Microsoft said Tuesday it will make its prized source code for its Windows operating system available to several governments and governmental agencies, as it tries to stem defections to competitors' software.
The software company has already signed agreements with the Russian government and NATO to allow them to review for free the underlying programming instructions that Microsoft has long guarded as secret intellectual property.
The decision will let governments evaluate for themselves the security of the Windows platform, Microsoft said. It also will give them the technical data they need to develop their own secure applications to work atop Windows.
The announcement comes as government agencies in Japan, France, Germany, China and the United States are looking into or adopting competitors' software, including open-source Linux-based systems. Unlike Microsoft's proprietary software, the underlying code for open-source code software can be downloaded free, improved and redistributed.
"It's a brilliant maneuver," said Michael Gartenberg, research director for Jupiter Research. "It gives them a huge (public relations) win, gives them a response back to the open-source folks and also provides the impetus that many of the government organizations have been looking for to continue doing business with them."
The "Government Security Program" is similar to Microsoft's "shared-source" program, introduced in 2001, in which it makes some of its source code available on a limited basis to clients and technology partners.
Microsoft has a list of more than 60 countries and organizations with which it would consider signing agreements, including China, France and the United States, said Salah Dandan, the program's worldwide manager. The Redmond, Wash.-based company said it is confident governments will respect Microsoft's intellectual property and isn't worried about piracy or other infringements, he said.
'The basic business decision that we decided to make here is that Microsoft is willing to trust governments and willing to partner closely with them,' Dandan said. 'We are fully aware of the risks, but cognizant that this program will help strengthen relationships with governments around the world.'
The program covers Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows CE and Windows Server 2003, due for release in April.