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Gates, academics join on security, shared source

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Microsoft is enrolling a team of academic researchers to boost its security efforts and develop new technologies based on its .Net technology.

The company Monday announced the formation of the Trustworthy Computing Academic Advisory Board, which will bring together academics from 12 to 15 colleges and universities to study and contribute to Microsoft's recent effort to improve the security and reliability of its products. Microsoft calls that effort the Trustworthy Computing Initiative.

Universities taking part in the advisory board include Cornell University in Ithaca, New York; the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of Maryland in College Park. The final lineup of the board is not complete, although members are expected to represent academic institutions from around the world. Some prospective board members are researchers characterized as "critics" of Microsoft technology, according to Doug Leland, director of university relations with Microsoft's research division.


"Our intent is to put together a board of elites and engage them with Microsoft as a whole," Leland said, adding that the advisory board will work directly with Microsoft's product divisions. "We're seeking very candid advice and very candid feedback."

The new advisory board was announced during a keynote speech by Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect, at the company's Microsoft Research Faculty Summit 2002. The three-day event has brought nearly 325 researchers to the company's Redmond, Washington, headquarters to discuss a variety of projects under way in the research community.

Gates also discussed projects taking shape based on Microsoft's Shared Source efforts, a program under which the company allows partners in government, research and private industry to view its closely guarded source code, including for the Windows operating system and .Net.

Researchers from Lancaster University in England, for instance, have used Microsoft's Windows source code to implement Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) into Windows CE .Net, its operating system for portable devices, and Windows .Net Server. That project will be detailed this week, The technology developed at Lancaster University will be added to a future release of Windows CE .Net, code named "Jameson," according to Microsoft.

The project is notable in that researchers have based their work on Microsoft's proprietary operating system, Leland said. Typically, universities do such research using freely available operating systems that don't have restrictive licenses, such as FreeBSD -- a Unix variant -- and Linux.

"(Lancaster University's) goal is really to develop a research platform around Windows that has traditionally been done around Linux and Unix," Leland said.

Microsoft has long offered researchers access to its Windows source code through restrictive licenses requiring academics to agree to strict none-disclosure agreements. As a result, university instructors were not able to use the source code of Microsoft software in a classroom setting. Instead, many schools have turned to freely available software for classroom study.

Free software has been a boon for the classroom, said Mike Rabaut, an associate professor of computer science at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Florida. Not only is course material about free software available on the Internet, but students are able to dig deep to see how it works.

"Instead of learning about a proprietary software package, students are able to get a more general understanding of computing concepts," Rabaut said.

To better make its Windows operating system thrive in the education setting, Microsoft last year announced its Shared Source Initiative.

"It's a less restrictive license in that we're able to provide source code ... and provide the ability for academics to work with it for both research and instructional purposes," Leland said.

The University of Maryland has led another research project, known as DateLens, which was detailed Monday during Gates' keynote. The project aims to build a calendar user interface that can be accessed on a variety of mobile devices such as the emerging Tablet PC and those powered by the Pocket PC operating system. Researchers are building the program using a test version of Microsoft's .Net Compact Framework, a runtime environment necessary for deploying .Net applications on portable computing devices, and the C# programming language.

Rather than making the application available to users as a free download, as is the case with some software developed at the University of Maryland, DateLens is expected to become a commercial software application, according to Ben Bederson, a computer science professor at University of Maryland and director of the school's Human Computer Interaction Lab.

Bederson is launching a company that will license the DateLens technology from the University of Maryland and sell it as a commercial product. "We've gotten such good feedback on DateLens we're going to try and sell it right off," he said.

The Microsoft Research Faculty Summit 2002 continues through Wednesday, and will include demonstrations of projects under way through collaborations between Microsoft and university researchers.

The IDG News Service is a Network World affiliate.


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