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Microsoft signs .Net deal in China

The software maker reaches agreements intended to deepen its ties with the Chinese government, even as the country's officials enlist rival Sun in a nationwide open-source push.

Microsoft has signed two agreements intended to deepen the company's ties with the Chinese government, even as the country's officials embark on programs meant to entrench rival open-source systems within the state infrastructure.

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO, was in Bejing on Thursday to sign a deal that will partner the software giant with the state-owned China National Computer Software & Technology Service (CS&S), the country's largest domestic software development and systems integration firm.

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The two companies are set to co-develop products based on Microsoft's .Net and Office System platforms. Another focus of the agreement is IT training, with plans for the companies to jointly train 200 CS&S developers and 120 IT architects within one year, according to a press statement from Microsoft.

"CS&S will not only strive in its current position as the largest IT solutions and service provider in China, but to be one of the top IT outsourcing companies in the world," said Tang Min, president of CS&S.

Microsoft and CS&S have jointly developed security products based on the Chinese versions of Windows 2000 and Windows XP. In February, the government-run China Information Technology Security Certification Center signed an agreement with Microsoft to participate in the company's Government Security Program.

In September, CS&S signed a source code agreement with the IT security center and Microsoft, and it will have controlled access to Windows source code.

Separately, Ballmer signed an agreement under which Microsoft will contribute $10 million to bring IT services to primary schools, especially those in poorer, more remote parts of the country. Microsoft China will partner with the Ministry of Education to upgrade teachers' IT training and support activities, the company said.

Under the scheme, two IT teacher training centers in China's rural west will be set up. Through the newly established China Technology Center in Beijing, the software maker plans to work with the ministry and local partners to develop distance-learning technologies. One hundred rural middle schools will also receive computer classrooms.

"For students and teachers in the rural areas, 'informatization' will bring the Internet to their schools, enrich their knowledge and narrow the digital divide," said Education Minister Zhou Ji.

An open-source deal with Sun
Microsoft's moves come after rival Sun Microsystems and China Standard Software established Sun's Java Desktop System as the foundation for desktop development and deployment in the country.

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China Standard, a consortium of Chinese technology companies supported by the Chinese government, aims to produce a nationwide standard desktop software system to help bridge the nation's digital divide, according to a statement from Sun.

The Sun agreement, signed earlier this week, will pave the way for China Standard to deliver its own branded desktop products using the Java Desktop System, subject to export approval from the U.S. government.

China plans to ultimately install at least 200 million copies of non-Windows, pen-standards-based desktop software throughout the country.

"We're going to immediately roll out the Java Desktop System to between a half-million and a million desktops in 2004. It makes us instantaneously the No. 1 Linux desktop player on the planet," Sun CEO Scott McNealy said of the agreement.

The multiyear agreement is set to go into effect at the end of 2003, according to Sun.