Microsoft to Open Windows Code to Foreign Governments

By Mark Berniker

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Microsoft Corp. says it will share the source code for its Windows operating system with a number of foreign governments to assuage security concerns.

Under the program announced Tuesday, Microsoft will allow governments to see the source code for Windows 2000, XP, Server 2003 and CE. Microsoft will also let the governments see security documentation, which until now had been secret. Some say Microsoft's newfound openness is a response to critical vulnerabilities to its source code that governments around the world have exposed.

The reasons behind Microsoft's shift in strategy do not appear entirely altruistic, and some say are politically motivated. Through this move, Microsoft is simultaneously trying to strengthen its hand with governments around the world, while responding to the alternative Linux vendors have been presenting to officials from Beijing to Rio.

For the past several years, a number of countries have been looking at adopting legislation that would require open-source software. In particular, China, Japan, Germany and Brazil have voiced interest in adopting open-source software solutions, and Microsoft clearly became concerned that immense revenues could be lost in these massive markets.

Microsoft has engineered an aggressive lobbying campaign and been a vocal critic of adoption of the open-source software movement, including products stemming from Linux. In open-source environments, programmers are able to see, modify and redistribute code, not an option in the many variants of Microsoft software. Governments that sign up for the Microsoft program will have to sign strict confidentiality agreements aimed at protecting against piracy of its software, resulting from sharing its code.

Microsoft's Government Security Program, led by Craig Mundie, the company's chief technical officer of advanced strategies and policy, is in part a response to growing interest by foreign governments to adopt Linux, which boasts complete openness of its code, recognized security protections and significantly lower costs.

Russia and NATO have already signed up for the Microsoft initiative. Mundie and his team are said to be traveling around the world aiming to sign up more than 60 other governments and international organizations.