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MS uk.gov deal wobbles as spin doctors seek revenge

Time for the horse's head in the bed?

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Microsoft's cosy relationship with the UK government may be about to go critical, thanks to a combination of outraged Unix boffins and vengeful government spin doctors. E-envoy Andrew Pinder himself seems to be back-tracking like crazy on the Microsoft connection, while cabals of Whitehall techies plot the counter-revolution. But if the Redmond Empire is rolled back, it'll likely be WinXP wot won it.

During the recent election here Microsoft's PR strategists pulled off a major coup by co-opting the Dear Leader Tony Blair for what was in effect a commercial for Windows XP. The Register's sources indicate that it is this outrage, rather than more logical issues such as whether or not Microsoft's software is any good, that's most likely to get Microsoft run out of UK government computing on a rail.

But if the cat catches mice, who cares what colour it is, quips one source. The techies, meanwhile, have been busy asking uncomfortable questions and diligently educating their masters. Procomp, the anti-MS Project to Promote Competition & Innovation in the Digital Age, seems to have been more use than we cynics at The Reg could ever have believed; its white paper Passport to Monopoly, Windows XP, Passport and the Emerging World of Distributed Applications is currently circulating in the relevant offices, and it seems to be winning some hearts and minds.

The e-Envoy himself has come under fire for his perceived closeness to Microsoft, and seems - albeit somewhat belatedly - to have decided they can't go on meeting like this, as people will start to talk. Speaking to Computing yesterday Pinder seems to have virtually rulled out using Microsoft's Hailstorm: "People expect government to be above suspicion in the way that it protects their information, and we would want to retain control of that. I don't see how that is compatible with the Hailstorm approach."

That's pretty shocking coming from the man who participated in Microsoft's UK Government Gateway announcement in Seattle, and who was down as a speaker for the Microsoft-sponsored Digital Britain conference - if indeed he did say it. His office however has yet to call us back protesting that he was misquoted, and our own enquiries indicate that no, he wasn't.

Pinder, we are told, has already come to the conclusion that Passport and Hailstorm are not appropriate for putting the UK government online, and wants that message to get out. They haven't yet been entirely ruled out, but they stand barely any chance at all of being adopted. And Microsoft seems to have ticked off other spin doctors too. The company is seen as having wildly oversold it's role in the government Gateway, which in any event is only one part of the whole project, and Pinder may well be feeling he's been stitched up in the same way Blair was.

For the moment, Microsoft is still in there, but we understand that the gateway itself is subject to a European Journal re-tendering process in a year's time. So that's 12 months for Bill's Merry Men to save the contract - but it doesn't look good... ®

Related stories:
MS-built UK 'Government Gateway' locks out non-MS browsers
e-Envoy's office defends Windows-only portal - climb down begins?
e-Envoy to speak at MS-sponsored Digital UK summit

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