Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Microsoft will share information about security problems with government agencies as part of its efforts to slow the spread of open source software.
Under the Security Cooperation Program, Microsoft will advise participating government agencies on network security issues in an effort to try to anticipate or mitigate security lapses, said Gerri Elliott, corporate vice president of Microsoft's worldwide public-sector unit.
Governments will get information on existing security flaws and advance notice of upcoming product patches, which also means getting information on vulnerabilities before the general public does.
"We will give them information on what we know," Giorgio Vanzini, director of government engagement in Microsoft's Platforms Business Management unit.
For the past two to three years, the Redmond, Wash.-based software maker has launched a multifaceted diplomatic offensive to expand internationally and stem the growing interest in Linux and open-source software among government buyers.
Security has been a headache for customers both large and small. In the Government Security Program, Microsoft agreed to let countries examine the company's source code as a way to allay fears that "backdoors" might exist that could compromise security.
Microsoft will also help local governments with public awareness programs and with better securing their own networks. Participation is free.
The program was announced at Microsoft's Government Leaders Forum in Prague, Czech Republic. The forum is a quarterly conference for government officials that hops among regions.
So far, Canada, Chile, Norway and the Delaware have agreed to participate in the program while a fifth member will be announced soon. The information will be provided for free.
Although the program was mostly designed for large developing nations like China, 36 national governments have signed up for the program and three more will be announced soon, she said.
The company has also created educational programs that let emerging nations in Africa and elsewhere buy copies of Microsoft Office for educational institutions for a few dollars. Chairman Bill Gates and chief executive Steve Ballmer regularly visit with national leaders like China's Jiang Zemin. Stanislav Gross, the prime minister of the Czech Republic, for example, opened the Microsoft conference with Gates.
The company even invests in overseas start-ups and joint ventures, something Microsoft has largely stopped doing in the U.S.
Giving a government agency advance notice of security problems for free derives from the role government agencies play, Elliot said.
Government agencies, however, have also been some of the most active in promoting open source software, both as a way to cut costs and promote local companies. South Korea has said that it wants 20 percent of the desktops and 30 percent of the servers at government agencies and universities to run open source software.
In Europe, the local government of Vienna is moving forward with a voluntary open source program aimed at cutting software acquisition costs.
Although announcements by governments to embrace open source software have grabbed headlines and have given the open source movement momentum, some have stalled. A migration toward open source software with City of Paris has been sidelined for now because of the costs involved in switching from Microsoft to open source software.