Under a new, no-fee cooperation programme, Microsoft is offering to work more closely with governments to help them detect and mitigate IT security threats, company chairman Bill Gates announced on Wednesday.
Speaking at the company's Government Leaders Forum in Prague, Gates underscored Microsoft's work with worldwide governments on issues such as technology training, research and support but labelled security as its top priority.
"The number-one thing for Microsoft in terms of investment and research and development is security," Gates said.
Under the new Security Cooperation Programme (SCP), Microsoft is offering to provide information on publically known vulnerabilities as well as reported threats still under investigation. It will give details on upcoming software patches for advanced planning and staff expertise in case of an emergency incident, it said. The software company will also offer around-the-clock phone support and deploy staff experts as needed to help government customers with IT projects aimed at shoring up security.
Government bodies in Canada, Chile and Norway have already signed up for the program, Microsoft said.
SCP is part of the company's larger Government Security Programme (GSP), under which it provides public sector bodies with access to Word 2003 and Office 2003 source code, for example, allowing them to verify security for themselves.
The new programme was developed using feedback from the company's government customers, according to Giorgio Vanzini, Microsoft's director of government engagement for platform business management.
"Government bodies wanted more information, deeper than what they get from source code access," Vanzini said in an interview.
Microsoft has made the public sector one of its key focus areas over the last few years, after creating an internal organisation dedicated to the sector.That organisation has continued to grow and already has enough staff to support the new program, Vanzini said.
The company has been wooing European public sector leaders at the Prague forum this week, hammering on the theme of how information and communication technology can help countries' economic and social advancement.
"Please don't underestimate what a change agent IT is," Gates said during his keynote address on Wednesday. He mentioned the EuroScience initiative launched by Microsoft earlier in the day as an example of how technology can improve countries' intellectual property capital and spur change.
EuroScience is a program under which Microsoft will provide resources and expertise to European research centers dedicated to making scientific advancements using software. The first center is being launched at the University of Trento, Italy, in cooperation with the Italian government, and will focus on biology.
In the future Microsoft plans to further extend its work with government customers on issues like privacy and interoperability, according to Gates and Vanzini.
Colin McKay, Scotland's head of Public Sector Reform and Efficiency, was one public sector leader at the forum interested in talking to Microsoft about these issues.
"We are starting to look at different kinds of access to public services and are considering things like privacy and interoperability," McKay said.
Although the Scottish government has already done work on an e-government portal, it is now thinking about moving access from PCs to mobile phones and other digital devices, he said.
While the forum did not provide specific technology solutions, it was a good place to talk to other government leaders about what they are doing, McKay said.