Microsoft source code move gets approval

State sector IT managers are hailing Microsoft's plans to opening its source code to governments.

State sector IT managers are hailing Microsoft's plans to opening its source code to governments.

Last month Microsoft said it would give central governments access to source code, a move seen as an effort to quell the debate over whether open source code has a security advantage over closed code.

The Department of Conservation is a Microsoft .Net shop and so would be particularly interested, according to DOC CIO Channa Jayasinha (pictured).

Jayasinha doesn’t have any security concerns about Microsoft products but does believe opening the source code would benefit government departments. DOC doesn’t use open source code at all, he says.

Inland Revenue national IT manager Tony Lester says the department welcomes Microsoft's plans. However, it might not be a lot of use to the department, which isn’t a large user of Microsoft products.

"At present, Inland Revenue is primarily a Unix-based shop, with a small number of Microsoft operating systems in place. However, we are reviewing our enterprise architecture as part of our technology strategy announced last year. This is to ensure the sustainability of our technology environment over the next three to five years."

Microsoft spokesman Alex Mercer says the company is talking to 20 countries, territories and organisations about their interest in the government security programme (GSP).

"There are over 17 governments or international organisations that have either signed a GSP agreement or where signature is imminent. It will be up to each government to announce their participation and Microsoft will honour their confidentiality. Beyond that, we can not comment on the specifics of those discussions or pending GSP agreements."

Microsoft has several programmes that provide source code to governments, universities and private sector firms. But this latest initiative is specifically targeted at central governments and is intended to allow them to asses the security and integrity of Microsoft products.

Senior Microsoft executive Craig Mundie, who met prime minister Helen Clark a year ago when the company was launching its trusthworthy computing initiative, says GSP was created after government officials told the company that security is a “primary concern” and that they wanted access to source code and Windows technical information, as well as the ability to collaborate.

Participating governments get online access to source code, an engineering-level understanding of Windows architecture, the ability to build more secure environments, and access to cryptographic code and development tools, says Mundie.

However, governments won’t get the ability to alter source code. “This isn’t about developing or supporting customised versions of Windows,” Mundie says. The GSP and other source-code access programmes are about “helping build comfort and trust with our key customers on how Windows is deployed, how security is running and how other software is running on top of Windows,” he says.

The majority of New Zealand government departments have joined forces to re-negotiate an all-you-can eat software licence with Microsoft, due to be signed soon.

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