Tough talks delay G2009 licence deal

Government negotiations over Microsoft licence deal draw open source fire

The government’s new software supply deal with Microsoft is set to be revealed soon, but rumours are swirling the software giant may have taken some of its traditional bulk buying discounts off the table.

Neither Microsoft nor the State Services Commission (SSC) are saying much, apart from that more detail of the G2009 deal will be revealed “in the next few days”.


See also: Microsoft charity crackdown spurs boycott
The deal, which is being negotiated by Wellington consultancy Igniter, was supposed to be presented to departments in April, but negotiations have been running behind schedule, an SSC spokesman Jason Ryan concedes.

Meanwhile, the entire negotiation process has been slammed by advocates of open source software. The second day of the Government Information Systems conference (GOVIS) brought a condemnation, more in sadness than anger, of the New Zealand government’s continuing attachment to Microsoft.

Don Christie of Catalyst IT, who also heads the NZ Open Source Society, says government is in a state of “learned helplessness” regarding its software. This is a clinical term for a condition associated with depression, where even though help is available, the patient refuses to take it, being so used to their condition they cannot imagine breaking out of it.

Christie’s speech comes as reports that Microsoft is driving a hard bargain in the latest negotiations swirl. Some allege the company is offering zero or minimal discount this time round and there will be no savings to government agencies on their Microsoft licences.

Christie says he has heard the discount will be zero and he is not surprised. It would be nothing more than rational behaviour for Microsoft.

“Imagine you are a monopolist making a rational decision to maximise value for your shareholders. Imagine if your customer only entered into contracts with you and imagine if your customer had chosen never to seriously consider any alternatives to your own wonderful position. What would you do?

“I would imagine if you were rational, you would show the customer your price-book, tell them exactly what they were going to have to pay you and pocketed the very considerable profits”, he told the GOVIS audience.

“As a taxpayer, I find this use of my money disgusting.”

During the previous round of negotiations, in 2006, Christie spoke at GOVIS about the use of Linux in European government circles.

We have a shining example of local open-source software use in the shape of the Electoral Enrolment Commission (EEC), he says.

“You’d think that a few of the 248 government agencies would have asked the EEC for information on their trials,” but none did.

By hewing the Microsoft line, he says, the government is shutting itself out of the modern style of public administration and software use, which concentrates on openness.

“If you seek the nirvana of open data, open standards are essential.” Such standards open up a wealth of freely available applications from a multitude of sources, as opposed to a narrow range from Microsoft and those prepared to play its game.”

There are plenty of examples of Microsoft actively trying deliberately to stay incompatible with open software, Christie says, from the obstacles thrown in the way of the Samba file and print server to forcing through OOXML as a standard against “massive international public opposition”.

Christie compares the universal public disgust with bankers who manipulated the financial market to their own advantage with the apparent complete indifference to what he alleges is a similar manipulation of the market by Microsoft.

He agrees that government agencies think it’s too hard to switch direction away from Microsoft; successful implementation of open source software from the EEC to the UK Guardian newspaper’s use of Open Office stand as testimony that it’s not hard.

“Because they think it is, we citizens don’t get the service that [government agencies] could be capable of delivering,” Christie says.

There were smiles and nods around the room at Christie’s attacks, even from a senior SSC man sitting in the same row as Computerworld’s reporter.

Earlier this month, the NZOSS called for a halt to G2009 negotiations and called for: a complete, line by line review of the money spent by government agencies on Microsoft products; a stop to all upgrades and purchases of Microsoft products until the review has been completed, and; a complete evaluation of free and other alternatives to Microsoft products, including operating systems, office products, databases and content management systems.

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