- With a $US50 billion annual IT budget that's still growing, the US government is the largest IT purchaser in the world and can influence the shape of technology in the the private sector.
Consumer advocate Ralph Nader has suggested that that spending power should be used to crack Microsoft's monopoly.
The government is a major user of products that compete with Microsoft on the desktop. The US Department of Defence has about 15,000 users of StarOffice, Sun Microsystems's personal productivity suite. The US Department of Justice is a major user of Corel's WordPerfect, with about 55,000 seats.
Nader and his technology policy expert, James Love, say the government can do a lot to stimulate IT competition, and they have met with White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) officials to discuss the issue. This week, they sent the OMB a letter suggesting that the government take specific measures to force interoperability.
For instance, they write, the federal government could stipulate that it won't buy Microsoft's Office software unless it exposes its file formats to allow interoperability with other personal productivity suites.
"Government procurement would make a difference," they wrote.
OMB officials didn't respond to a request for comment.
Microsoft took exception to the letter's claims. "We think that if Mr Nader took a close look at the software industry, he would find that no one delivers more technology at affordable prices to empower consumers worldwide," says Jim Desler, a Microsoft spokesman.
JD Cox, IT manager at M-E-C, a maker of dehydration systems in Neodesha, Kansas, has some idea of how government spends for IT. He's the mayor of Neodesha (population 2800) and also serves on the Kansas Information Technology Council.
At the state level, "it's amazing how much IT is being purchased," Cox says, adding that he can only imagine how large the federal government purchasing is. And if it could encourage competition, "that would be very positive," he says.
Government spending "could tip the competitive balance a little bit," says Dwight Davis, an analyst at Boston-based Summit Strategies. But, he adds, "I don't think it has the means to take away Microsoft's overall advantage."