In an unprecedented attempt to encourage the Japanese government to adopt Windows for a planned electronic government project, Microsoft Corp. founder and Chairman Bill Gates said Tuesday that he will reveal Microsoft’s most tightly guarded secret — the operating system’s source code.

The government would have to sign a confidentiality contract before receiving the information.

In a meeting with key Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers in Tokyo, Gates reiterated the offer in an effort to assuage their anxiety.

Many in and out of government have expressed concern over the influence of the global software giant over computer operating systems in government. Others have complained about the high cost of Windows.

While in Tokyo for two days, Gates hopes to persuade the government to adopt Windows for its “e-Japan” project.

The government plans to set up the project to replace most administrative paperwork with electronic filing and communication systems. Japan has stated that it aims to become an “information technology nation” by 2005.

Gates said he is willing to reveal the source code “100 percent. Everything that we do is available.” He was invited to the meeting with influential lawmakers at the LDP’s headquarters.

The government is also reportedly considering the Linux operating system, which is virtually free and open-sourced, meaning its code is open to anyone and continually improved by a worldwide army of programmers.

It was after talk of Linux surfaced that Microsoft offered to reveal its source code.

Government officials say open-source systems have an advantage because they allow a user to flexibly deal with security problems. Operations of “black box” systems, however, are only known by the software company.

In addition, open-source systems do not require licensing fees and can be modified because their open-source nature.

Earlier in the day, telecommunications minister Toranosuke Katayama said the government is not at present indicating a preference for either operating system.

“We will listen to the opinion of Microsoft and allow it to join a planned (government) panel,” said Katayama, head of the Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications Ministry. “Since it concerns national security, we will study (the matter) from a neutral position,” he said.

During the meeting, a lawmaker who uses the Windows system complained that Microsoft “is making too much profit” by forcing Windows users to buy updated versions every few years — a sentiment shared by many Windows users around the world.

Gates responded by saying that Microsoft only sells new versions that have attractive and innovative features because, unlike other consumer goods, computer software “never wears out” and users can continue to use it for as long as they want or, alternatively, upgrade.

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