Microsoft opens source code to governments

WASHINGTON -- As foreign governments increasingly move to adopt open-source software policies, Microsoft Corp. last week worked to address one of the concerns prompting that adoption: Windows security.

Microsoft said it would give central governments access to source code, a move seen as an effort to quell the debate over whether open source code has a security advantage over closed code (see story). Providing such access "will help, because it moves Microsoft one inch toward the middle" in that debate, said Martin Hingley, a London-based analyst at IDC.

Governments fundamentally need "to feel that they are developing homegrown expertise and not just inserting CDs and pressing their customization button," said Alastair Burt, a researcher in Germany who is working on one of a number of European Union-funded open-source projects.

Expanded Access

Microsoft has several programs that provide source code to governments, universities and private-sector firms. But the initiative announced last week, called the Government Security Program (GSP), is specifically targeted at central governments and is intended to allow them to assess the security and integrity of Microsoft software.

Craig Mundie, senior vice president and chief technical officer of advanced strategies and policies at Microsoft, said GSP was created after government officials told the company that security is a "primary concern" and that they wanted access to source code and Windows technical information and the ability to collaborate. GSP "demonstrated our commitment to making Windows source code more transparent to customers and increasing customer trust in the security both of our products and the IT industry generally," he said.

Participating governments get online access to source code, an engineering-level understanding of Windows architecture, the ability to build more secure environments, and access to cryptographic code and development tools, said Mundie.

But governments won't get the ability to alter source code. "This isn't about developing or supporting customized versions of Windows," Mundie said. The GSP and other source-code access programs are about "helping build comfort and trust with our key customers on how Windows is deployed, how security is running and how other software is running on top of Windows," he said.

Russia's Federal Agency for Governmental Communication and Information has signed a GSP agreement with Microsoft, and the company says it's in discussions with about 20 other governments.

Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group Inc. reported last month that government interest in non-Microsoft software is growing. Germany, China, India, Taiwan, Singapore and Finland are among the countries Meta expects to increasingly adopt Linux on servers.

While central governments are pushing broad open-source adoption policies, practical implementation issues remain.

Microsoft is a major systems vendor for the city of Derby, England. And that's not changing because of broader central government policies encouraging the use of open-source software.

"We are pretty much tied into Microsoft," said Mike Thompson, IT manager for the city, which has 3,000 end users. "At the moment, we don't feel that open source has developed enough ... if you want to jump ship."


Source Course

Under the GSP, central governments receive:

Online access to source code.

Beta releases and service packs for Windows 2000, XP, Windows .Net Server 2003 and Windows CE.

Greater ability to conduct security and privacy audits.

Improved troubleshooting and system-optimization capabilities.

Opportunities for collaboration with Microsoft.

Source: Microsoft Corp.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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