Govt-MS agreement on last lap

The long-drawn out process of reaching the key agreement between the government and Microsoft is drawing to a close.

The long-drawn out process of reaching the key agreement between the government and Microsoft is drawing to a close.

The agreement, known as G2003, will set the terms and costs for government agencies to license Microsoft software for the next year.

A meeting of the team scheduled for the middle of next week is likely to be the last one, Warwick Sullivan of the NZ Defence Force and a member of the negotiating team says.

“We’ve done all the hard work,” he says. “We’ve agreed the terms and the rates.” However, he emphasises these can still, in theory, be varied right up to the time the agreement is formally signed. What remains to be done is “just the legal stuff”, he says.

The conclusion of the contract has stretched out some weeks beyond the initially expected deadline, but there has been “nothing in particular” holding up the process, he says; just the legal detail, “getting all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed”.

Recent stories in the New York Times and International Herald Tribune exposed the existence of a Microsoft fund to support extra discounting to governments that presented a serious threat of moving away from Microsoft, particularly to open-source systems.

The two US newspapers reported that last July Orlando Ayala, then Microsoft's worldwide sales manager, sent an email authorising company officials to draw from special funds in order to win over customers who looked likely to choose Linux software over Windows.

"Under NO circumstance lose against Linux," the IHT quoted Ayala's email as saying.

Sullivan says the G2003 negotiating team has been aware of the reports, but it is “rather late in the piece” for the New Zealand government to use the supposed existence of such a fund to try and pressure a further discount out of Microsoft.

Our government has not made very loud noises about a potential move to open-source software as some other governments have, he says.

“I think there is no real stimulus for Microsoft to sweeten the pot in our case.”

The strongest statement about open source in NZ government came earlier this month from State Services Commissioner Michael Wintringham ('No contradiction' in OSS stance). This merely reminded government agencies that open source was an option, and referred to a background report discussing the pros and cons and the stance taken by some other governments.

Open source still is, of course, an option, even in the wake of G2003, Sullivan notes; the agreement only “provides [agencies with] a licensing option for Microsoft software,” he says.

“There is no mandate to use or not use Microsoft.”

The discovery of the fund has excited government officials and regulators in the US and the European Community as a possible indicator of how little Microsoft’s attitude has changed since the US Department of Justice antitrust suit. However, there is no firm indication of an intention to contest the legality of the fund in either jurisdiction.

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