China next to get access to Microsoft source code

China has signed up for Microsoft Corp.’s new Government Security Program (GSP), giving the Chinese government access to the source code of Microsoft’s Windows operating system software, Microsoft said Friday.

The agreement was signed by Microsoft and the China Information Technology Security Certification Center. Chinese President Jiang Zemin was briefed on the GSP on Friday by Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates, who is visiting China, Microsoft said in a statement.

Microsoft announced the GSP in January in a bid to allay concerns about the security of its software. The GSP gives governments and international organizations access to the source code and technical information of several versions of Microsoft’s Windows software needed to conduct security reviews of the products, Microsoft said.

Russia, the U.K. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have already signed up for the GSP and Microsoft is in talks with over 30 countries, territories and organizations about the program, the Redmond, Wash., software maker said.

Governments signing up to the security program will be able to build systems that offer the high levels of security required for national security, Microsoft has said. However, government users will not be allowed to make modifications to the code or compile the source code into Windows programs themselves, according to Microsoft.

The GSP is also seen as a move in Microsoft’s battle against open-source software, primarily the Linux operating system, edging into government administration all around the globe. For governments on tight IT budgets, however, cost rather than security is also a major reason to switch to open-source software.

An open-source license allows users to access and modify the source code. Government users in Finland, Germany, France, Taiwan and the Philippines, among other countries, have adopted open-source software or are looking into doing that.

The GSP is free and covers current versions, service packs and beta releases of Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 and Windows CE. In addition, government IT professionals can visit Microsoft headquarters to review Windows development and meet with Microsoft staff. Online access to the source code is secured by smart cards.

Microsoft sees the GSP as an important part of its Trustworthy Computing initiative, a focus on secure software announced by Gates last year.

Microsoft shares Windows code with governments, companies and educational institutions under various programs that are part of its Shared Source Initiative announced in 2001. The GSP is different in that Microsoft sees it as a partnership with a country or international organization and that it does not require a country or organization to be a Microsoft customer.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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