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To paraphrase a famous 17th-century playwright: Alas, poor Windows NT, I knew it, Bill: An OS of many blue screens, of most excellent fancy: It hath borne me on its network a million times; and now, how abhorred in our collective memory it is!

Whatever you will say about Windows NT, it was a very successful and prosperous operating system. When Windows 2000 and Active Directory finally replaced it, many NT-administrator types longed for simpler times—as when it was appropriately patched, it was stable, performed well and was easy to administrate.

But on Dec. 31, the sun set on Windows NT 4.0. Server, with Microsoft ending pay-per-incident and Premier support for all but a handful of well-heeled customers. Microsoft is intent on closing the book on a significant piece of its software history.

But should it?

Almost a year ago, when news of a partial source-code leak of the Windows NT and Windows 2000 code base appeared on the Internet, I advocated that Microsoft open-source Windows NT. Now, more than ever, I think it should be done.

Never mind the fact that a significant portion of Microsoft’s customer base that are perfectly happy with their NT 4.0 boxes are being forced into costly upgrades, now that their support options have been yanked out from under them. An open-source release of NT just plain makes sense.

For starters, open sourcing NT 4.0 would generate some new excitement about the Windows brand, not to mention a tremendous amount of application development from many frustrated Windows developers that are now looking toward Linux and open source as the promised land.

With Longhorn and Longhorn Server not likely making an appearance until 2006 and 2007, respectively, that’s a long time to go without anything interesting to keep the developers’ attention.

And unlike Sun’s release of Solaris under CDDL, which will be of no interest to most of the Linux folks and will likely generate only a small amount of new development activity, even a quasi-open-source or a restricted open-source license for NT would generate lots of developer excitement.

Read the full story on Microsoft Watch: Microsoft: Let My NT Go!