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Winternals and SysInternals have been purchased by Microsoft; Windows developers world-wide shudder.

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Hi everyone, this is Leo Notenboom with news, commentary and answers to some of the many questions I get at

News arrived this week that Winternals Software, creators of the extremely popular free utilities site, has been purchased by Microsoft.

Now, I love Microsoft - they were very good to me, and while I may not always agree with what they do, I kinda get how or why they come to do it.

But my gut reaction when I read the news that SysInternals was now Microsoft property was a quiet "Oh No!"

Winternals is known for their deep expertise in Windows. Indeed, the former owners, now Microsoft employees, Mark Russinovich and Bryce Cogswell, may well know more about Windows than many of the engineers that work on it every day. Winternals sells very powerful management and recovery tools, but is perhaps best known for the collection of free utilities.

And, well, free utilities just isn't what Microsoft is about, now, is it?

"I hope Microsoft understands the tremendous asset that they've just acquired."

So I see several possibilities:

  • Things might continue as are. The utilities will continue to be free, updated regularly, and we'll never notice the change. Seems the least likely outcome to me.

  • The utilities could disappear. This also seems pretty unlikely.

  • The utilities could move to the Microsoft website, and require Windows Genuine Advantage validation prior to download. Yuck!

  • The utilities might get incorporated into the Windows SDK or other Microsoft product - which is great, unless that's the only way to get them. Real people don't want the SDK, and real people definitely benefit from the SysInternals free utilities.

  • The utilities might no longer be free. What a shame that would be, not to mention a PR nightmare.

I hope Microsoft understands the tremendous asset that they've just acquired. Fumbling the ball here could do a lot of damage. On the other hand, it's also a tremendous opportunity to show support for Microsoft users by continuing to improve and freely distribute these important tools.

In fact, I have two words for Microsoft that, if they listen, would allow them to make a statement of support that no one expects and everyone would love:

Open Source

Hey, I can dream!

I'd love to hear what you think. Visit ask leo dot info, and enter 10516 in the go to article number box. Leave a comment, I read them all.

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Article C2728 - July 20, 2006 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

July 20, 2006 7:47 PM

Damn!... These free utilities fill a great big hole in MS's own "diagnostic" utilities, and have proved invaluable on several occasions to sort out issues.

Now going to be part of MS's income stream? Perhaps we'll be moving to Linux/OpenOffice at home sooner than I thought.

July 21, 2006 8:16 AM

I saw this several days ago when I went to SysInternals to get something. My first reaction was "bye bye SysInternals". On second thought, I hope that Microsoft sees the PR nightmare that would ensue if these utilities were no longer freely available, without any "Windows Genuine Advantage" or Passport-like requirements.

July 22, 2006 2:46 AM

I first learned of SysInternals when I bought a book recommended by Leo - "Cleaning Windows XP by Allen Wyatt". I still consider myself a novice computer user but several of the free utilities helped me out. Of the 5 possibilities offered by Leo, the last one (the utilities might no longer be free) seems the most likely. Here's why.

Microsoft doesn't care about "PR nightmares" as evidenced by all the people who suddenly found out that their computers would not pass a validation scan. Microsoft's "PR nightmare" response: "Tough sh*t. We don't care what your sob story is. Buy a new OS at retail price or buy a new electronic Product Key from us to become legal. Repeat: we don't care."

I don't believe that Microsoft will suddenly become magnanimous and allow free utilities to remain free. Microsoft is in the business to make money. Does anyone honestly believe their purchase of SysInternals was to lose money? Whatever the purchase price, MS saw this as an investment and a way to MAKE money. I hope I'm wrong.

Francis J. Golden
July 22, 2006 3:37 AM

Bad day for open source. You know one of the
great things about sysinternals proggies is no
install process. Just unzip to folder of your
choice and run exe. Noticed on recent download
from sysinternals that the zip contains a MS
eula.txt file.

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