[ISN] Microsoft Opens Office Source Code to Governments

InfoSec News isn at c4i.org
Mon Sep 20 05:12:23 EDT 2004


By Peter Galli 
September 19, 2004    

Microsoft Corp. will allow governments around the world that use its
software to have controlled access to the source code for its
pervasive Microsoft Office 2003 desktop offerings for the first time.

The Redmond, Wash., software maker on Monday in Europe will detail how
it is going to give access to the code, an expansion of the existing
Government Security Program, or GSP, via a new Government Shared
Source License for Office.

Jason Matusow, the director of Microsoft's Shared Source Initiative,
told eWEEK that this latest license is a "standard Windows source code
license. It is what we call a reference grant and allows customers to
look at the code and use it for debugging of custom applications. But
they may not modify or redistribute it," he said.

The license will cover the Office 2003 code for PowerPoint, Word,
Outlook, Excel and the shared application code that creates a
consistent user experience across the products and similar
functionality—features such as draw, search, print and save, he said.  
(See Microsoft's list of shared-source licensing options here.)

Asked if this was a ploy by Microsoft to get governments to upgrade to
Office 2003 given that the company was not offering access to the
source for earlier versions such as Office XP, Matusow said the
software firm was not using the program as a sales tool and there was
no revenue associated with it.

"You have to walk before you can run. This is a starting point, a
place to begin to understand how they are going to work with the
source code and the Office products. But we have no further plans at
this time to announce anything other than this. The GSP is built on
government feedback, so if they come back and want more, depending on
what that 'more' is, we're interested in listening to all of that," he

Microsoft formed the global initiative to provide governments with
access to Windows and Windows CE source code in January 2003. This
latest move now offers them access to Office 2003 source code as well.

At the time the program was announced Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief
technology officer, said the program was designed to "address the
unique security requirements of governments and international
organizations throughout the world. We view governments that utilize
our software as trusted partners. The GSP will provide governments
with the opportunity to assess the security and integrity of the
Microsoft products they deploy. 

"We are also providing technical documentation, methods for
troubleshooting, access to cryptographic tools subject to export
controls, and access to Microsoft expert support technicians who can
collaborate with governments on how they use this source code access,"  
he said.

Matusow told eWEEK the GSP in general and this latest Office
source-code offering is in response to feedback from governments to
see the Windows and Office source code and is in no way related to the
competitive threat posed by the open-source Linux operating system,
but others see it as a move by Microsoft to try and stem the interest
that governments and agencies in the United States and elsewhere are
showing in Linux.

Matusow said that there were three areas that governments had interest
in working on: document interoperability and interchange; long-term
archiving of the documents; and access and security issues.

These latest moves will now give governments and international
organizations access to Office source code, the opportunity to
collaborate with Microsoft experts, and access to any technical
information they need for greater data interoperability, interchange,
portability, ease of communication and archiving. They will also be
able to visit the Redmond campus and talk directly with the office
engineers, who would also do on-site visits in their home country,
Matusow said.

The Government Shared Source License for Office will be available to
more than 60 global governments and international organizations
currently eligible to participate in the GSP.

Eligibility is based on many factors, including where Microsoft is
doing business and those governments with large IT infrastructures.  
Some 30 governments and international government agencies, including
the United Kingdom, Russia, China (China, NATO and Australia, have
already signed up for the GSP.

Matusow said that while each of the governments had different levels
of usage of the Windows source code available under the program so
far, "we have had 11 visits to our Redmond campus over the 18 months
the program has been in place and we have had 12 on-site visits where
we have sent people over to them to do the training. Those governments
interested in the program are actively participating," he said.

Last November, Microsoft made a royalty-free license for the Microsoft
Office 2003 XML Reference Schemas and accompanying documentation
widely available. XML Reference Schemas licensees benefit from more
readily available data identification within documents, ease of report
generation and document assembly from existing content, and extraction
of existing data for automated processing, Matusow said. This, along
with adding the Office 2003 source code to the GSP, were "integral to
Microsoft's efforts to address data exchange and integration needs of
governments throughout the world," he said.

Microsoft's Shared Source Initiative was first reported by eWEEK in
March 2001, and the Redmond, Wash., software titan has been expanding
it since then. Microsoft also gives its Most Valued Professionals
(MVPs) access to the source code for the Windows operating system.

It recently expanded that program to allow all the MVPs within the
Microsoft platforms community and living within the 27 eligible
countries worldwide to access Windows source code at no cost.

The source code provided under that program covers Microsoft Windows
2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 and future versions of Windows
operating systems, including all released versions, service packs,
betas and subsequent releases.

Asked if Microsoft intended to offer access to the Office source code
to its MVPs and partners going forward, Matusow said that while there
was no plan to do that at this time, "we are always open to hearing
from our MVPs and partners as to what they need and to work with them
around this."

Earlier this year, Microsoft also released the source code for its
Windows Template Library under the open-source Common Public License
and posted it on SourceForge, the open-source code repository.

The Windows Template Library is a library for developing Windows
applications and user interface components. It also extends the Active
Template Library and provides a set of classes for controls, dialogs,
frame windows, GDI objects and more.

That move followed Microsoft's decision the month before to make
available on SourceForge an internally developed product called the
Windows Installer XML.

Microsoft has been losing many high-profile customers to Linux—many of
them governments and governmental agencies and departments. The
governments of Britain, Brazil, Japan, Israel, South Korea, China,
South Africa and Russia are also all exploring open-source
alternatives to Microsoft, while federal agencies in Germany, France
and China are already using or considering open-source desktops,
applications and productivity suites.

Microsoft has also admitted it is facing growing pressure from
open-source software across every segment of its business: It's a
competitive threat that could have significant consequences for its
financial future going forward, the software maker said in its latest
10-K filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this

Microsoft also made specific reference to the targeting of foreign
governments in the filing, saying that "while we believe our products
provide customers with significant advantages in security and
productivity, and generally have a lower total cost of ownership than
open-source software, the popularization of the noncommercial software
model continues to pose a significant challenge to our business model,
including recent efforts by proponents of open-source software to
convince governments worldwide to mandate the use of open-source
software in their purchase and deployment of software products."

But Microsoft has been fighting back and has been actively lobbying
governments around the world to shun open-source applications and

In addition, this January Microsoft launched a new advertising
campaign called "Get the Facts," which aims to give customers
information about the advantages of using its Windows operating system
instead of Linux, its open-source competitor.

More information about the ISN mailing list