REDMOND, Wash. (AP) -- Microsoft is expanding its program to let industry partners see the underlying programming code to its operating system software for small devices, as the company tries to keep Linux open-source software at bay.

Microsoft said Wednesday it will allow device manufacturers, processing chip makers and others to see and alter the source code for its Windows CE operating system. That software is used to power handheld devices, cable modems and various other small electronic products.

It's the first time Microsoft will allow changes to its source code by outsiders who want to sell products using that modified code, said Scott Horn, Microsoft's Embedded and Appliance Platforms Group director.

The reason, he said, is with so many vendors making highly customized electronic devices, it's difficult to create an operating system to address all the different needs. Microsoft contends its shared source initiative balances sharing source code while helping protect Microsoft's intellectual property rights.

The move partially addresses Microsoft critics who say the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant has tried to kill the growth of Linux open-source software. Linux source code is available for free and can be modified, improved and shared with the rest of the community.

But analysts warned that Microsoft isn't going to allow modifications to its flagship Windows operating system for personal computers anytime soon. Still, Microsoft often uses its CE division to test new ideas, said Al Gillen, research director of system software for IDC, a technology research firm.

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