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Government eyes open source software

Microsoft's high prices leads Treasury to look elsewhere

The government is considering using open source software to complement or even replace some of its current Microsoft software. This comes after the government saved itself (or rather, us taxpayers) a cool £100m over the next three years by renegotiating its contract with Microsoft.

In November, the OGC (Office of Government Commerce) said it was in talks with Microsoft over a single contract to supply its Office and Windows software to the country's 497,600 public servants.

It had threatened to cease using Microsoft software if the parties could not come to an agreement over an increase in licensing fees that the OGC claimed could raise costs by as much as 200 percent. In March, they came the agreement that stands to save the government £100m.

The OGC is an agency within the Treasury established in April 2000 and charged with modernising its IT procurement procedure and assuring it gets value for money.

Earlier this year, the OGC asked all government departments how much they were each paying for their Microsoft licences, only to discover there were huge discrepancies between departments, said OGC spokesman Martin Day.

The government then decided for the first time to negotiate with Microsoft as a united group, rather than on an individual basis. "This was something that Microsoft had not come up against before and they were none too happy at first," Day said.

According to Day, the government is also now giving agencies some leeway to choose non-Microsoft office productivity products, including tools from including Sun Microsystems and Lotus.

The multivendor approach will allow government departments to choose the software that best suits its needs, be it Microsoft Windows and Office, Sun's StarOffice software package or IBM's Lotus Notes, he said.

"The new deal with Microsoft helps to bring greater competition to the government's IT purchases. Also, the issue of open source is a big one. You won't get much of a discussion about the topic with Microsoft but you can bet your life that Sun will discuss open source," Day said.

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