As part of its ongoing efforts to woo public sector customers, Microsoft has begun giving governments tools for collaborating and sharing technology information with other organisations so that they can learn from each other's experiences and cut development costs.

Under a program titled the Solutions Sharing Network, Microsoft is helping provide public sector clients with a community-based portal for sharing best practices, application source codes and other development information.

The software maker is providing interested public sector customers with the tools for free, but the client organisations are in charge of the content, maintenance and procuring of any necessary hardware.

The Solutions Sharing Network works on top of Microsoft's SharePoint Portal Server software. It provides users with a sort of community forum where they can post ideas, code, white papers and screen shots and share them with organisations that have common technology needs.

For instance, London's Borough of Newham and the Local Authority Software Consortium are collaborating with Belfast City to help implement a CRM (customer relationship management) system in over a dozen local authorities across the UK, Microsoft said.

While the Solutions Sharing Network offers a free exchange of technology ideas and knowledge, Hayes said that the model was not intended to try to compete with open source rivals.

"I see this as a way for Microsoft to do a better job at listening to what customers want and responding," Hayes said.

Hayes said that Microsoft designed the tools to help public sector organisations but he did not rule out the possibility that they could be commercialised and offered to enterprises as a way of collaborating on common technology needs. Although he said that Microsoft has not made plans to commercialise the tools, he said that Kanalytics, in Annapolis, Maryland, may chose to sell them to businesses, and Microsoft would still be involved.

David Rowe, Microsoft's government program manager in EMEA, said that the tools are definitely headed in the direction of commercialisation. They are already available in nine languages and a second version of the applications is in the pipeline, he said.

Since the content of the portal is run and hosted by the client, there are no limits to what technology information they can share. If the tools do enter the enterprise market, they could potentially change the way that business collaborate on technology questions, allowing companies in vertical markets to more easily replicate each other's systems, for instance.

For now, however, Microsoft is aiming the tools squarely at government customers who it says are under considerable pressure to improve organisational efficiency under tight budgets. Government customers who already have SharePoint can download the tools and play around with them if they chose, or contact Microsoft for installation, Rowe said.