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Microsoft Reveals Office Code to Governments

Microsoft has extended its Government Security Program (GSP) by offering government customers access to the source code of Microsoft Office 2003. The GSP, one of a number of programs in the company's Shared Source Initiative, is meant to foster collaboration and trust between Microsoft and government organizations.

Under the terms of the license announced today, qualifying national governments and international organizations are granted access to Office 2003 source code. In addition, participants have access to Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 and Windows CE. More than 30 countries have already signed GSP agreements with the company, including China, the United Kingdom and Australia.

"At Microsoft, we view governments that utilize our software as trusted partners. The addition of Office 2003 to the GSP demonstrates our continued commitment to collaborating with governments all over the world to deliver solutions that address their unique and specific IT needs," said Jonathan Murray, vice president and CTO of Microsoft Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), in a statement.

The move could potentially be seen as part of its effort to stave off competition from open source upstarts like OpenOffice that have been winning governments over.

Microsoft officials weren't immediately available for comment on this point, but at least one OpenOffice.org advocate, does not believe the initiative will affect alternative office suite adoptions by governments.

"It is by no means detrimental to OpenOffice.org's immediate or future prospects that Microsoft is seeking to enlarge its shared source campaign," Louis Suarez-Potts, OpenOffice.org community manager, told internetnews.com. "That's because most governments will think twice about biting into a licensing deal that will shape a nation's software profile for years to come and cost millions to boot, no matter how much sweeter it has become."

Suarez-Potts does not believe that the Microsoft Shared Source Initiative should be compared with open source software, because he said it doesn't allow the same degree of collaboration.

"Shared source is not open source," Suarez-Potts said. "There is no real comparison, in fact. Open source allows anyone to contribute, collaboratively, to the source. All parties benefit. Shared source only eases the pain of shaping one's code, so that it works better with Microsoft. Microsoft may make changes, but only if it is in its interest to do so. There is no real collaboration."

Suarez-Potts also argued that Microsoft's initiative offers no guarantee to governments that they won't be locked in and that the file formats will be interoperable.

"Nothing about shared source or Microsoft's business plan suggests that decades from now we will still be able to read the file we created today," Suarez-Potts said.

Suarez-Potts explained that open source office suite alternatives like OpenOffice.org and KOffice will use the standardized OASIS file format, and he urged Microsoft to join the OASIS technical committee and join the effort to standardize formats and ensure interoperability.

"Using it, interoperability is ensured and vendor lock-in becomes a thing of the past," Suarez-Potts said. "What government wouldn't want that?"

John Weathersby, executive director of the Open Source Software Institute, believes that Microsoft is simply reacting to the competitive nature of the industry with this move.

"I think this simply demonstrates that the invisible hand of a free-market economic model is hard at work," Weathersby told internetnews.com. "Microsoft is having to 'compete' for business with regards to their Office product line. That's a good thing for Microsoft, for end users and ultimately for the open source industry."

But Weathersby doubts that Microsoft has made this move in direct reaction to OpenOffice.org.

"I don't think that Microsoft is 'scared' of OpenOffice or anything else," he said. "They currently, and overwhelmingly, own the desktop market. What we're seeing is the gearing up of their marketing machine. There are numerous examples of Microsoft offering deep discounts and special deals with regards to pricing and some loosening of access to their restrictive code to government agencies here and abroad."