Microsoft is opening a window to Chinese leaders that American software engineers can only dream of peeking into. The software giant agreed to let Communist officials see the source code behind Windows, the world's most popular operating system. Without absolute certainty about what's going on inside the box-which only the super-secret source code reveals-Chinese officials won't even consider Windows. They've expressed a preference for the open-source Linux operating system, because they can control it.
Chairman Bill Gates went to Beijing personally to announce the deal. He met with President Jiang Zemin and said they were "very optimistic about the view ahead" for technology. Mr. Gates said his company will provide a "maximum level of cooperation" to demonstrate network security. He called the agreement "a milestone in our relationship with China."
This isn't Microsoft's first such deal. Britain, Russia, and NATO have all signed up for the "Government Security Program." Another 30 nations are negotiating to join it. Mr. Gates claims the program gives government officials controlled access to the entire source code for both current and updated versions. He says they can run security tests and develop their own high-security computer programs this way.
Microsoft's competitors in the United States fought (and lost) a long campaign to get an inside look at Windows. Many engineers in the free world would love to see those programming instructions. Since Windows software is proprietary, many secrets about how it works are known only to its maker and its teams of programmers.