06.10.11

Government Procurement in the UK

Posted in Europe, Free/Libre Software, Microsoft at 12:09 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

How the vocation of taxpayers’ money is determined

Coin towers

Summary: The exclusion of important and viable market players by putting the “Microsoft” brand name, for example, right there inside the requirements

THE BUSINESS of procurement sure is funny. In Switzerland it was such “funny business” that it led to a lawsuit which we covered mostly one year ago in:

  1. Microsoft Sued Over Its Corruption in Switzerland, Microsoft Debt Revisited
  2. Can the United Kingdom and Hungary Still be Sued for Excluding Free Software?
  3. 3 New Counts of Antitrust Violation by Microsoft?
  4. Is Microsoft Breaking the Law in Switzerland Too?
  5. Microsoft Uses Lobbyists to Attack Holland’s Migration to Free Software and Sort of Bribes South African Teachers Who Use Windows
  6. ZDNet/eWeek Ruins Peter Judge’s Good Article by Attacking Red Hat When Microsoft Does the Crime
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  13. When Microsoft-Only/Lock-in is Defined as “Technology”
  14. Microsoft’s Allegedly Illegal Swiss Contracts to Take People to Court Again
  15. Microsoft’s Allegedly Illegal US Procurement Gets Frozen After Lawsuit

The practice of illegal procurement which excludes competition to what’s currently being used is an issue we have covered many times since 2007. We wrote about the situation in the UK under posts such as:

  1. Has Microsoft Unleashed Its Trolls at the UK Authorities?
  2. Microsoft UK’s Chief ‘Accomplice’ Jumps Ship
  3. Richard Steel’s and Microsoft Ballnux Franchise (Updated)
  4. Signs of Microsoft Corruption in the United Kingdom and Czech Republic
  5. The Newhamicrosoft Saga: Part Deux

The important factors which which are cronyism and nepotism sure play a role everywhere, government procurement included. It is worth understanding just where it happens and when it happens; as this new article explains, Microsoft somehow ‘wins’ not because it has technical merit but because it is embedded into the policy. To quote:

European public sector IT contracts are unfairly favouring large suppliers such as Microsoft by ignoring the rules governing the use of trademarks in tender requests, according to a new report.

[...]

Where tenders were found to include trademarks, the overwhelming majority mentioned ones belonging to Microsoft.

Bertrand Diard, chief executive of open-source data management vendor Talend, called on the UK government to enforce best practice and to encourage fair competition for UK public sector contracts.

“The current process of IT contract tender [in Europe] is rife with issues,” he said. “If there is to be any development for open standards in the UK, then responsibility falls upon the shoulders of those in the Cabinet Office to follow through on their initial plans.”

Under EU rules, public sector bodies should avoid using trademarks in tender notices for software packages and information systems, in order to encourage competition.

In the wake of its long-running anti-trust dispute with Microsoft, EU officials had be keen to encourage public sector organisations to consider alternatives to Microsoft’s technology, particularly in areas where the Redmond-based firm dominated the market, such as desktop operating systems and productivity tools.

Had platforms been assessed based on their technical features (and antifeatures), Microsoft would rank quite low. As an educator, Mr. Pogson explains what is wrong about Windows, for starters:

We don’t need more

* DRM,
* phoning home,
* re-re-reboots,
* ABI/APIs,
* exclusive dealing,
* stuff KLUDGED to the OS like mud pies, and
* complexity.

Enough! Use GNU/Linux to be free of this burden on IT. I have been using GNU/Linux for IT almost exclusively since 2000 and I have only had a few problems, not usually involving security, in all that time whereas with that other OS people are getting rafts of problems to fix monthly like a woman’s curse.

One regular reader of ours told us that Mr. Pogson had been laid off possibly because of his preference for GNU/Linux, which in the education sector is not so widespread. In some sense, he may have been expelled, so to speak, for having other opinions (which are very defensible by the way). Similarly, one British journalist insinuates that by issuing veiled threats following the Bristol incident (see links at the bottom for background), the side which empowers and profits from proprietary software in the British public sector only reinforces the perception that those who favbour Free/open source software suffer retribution. One article says: “A Linux shop has spoken out in defence of boo-hissstems integrators otherwise blamed for dominating the industry, stifling competition, ripping off tax payers and presiding over public IT failures so infamous they discredited the last government and stained the reputation of an entire profession.”

Another article, from the excellent journalist Mark Ballard, speaks about the threats. To quote: “The big IT suppliers are so powerful, it is said, they control the vast majority of public sector IT, which is done in their commercial interest. That may count as quid pro quo from supplier’s perspective. But when that supplier is part of an oligopoly servicing a monopoly, it is a little unfortunate for anything trying to breathe outside that comfortable little world that has become known as government IT.” For some background, see the links we posted under government and public sector earlier this week. We reproduce them below.

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3 Comments

  1. Needs Sunlight said,

    June 11, 2011 at 3:08 am

    Gravatar

    I’ve seen it selectively enforced.

    Micromoles will specify “Microsoft” brand products in their tenders but if one is aiming to buy non-M$ stuff they then squawk about not being allowed to put brands and make all kinds of trouble about even writing the request for proposals.

  2. Needs Sunlight said,

    June 11, 2011 at 3:16 am

    Gravatar

    This is one instance where it is an advantage that the phrase “open source” was denied trademark status. It can be freely used in request for proposals. Of course it is always possible to simply use key parts of the definition in the RFP instead. Even Apple (for the time being) can be specified in this way because of the open core nature of the OS and kernel.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Apple too is treated as a brand now (Apple or iThings), not as a standard.

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