Goverment IT News Open Source

Swiss Government Has Microsoft “Dependency”

Open source advocates claim that a Swiss government department must open its doors to non-proprietary software

An ongoing case brought by Red Hat and other open source vendors against the Swiss government’s decision to award an uncontested IT contract to Microsoft could prove pivotal, according to experts.

Commenting on a recent decision by Swiss courts to reject the group of open source suppliers objections against the Microsoft contract, Mark Taylor of the UK-based Open Source Consortium, said the case shows how some government departments find it extremely difficult to extracate themselves from using Microsoft’s technology.

“In effect the Judge said the Swiss Public Sector is so addicted that it would be damaging to withdraw the dependency right now,” said Taylor.

Taylor added that if the ongoing case finds in favour of Microsoft when it finally concludes, it could set a troubling precedent for open source technology uptake in the public sector.

“I suspect this is a watershed moment and this case will play a pivotal part in the public debate from now on…,” said Taylor.

According to comments sent to eWeek Europe by the Swiss law firm, BCCC AVOCATS, last month the Swiss Administrative Court reportedly rejected the claim filed by 18 open source software providers against the Swiss Confederation’s decision to renew a three-year agreement with Microsoft to supply servers and desktops to the Swiss Federal Bureau for Building and Logistics.

In May this year, the open source group led by Red Hat protested what they claim was a Swiss government contract given to Microsoft without any public bidding. The Red Hat group asked a Swiss federal to overturn a contract issued to Microsoft for 14 million Swiss Franc (£8 million) each year. The contract, for “standardised workstations”, was issued with no public bidding process, Red Hat’s legal team reported in a blog – because the Swiss agency asserted there was no sufficient alternative to Microsoft products.

Also commenting on the ongoing case, Karsten Gerloff from the Free Software Foundation said that the Swiss department concerned should break free from its dependance on one vendor.

“Free Software offers users strategic control over their infrastructure. This problem is by no means limited to Switzerland. Across Europe,
it’s quite common for public bodies to either hand out contracts to proprietary software vendors without a proper public bidding procedure,” he said in a blog posting.

Mobile & Wireless News Open Source

Symbian 3 Is Ready To Go

The Symbian 3 operating system is ready but Nokia’s N8 smartphone will be a bit late to take on Apple’s iPhone 4

The new version will run on the Nokia N8 phone due to appear shortly, and improves the Symbian operating system – the most widespread smartphone OS in the world – in various ways. Symbian 3 (also called Symbian^3 or S^3) was demonstrated at Mobile World Congress in February, when the second version of Symbian was released as open source.

Functionally complete – but is it an iPhone competitor?

“This is an important milestone for the Symbian Foundation as it marks the first time this point has been reached for a fully open source release and the time at which Symbian 3 is considered ready for community use,” said Rafe Blandford of All About Symbian, following the announcement that Symbian 3 is “functionally complete,” in the Symbian developer newsletter.

“This is an important stage for device creators and developers, but is not of major significance to consumers, other than to indicate that Symbian 3 is well on track for being in devices in the second half of the year,” said Blandford. “The Nokia N8 was the first Symbian 3 device to be announced, but there are many more on the way from multiple manufacturers.”

Symbian 3 having now been declared officially Functionally Complete marks an important milestone in the platform and represents a transition from feature submission and stability into the hardening phase. However, “functionally complete” is not the same as “feature complete,” Symbian officials said.

There could still be some minor changes to the platform – even though the software is slated to begin to appear on devices in the later in the year – following a delay to the original shipping date of the Nokia N8

Symbian 3 features include home screen improvements, next generation graphics, better data networking and a better entertainment experience including HD video, smart remote controls, interactive radio, music store integration and podcasts.

For developers, Symbian 3 delivers support for the Qt application framework version 4.6. Availability of Qt 4.6 for Symbian 3 means developers can start using the power of this new runtime, to plan new applications and to start the migration of their existing applications. Where used, Qt application framework will sit alongside the Avkon UI framework, enabling both forward and backward compatibility. Avkon is the name of the legacy UI framework that Qt replaces.

Nokia is pinning its hopes on Symbian 3, along with a general upgrade and simplification of its phone and smartphones, but has downgraded its sales forecasts

Goverment IT News

UK Government Breaks Promise To Use SMEs

Despite promising to end the IT oligopoly of big businesses, government is ignoring SMEs

The UK government is doing less business with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) than a few months ago, despite promises by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude earlier this year to end the oligopoly of big business supplying government IT and open up the market to new providers.

At the first meeting of the ‘New Suppliers to Government’ working group, put together by the Cabinet Office, members highlighted that the government’s aspiration to place 25 percent of all its business with SMEs is in direct conflict with projects such as Sir Philip Green’s ‘Efficiency Review’,  which pushes for consolidation within the supply chain.

“There are two competing tensions inside the government,” said Mark Taylor, CEO of Sirius and lead for the New Suppliers to Government working group. “One of them is the Cabinet Office’s stated commitment to getting more SME involvement. However, the other drive within government is pushing things the other way.”

Two conflicting cost-cutting methods

The Efficiency Review, published in October 2010, said that the government can reduce its spending by acting as a single purchaser, consolidating its supply chain and squeezing its suppliers. “The implication of that programme is they will reduce the number of people they buy from to a very small amount of very large suppliers,” said Taylor.

While this can be an effective way to cut costs through economies of scale, it is not appropriate to every sector, added Taylor. In the case of IT in particular, a great deal of innovation is coming from smaller companies, which can help reduce government expenditure through agile processes and open source technologies.

Taylor cited the Ministry of Justice’s CIPHER project as an example of how SMEs are being elbowed out of contracts as a result of these conflicting objectives. Back in March the MoJ cancelled all freelance IT contractors supplied through SMEs and transferred them to outsourcing company Capita‘s £123 million Cipher contract.

“The solution that we are proposing is very simple,” said Taylor. “In the private sector, companies of whatever size will purchase from whichever entity makes the most sense. If it’s a commoditised service, buy it from a huge supermarket at commodity prices. If it’s a specialised service that is appropriate for the business, buy it from an SME.”

The news follows comments last week by Stephen Allott, the Cabinet Office’s crown representative for SMEs, who said that it will take up to two years for Whitehall to stop excluding small businesses from work they could do more effectively than larger rivals.

Allott was quoted in the Telegraph as saying that meaningful reforms were being rolled out, but that they would take time to be implemented. “There are a lot of things that need to be fixed,” he said.

Ending the rip-offs

Back in July, MPs on the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) released a report entitled  “A Recipe For Rip-Offs”: Time For A New Approach, which revealed “obscene” overspending on IT within government departments. According to some sources, the government often pays between seven and ten times more than the standard commercial rate for IT work, said Bernard Jenkin, chair of the PASC.

However, according to Intellect, the trade association that represents IT suppliers of all sizes, allegations of anti-competitive behaviour and the suggestion of an industry cartel were “completely unfounded,” as well as being “inaccurate and misleading”.

“The implication is that leaders of public sector businesses in our industry have been involved in criminal activity,” said Intellect in a statement at the time. “As the trade body for the ICT sector, we want to make it clear that this is not the case and cartels do not exist in our industry. On the contrary, this is a highly competitive market.”