One small step for open source…

I think most geeks will agree that it’s been far too long since we last landed a person on the moon. NASA’s Constellation program aims to put more footprints in the lunar sand by the year 2020. To achieve this, NASA will be developing entirely new spacecraft. A new breed of rocket named Ares (note the reference to Mars, mythology geeks) will lift the new Orion crew vehicle — initially only to Earth orbit, replacing the aging Space Shuttles, and then later on to the moon and Mars.

Boeing landed the contract for the Ares I rocket’s avionics ($800 million), but that doesn’t mean that Boeing has a lock-in on future contracts like the larger Ares V rocket that will be used to haul huge payloads into orbit in preparation for missions to the moon and Mars. The design specifications will be “open-source and non-proprietary“, according to Ares project manager Steve Cook. This will allow NASA to take competitive bids on all future Ares contracts.

Apparently NASA realizes what many have known for a long time now, that openness and competition/cooperation work better than secrecy and closed systems. On the other hand, they’re only saying that the design specs are to be open — they’re not necessarily opening any source code, the way I read it.

In other open-source news, Microsoft has agreed to open some of their server networking protocols to Samba (hat tip to Paul Mah). Samba is an open-source project that provides interoperable drive sharing between Windows clients and Unix/Linux servers, and up to now Samba developers have had to hack their way through the Windows drive-mapping protocol. While Microsoft is all proud of their generosity, this new “openness” comes in response to increasing pressure from the European Commission after Microsoft lost an appeal this September. Besides that, Samba is paying 10,000 euros for this “gift” — and they are signing a non-disclosure agreement, so I wouldn’t call this anything close to “open-source”. But at least it’s a step in the right direction.


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