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UK NHS trials Sun Linux, threatens 800k user defection from MS

European open source worries get serious for Microsoft?

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The UK National Health Service is to run a trial of Sun's Java Desktop System, with the prospect of rolling it out across 800,000 desktops. The trial was pointedly announced in a statement by Richard Granger, NHS director general of IT, who said that successful implementation of the system would save "many millions of pounds."

In addition to being in the throes of a massive and ambitious IT modernisation plan, the NHS is currently locked in not-very-cordial negotiations with Microsoft UK over desktop licensing costs, and Granger has previously made his displeasure over Microsoft's apparent lack of flexibility clear. Microsoft has made determined moves to block defections to open source in Europe, in for example Munich and Newham, but the prospect of a million NHS users walking out the door should certainly be enough to win the company's attention.

And if Sun won a major foothold in UK public service at the client end, this would by no means be the end of it. Not having Microsoft on the desktop would substantially reduce the chances of the company leveraging its way further into the server side, and would require that any Microsoft systems used would interoperate effectively with open source desktops. So it could both roadblock the leveraging process and enable the wider take-up of open source in European governments.

Also today, it was announced that BT has won service provider contracts for the NHS worth in excess of £1.5 billion over ten years. These will be delivered via Syntegra, its systems integration subsidiary. Syntegra is a major Sun partner.

Granger may of course only be threatening defection in order to get Microsoft to shift on discounts. Under the circumstances, he surely ought to be able get some big ones. Is Ballmer on the plane yet? ®

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