Gates to unveil new government security program

Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates is due to announce an extension of the company’s security initiatives for governments at a meeting with public sector leaders in Prague Wednesday, sources close to the company said.

The announcement will come at Microsoft’s Government Leaders Forum – Europe, which kicked off Tuesday with remarks by chief executive officer for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) Jean-Philippe Courtois, that the software company is increasing its participation with governments based on feedback it has received from public sector leaders.

Gates will speak extensively on the topic of security during his keynote address Wednesday, Courtois said, hinting at the announcement.

Microsoft already has a Government Security Program (GSP), under which it shares source code for Word 2003, Office 2003 and other applications, allowing public sector customers to peek under the hood of its products and evaluate security for themselves.

The Redmond, Washington, company has signed 17 GSP agreements in Europe and the company’s opening of its Office 2003 XML Reference Schemas last September have been particularly well received, Courtois said. Public sector customers can expect the company to provide more information like this in the future, Courtois said, adding that the company’s security initiatives are intended to be “open, predictable and transparent.” GSP is part of a broad set of initiatives undertaken by the company since it began to focus more intently on government clients a few years ago with the creation of an internal public sector organization, according to Giorgio Vanzini, Microsoft’s director of government engagement. Vanzini declined to say exactly how much of Microsoft’s business derives from the public sector, but noted that it’s significant. The company recently added 400 people to its public sector organization in Europe alone, Vanzini noted.

Among the company’s government-focused programs are the Solutions Sharing Network, which allows governments to communicate and share best practices, and sometimes even source code on IT projects, and Partners in Learning, in which Microsoft teams with governments to help provide educational resources such as software, training materials and cash grants.

Many of the programs Courtois spoke of were couched in terms of helping Europe meet the goals set out under the European Union’s 2000 Lisbon Agenda, which seeks to create a competitive, knowledge-based economy in the region by 2010.

“ICT is not a panacea, but a tool for countries to achieve their potential,” Courtois said.

In that vein, Courtois unveiled the broad availability of the European Union (E.U.) Grants Advisor program, which Microsoft began testing three years ago with local and regional governments to help small and medium-size businesses better understand and access E.U. funding. The program was tested in Spain, Poland and Hungary and created with the 20 million small and medium-size businesses that operate in the E.U. in mind, Microsoft said.

Extension of the program comes as the European Commission is preparing to relaunch the Lisbon strategy Wednesday, with a focus on accelerating IT development, according to the E.U.’s Commissioner for Information Society and Media Viviane Reding.

Reding took the stage of the forum on Tuesday to give a preview of what will be one of the central features of the relaunch, the “i 2010” program. Reding designed the program to accelerate Europe’s ICT (information and communication technology) development, noting that the region is falling behind the U.S. and Asia in terms of broadband growth as well as research and development spending.

“ICT is crucial to ensure Europe’s development,” Reding said, before encouraging public sector leaders in the audience to ramp up their own research and development funding.

As well as promoting increased IT investment, i 2010 seeks to create an internal development and consumption environment in Europe for digital services and localized content, such as games.

“It is essential for Europe to achieve a new model for development,” Reding said. The Microsoft Government Leaders Forum runs through Wednesday.