It's hard to escape the conclusion that Microsoft got just what it wanted out of the government's failed three-year software licence negotiations, G2009. Yesterday, Computerworld broke the news that the discussions had concluded without a deal. Microsoft will now negotiate individually with each agency. It will get to talk a lot more with government CIOs and rebuild the direct relationships that were so strong in the 1990s, but that in the era of all-of-government buying were threatened.
Radio New Zealand audio on G2009
That's great news for Microsoft, and for its managing director Kevin Ackhurst who, right from the moment he arrived, was charged with rebuilding his company's relations with government. As Computerworld reported in December, the State Services Commission went into G2009 aiming to drive an even better deal for government agencies using Microsoft software. That effort has now failed and even Open Source Society president Don Christie is prepared to concede that Microsoft has won a victory — though he believes it will be a short-term one. Christie says Microsoft found the all-of-government approach constricting. In the short term, he says, it's "absolutely a win" for Microsoft as the company will now be free to "milk its clients for licence fees, like a sunset industry". Christie has a lot of gripes about deals such as G2009 and about government procurement processes. He says any department that buys Microsoft's SharePoint software should be subject to an audit. SharePoint, which is and has been rolled out in many agencies (especially with Public Record Act compliance now being required), forces users to decide on Microsoft browsers, Office software, databases and more. "What are the costs?" Christie asks. Because government needs compatibility between agencies, that then has a further knock on effect, he says. "If the cost makes it almost impossible to move off the software, it should be built into the purchasing decision," he says. It's now up to New Zealand's government CIOs which path they want to take and how they want to spend our money. It's up to them how (and whether) they negotiate with Microsoft, adopt open source, or use alternative proprietary software. But one simple negotiating rule will apply. If you don't leave yourself with an option to move, you you won't be able to strike any sort of bargain. It isn't Microsoft that creates market dominance — it's users making choices.
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