New application could make all software ‘open source’

Imagine controlling Apple iTunes from inside Microsoft Word without having to switch applications. That could be possible, PC World reports, thanks to the efforts of researchers at the University of Washington who are working on a project that could essentially make any proprietary software act like open source. “Microsoft and Apple aren’t going to open up all their stuff. But they all create programs that put pixels on the screen. And if we can modify those pixels, then we can change the programs’ apparent behavior,” said James Fogarty, a University of Washington assistant professor of computer science and engineering. Almost everything seen on a display is made of prefabricated blocks of code, and the tool, called Prefab, looks for those blocks as often as 20 times per second and alters their behavior. Prefab doesn’t actually reveal or manipulate the source code for programs, because it can’t see this in proprietary software. It can only manipulate and combine what’s visible on the computer screen. “Even if it’s in a menu six layers down, if your eyes can see it, so can Prefab,” Fogarty said. Making changes to software from Microsoft, Apple, and other companies could lead to legal problems, but Fogarty argued that “there’s a lot of value we can provide these companies.” He plans to show the software on April 14 in Atlanta at the Computer Human Interface conference

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