Microsoft Opens Office Source Code to Governments

The software giant adds access to the source code for Office 2003 to its Government Security Program.

Microsoft Corp. will allow governments around the world that use its software to have controlled access to the source code for its pervasive Microsoft Office 2003 desktop offerings for the first time.

The Redmond, Wash., software maker on Monday in Europe will detail how it is going to give access to the code, an expansion of the existing Government Security Program, or GSP, via a new Government Shared Source License for Office.

Jason Matusow, the director of Microsofts Shared Source Initiative, told eWEEK that this latest license is a "standard Windows source code license. It is what we call a reference grant and allows customers to look at the code and use it for debugging of custom applications. But they may not modify or redistribute it," he said.

The license will cover the Office 2003 code for PowerPoint, Word, Outlook, Excel and the shared application code that creates a consistent user experience across the products and similar functionality—features such as draw, search, print and save, he said. (See Microsofts list of shared-source licensing options here.)

Asked if this was a ploy by Microsoft to get governments to upgrade to Office 2003 given that the company was not offering access to the source for earlier versions such as Office XP, Matusow said the software firm was not using the program as a sales tool and there was no revenue associated with it.

"You have to walk before you can run. This is a starting point, a place to begin to understand how they are going to work with the source code and the Office products. But we have no further plans at this time to announce anything other than this. The GSP is built on government feedback, so if they come back and want more, depending on what that more is, were interested in listening to all of that," he said.

Microsoft formed the global initiative to provide governments with access to Windows and Windows CE source code in January 2003. This latest move now offers them access to Office 2003 source code as well.

At the time the program was announced Craig Mundie, Microsofts chief technology officer, said the program was designed to "address the unique security requirements of governments and international organizations throughout the world. We view governments that utilize our software as trusted partners. The GSP will provide governments with the opportunity to assess the security and integrity of the Microsoft products they deploy. …

"We are also providing technical documentation, methods for troubleshooting, access to cryptographic tools subject to export controls, and access to Microsoft expert support technicians who can collaborate with governments on how they use this source code access," he said.

Matusow told eWEEK the GSP in general and this latest Office source-code offering is in response to feedback from governments to see the Windows and Office source code and is in no way related to the competitive threat posed by the open-source Linux operating system, but others see it as a move by Microsoft to try and stem the interest that governments and agencies in the United States and elsewhere are showing in Linux.

Matusow said that there were three areas that governments had interest in working on: document interoperability and interchange; long-term archiving of the documents; and access and security issues.

These latest moves will now give governments and international organizations access to Office source code, the opportunity to collaborate with Microsoft experts, and access to any technical information they need for greater data interoperability, interchange, portability, ease of communication and archiving. They will also be able to visit the Redmond campus and talk directly with the office engineers, who would also do on-site visits in their home country, Matusow said.

The Government Shared Source License for Office will be available to more than 60 global governments and international organizations currently eligible to participate in the GSP.

Eligibility is based on many factors, including where Microsoft is doing business and those governments with large IT infrastructures. Some 30 governments and international government agencies, including the United Kingdom, Russia, China (China, NATO and Australia, have already signed up for the GSP.

Matusow said that while each of the governments had different levels of usage of the Windows source code available under the program so far, "we have had 11 visits to our Redmond campus over the 18 months the program has been in place and we have had 12 on-site visits where we have sent people over to them to do the training. Those governments interested in the program are actively participating," he said.

Next page: Growing pressure from open-source software.