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Monopoly leveraging - a Commission Do it to Yourself guide...

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The European Commission is currently deciding what it can do to stop Microsoft using its dominant position on the desktop to carve itself a similar monopoly in the server market. But at the same time, the European Commission's IT purchasing policies are supporting that very process. The Commission uses Windows clients, is upgrading these to Windows XP, and has just invested in a large number of Windows 2000 Advanced Server application servers to support them.

Presumably, one of the factors slowing up a decision on the antitrust matter involves the Commission trying to figure out how it can stop itself doing this kind of stuff. This particular contract award, made to Dell, is listed in an EU Tenders Electronic Daily (TED) notice published on 28th January. It has a value of 12.7 Million Euros, and is for "Acquisition of 'Office and application servers' (entry-level, mid-range, high-end) including associated equipment (options and extensions) and add-on software, and maintenance and associated services." The servers, according to the contract notice issued last June, are 237 entry level, 445 mid-range and 68 high-end, and the contract is for two years,with three possible extensions of one year each, with "maintenance, upgrades and associated services" covering six years, again with three possible one year extensions.

By the standards of EU spending this is actually a pretty small contract, and could be seen as a follow up to previous purchases, as the Commission says it bought 240 "office and application servers" between December 1999 and December 2001. The choice of Windows 2000 as the OS may also have significance, although the fact that the decision-making process took place well in advance of Windows 2003 Server being finished means it couldn't have been a credible option for 2003 delivery.

It would surely be politically difficult for the Commission to allow its Informatics Directorate to follow Microsoft down the .NET road, so a Win2k purchase now allows it a couple of years breathing space before it has to confront that decision. Or quite possibly longer - the commission has a lot of purchasing power, advantageous framework agreements with Microsoft, and other IT suppliers, so if it wants to buy Windows 2000 for longer than Microsoft would prefer, well, it probably can. (In which case one wonders about the necessity to upgrade the clients to XP, but there you go).

The Register's sources in Brussels, even the Unix-loving ones, are unperturbed by the latest deal, which they see largely as the short-term continuation of existing Commission policy at the applications level. It does not, they feel, change the policy of encouraging open source and using Unix (at the moment, particularly Sun) as the mid-range and high-end production platform of choice. Their Lenin-like confidence in their ultimate triumph is commendable.

But in the longer term the Commission is going to have to confront the issue of monopoly leveraging on its own doorstep and decide how far, and for how long, it intends to run with Windows as its application platform of choice, and Windows applications servers munching their way up the food chain. If the pattern is to buy a pile of Windows servers every two years, then we should expect the contract notice to appear in TED around the middle of next year. Should be interesting. And it'd perhaps also be interesting to see how it was going in encouraging open source clients, and perhaps associated applications servers, a little bit before then. ®

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