Microsoft announced today that it's partnering with the Computer History Museum to make the source code for early versions of MS-DOS and Word for Windows available to the public for the first time. The released code will be part of an ongoing project by the museum to collect and preserve some of the most widely used software of the early days of computing, and make them accessible to developers.

Microsoft's MS-DOS began when the company was approached by IBM to work on a project codenamed "Chess." Microsoft originally provided a BASIC language interpreter to IBM, but then was asked to make an operating system. The company ended up making two versions, licensing PC-DOS to IBM, and reserving MS-DOS for other PC manufacturers. Word for Windows was released in 1989, and within four years it was generating half the worldwide word processing market's revenue.

A museum has to work hard to acquire original code

Developers are getting a huge teaching tool with the release of this source code, but museums are also winning big. It's not easy for an institution to gain original source code: MOMA's senior curator of architecture and design Paola Antonelli explained in her TED talk last year that while she worked hard to bring installations of Pac-Man and other video games to the museum, the endgame will always be to preserve the code. Technology companies are often very skeptical about handing out the source code for any program, and it can take years of work and discussion between the companies and museums before the code is released. Could early versions of Windows be next?