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French Version

A case of software independence

If Microsoft rules the operating system world, the countries of the world will be dependent on Microsoft to ‘electronically’ run their affairs.

This is the notion which creates security concerns in many countries, especially the ones like China who are not comfortable with the fact that Microsoft is an American company.

In spite of the excellent relations between Microsoft and the Chinese government, by which Microsoft is investing $750 million in education and training efforts in China over three years, the Chinese fear that Microsoft software may have ‘back doors’ that could be exploited by foreign intelligence agencies.

To allay those fears, Microsoft has recently agreed to let Chinese officials review the source code for its Windows operating systems. In fact, Gates says China will have access to all, not just part, of the source code.

This is part of Microsoft’s latest policy to battle Linux at its own game, by making Windows an ‘open source’ software for governments. The threat of losing out on business in China was too great a risk. The Linux development community in China is vibrant. China has produced its own version of Linux, called Red Flag Linux, as well as its own office productivity suite, RedOffice, which go head-to-head with Microsoft’s Windows and Office packages.

Accordingly, Microsoft has ‘institutionalized’ this arrangement creating a Government Security Program (GSP), which Microsoft will also offer NATO, Russia and the United Kingdom. This is only the start, as Microsoft is now in discussions with more than 30 countries, territories and organizations regarding the program. The source code access will be given to a limited number of government technical security experts who will be trusted not to make copies or disclose what they see.

Increasingly, Microsoft finds itself having to open up Windows source code as several countries have passed or are considering legislation encouraging the use of open-source programs— encouraged by lower costs, security issues and flexibility in dealing with modifiable software. In many ways, Microsoft is forced to change it’s strategy on the openness of its operating systems.

After initially dismissing Linux and open source software as a threat to its business, Microsoft now realizes that it can learn a lot from the open source movement. A manager at Microsoft said, "We continue to learn from open source. Transparency of code is a benefit. Already, these moves are limiting the spread of Linux use in governments. It’s a major change of course for Microsoft, and quite a victory for open source advocates. Microsoft, the previously all-dominating software giant, is bowing to the pressure.

For Bill Gates, Chairman of Microsoft, battling Linux and maintaining good relations with the Chinese government are two good business decisions.

He summed it up by saying, "We are committed to provide the Chinese government with information that will help them deploy and maintain secure computing infrastructures." For China, it’s a strategic choice not to be technologically dependent on a US company. It’s the highest pinnacle of sovereignty in today’s global economy. It may not be the most efficient option, but it’s a strategically correct political course to undertake.

Amman 17-03-2003
Zeid Nasser
The Star

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