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Microsoft is opening up the source code for its Office suite of products, but only for governments.

The Government Security Programme (GSP) has already offered governments a quick peek at the source code behind the Windows operating system. The aim of the programme is to increase faith in Microsoft's security and counter the threat of open source software.

Microsoft shares source with various partners but this is the first time it has opened up Office. The shared source programme gives approved government agencies access to Office source code and extra technical information. It also offers governments a chance to review Microsoft's development process and to talk directly to Microsoft engineers about existing and upcoming developments.

The British government has already had a look at Office source code. Dr Steve Marsh, director of the Central Sponsor for Information Assurance in the Cabinet Office, said: "The release of this source code will help the UK Government understand the security implications of the Office productivity suite and aid secure deployment in a wide range of scenarios."

Apart from security governments are also concerned that documents stored in MS formats will be accessible in future. Jason Matusow, director of Microsoft's Shared Source Initiative, told CNET: "The idea throughout the entire GSP program is we can't decide for each government what's important to them - they have to do that for themselves. But one of the things we hear often is that they want assurance they can replicate those formats potentially far into the future."

He said it was possible that Office would join the company's Shared Source initiative but the firm had to "walk before we start running."

More than 30 countries, including China, Russia and the UK, have signed up to the GSP. In total agencies from 60 countries are entitled to join the programme. The no-fee scheme allows agencies to view but not alter the code.

More info on GSP here. ®

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