Oliver Bell, a Microsoft worldwide program manager, denied that the move is designed to make Microsoft more competitive against open-source technology such as Linux. With open source systems, the underlying code and any improvements are shared freely.
Instead, Bell said Redmond-based Microsoft is responding to already overworked government groups who say they would like better tools for sharing information with peers who are using the same applications and might be facing the same technological hurdles.
"It's a response to behavior customers are struggling with," he said.
Under Microsoft's program, called Solutions Sharing Network, government customers will be eligible to receive free tools for such things as setting up a Web-based portal or conducting an open forum related to a specific technology. A government group can choose to limit participation to internal users or to share the information more widely.
Bell said government groups in Europe and elsewhere are already using the program. In Sweden, some use it to share data about programs related to their tax process, while in Britain a group used it to implement custom-built technology in various towns and municipalities.