Government tries to drum up interest in Microsoft talks

Government departments representing more than 50,000 IT seats have registered for renewed software negotiations with Microsoft. But government negotiators want at least 80,000 seats to maximise the group's bargaining power.

Government departments representing more than 50,000 IT seats have registered for renewed software negotiations with Microsoft. But government negotiators want at least 80,000 seats to maximise the group’s bargaining power.

Internal Affairs information manager Alison Fleming has sent a second round of letters to government staff asking if they are interested in the negotiations.

Under Microsoft’s licensing rules, organisations that are at least 51% government owned are entitled to come under the government licensing programme. This includes government departments, crown research institutes, district health boards, local government and state-owned enterprises.

According to another government IT manager, discounts under the current government licence hold prices at 1992 rates.

“The brief is to renegotiate a government Microsoft Select agreement for 2003 onwards and we will negotiate as one entity,” says Fleming. “If you’re a government department you will be allowed to buy under the model. So far we have more than 50,000 seats. It’s important that government agencies express interest because when we go to Microsoft it makes a difference if we have 80,000 seats rather than 50,000.”

A spokesman for Air New Zealand has confirmed the airline, which was bought back by the government last year, will be taking part in the initiative thus boosting the screen count by 14,000. Capital and Coast District Health Board, which has 1600 user seats, will move under the negotiation umbrella for the first time.

The length of the term will also be renegotiated. The current licence covers agencies for four years — two plus two rollover option or three plus one. Fleming says the government must have a new agreement in place by next April. Some agencies’ licences will start expiring this year though they have an option to roll over for another year. Others that expire next June won’t have the rollover option and most will end next September.

Asked whether announcements by other governments around the world to use open source software will impact on the negotiations, Fleming says she doesn’t think so, at least this time around.

“Changing away from Microsoft is not something that happens in five minutes. Even if a government department decided to do that it would have to be a significant strategic decision. In the next four years we expect a significant proportion of government departments will remain on Microsoft. However, who knows what will happen in the four years after that? Government departments are giving open source consideration. It would be inappropriate not to.”

NZ Defence Force’s Warwick Sullivan, who is part of the negotiating team, says it’s important to point out that the agreement is an opt-in.

“We don’t want anyone to feel that they’re being strong-armed into it or inhibited from getting a better deal, though we hope that we will get the best deal available.”

Sullivan says defence, like many government agencies, is looking at open source software to augment Microsoft products. “We’d like to reduce our dependence on Microsoft. We are identifying web services that don’t need IIS or SQL 2000 so that we could put them on an Apache server.”

The State Services Commission’s e-government unit head, Brendan Boyle, says the unit encourages government departments to look at open systems software when considering their options. He says the government is tracking moves by governments in Peru, Taiwan and Germany to use open source software but it’s early days yet.

Boyle says the unit is implementing open source directory software for its SEE (secure electronic environment) mail project.

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