look inside academia and you go to computer science, like any business, you have levels of expertise from students,”” he said. “”Some are going to be into theory, and they’re going to be going into some very sophisticated areas of computer science. But then you have a lot of people who are there to learn how to write software and get into the working world.””

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