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UK govt pitches Sun as OSS challenger for 500k desktops

MS UK could have a real war on its hands

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The UK's Office of Government Commerce has emerged from apparent open source slumber with the announcement of a series of OSS desktop trials, to be held in conjunction with Sun early next year. These trials are particularly significant because they deal with desktop systems, whereas the OGC has previously been unenthusiastic about OSS on the desktop, and the previously-announced set of trials with IBM have only included desktop as an afterthought - if that.

Desktop software is one of the most important issues for the OGC simply because of the volumes at stake, but for so long as the outfit and its advisers take the view that OSS isn't ready, it leaves itself no choice but to concentrate on the only game in town, which is haggling down prices with Microsoft UK. Obviously being gouged can't be entirely satisfactory for MS, but owning the playing field and having the hagglers too tied-down to consider alternative options must be some comfort. Check through the Public Accounts Committee minutes linked to in the piece above to see How This Works - Peter Gershon and his merry men have much to say and do about Microsoft, its pricing and its doings, little about bigger pictures.

The OGC's new deal with Sun covers both enterprise and desktop software, and was concluded at a meeting between OGC CEO Gershon and Sun CEO Scott McNealy last Friday. In an announcement enthusiastically headed "Sun Shines on Whitehall" the OGC says that the ability of OSS to "run the Desktop computers used by the Government’s 500,000 Civil Servants and employees in the wider public sector is seen as essential if OSS is to be accepted as a more cost-effective alternative to proprietary software solutions," and there are clear indications that the intent is to go rather further in tests than the classic block-headed approach of trying to clone existing standalone Windows systems.

The OGC refers specifically to OSS being used to enable thin client computing, and to being able to gain environmental benefits by increasing the lifespan of existing computers. So actually there's a (the?) whole Sun strategy being roadtested here, its not just a discount desktop smash and grab, and Sun clearly has the opportunity to pitch itself as the major challenger to Microsoft in UK government computing.

When one considers where this could leave previous OGC bestest friend IBM, one cannot help words like "lunch" and "stolen" popping into one's head. The IBM-run OGC OSS trials announced a few months back probably owed more to the need to be seen to be doing something than to actually do it, some at least of the organisations involved were rumouredly surprised to learn from the press of their participation. There is much suspicion that the trials boil down to something like 'free stuff with knobs on if you buy Websphere.' IBM's conversion to OSS on the desktop is relatively recent, and the company makes its OSS money out of servers, while Sun has a whole desktop OSS policy it has to make succeed. Still makes its money out of servers, of course, but go figure the difference anyway. ®

Related stories:
UK NHS trials Sun Linux, threatens 800k user defection from MS
UK gov aims for 'level playing field' with open source pilots
Whitehall dips toes into open source purchasing

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