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Australia to see Windows source code

The Australian government will gain access to the source code underlying Microsoft's operating system after signing an agreement with the software heavyweight.

The Australian government will gain access to the source code underlying Microsoft's Windows operating system after signing an agreement with the software heavyweight.

The open-ended agreement, announced Thursday by the Redmond, Wash.-based company, is part of Microsoft's global Government Security Program, an initiative announced earlier this year to address government concerns about the transparency and security of the operating system. Under the program, governments are given controlled access to Windows source code and other technical information in a move the company says is designed to allow them "to be confident in the enhanced security features of the Windows platform."

The agreement will enable Australian government officials to view the source code for Windows 2000, XP, Server 2003 and CE. They can also use the code to build those versions of Windows, see Microsoft security documentation the company doesn't otherwise share, speak with Microsoft developers and perform their own tests on the code.

The software giant has come under fire at Australian state and federal levels from politicians who have sought to make open-source software the first choice for government departments and agencies. One advantage that open-source software has over its proprietary counterpart is that the technology community can see exactly what is going on within the product.

However, Microsoft executives in Australia downplayed any potential threat posed by open source, saying the Government Security Program was forged in response to requests from governments for greater openness and transparency from the company.

"Microsoft recognizes that, in the current global environment, matters ranging from national defense to protection of citizens' personal data, are top of mind," the company said in a statement.

The company had previously signed up 12 governments to the program, including Russia, NATO, China, Taiwan and the United Kingdom. Up to 35 other countries are evaluating the program worldwide.

Iain Ferguson of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney. CNET News.com's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.