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Gates to meet Brown, OGC and NHS chiefs – Sun, OSS in crosshairs?

Under no circumstances lose against Linux, Bill...

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Bill Gates will be making one of his bigger sales calls on Monday morning. He's over in the UK for Chancellor Gordon Brown's entrepreneurs' summit, and will also be speaking at a Microsoft Longhorn developer conference later in the day. But squeezed in between we'll have a meeting with Gordon Brown himself, Peter Gershon of the Office of Government Commerce, and National Health Service IT head Richard Grainger.

It will no doubt be convenient to have the man with the money, the man whose job it is to save the money, and the man who might turn out to be a really big problem all in the one room, but does Sun know about this?

The NHS is currently in the throes of a massive IT overhaul, and Grainger has been talking tough on pricing and performance. Last month he announced a trial of Sun's Java Desktop System, observing pointedly that if this were successfully implemented across the NHS' 800k-plus desktops it would save millions. The OGC meanwhile has announced a series of trials of open source desktops, to be held in conjunction with Sun this year.

Gershon has come under fire from MPs because of his slowness in levelling the government procurement playing field, and in investigating open source. The IBM OSS trials he announced last autumn seem to have been something of a damp squib, with Newham, now firmly back in the Microsoft camp (see story), cancelling its trial before it actually started. So there's a certain amount of OGC credibility at stake as regards its Sun trials - if they don't prove that the OGC is making a serious attempt to assess alternatives to Microsoft, it could spell trouble.

Either of these two trials could result in a key breakthrough on the UK public sector desktop for Sun, so it's not exactly a surprise that Gates is in there selling. But will they buy?

On the subject of Microsoft's government sales efforts, incidentally, The Register couldn't help noticing a couple of familiar names holding forth this week. In an email to his staff leaked to eWeek, MS VP Orlando Ayala told them to "separate hype from reality" when it came to selling against Linux. This email does not mention the availability of bags of gold, but we suspect this Orlando Ayala could well be related to the one who told his staff "under NO circumstances lose against Linux", and who revealed the existence of a special fund to combat open source breakthroughs in government.

Meanwhile, speaking to CNet Microsoft senior vice president of business strategy Maggie Wilderotter downplayed the importance of open source government breakthroughs. "I really believe it's more about publicity than government moving faster than anyone else," she said. Could this unperturbed Maggie Wilderotter be possibly related to the Maggie Wilderotter we hear took a personal interest in the negotiations between Microsoft UK and humble, poverty-stricken UK council Newham? We suspect she could.

Considering this close interest, one would expect Wilderotter to be able to explain Newham accurately to the press. But apparently not - according to the Cnet report:

"Microsoft's Wilderotter said that many of the factors that prompt governments to look at open-source software turn out to go in Microsoft's favor once a government does an impartial investigation. She pointed to the London Borough of Newham, which engaged in a high-profile project a few years ago to promote open-source development. The local government body, in London in Great Britain, engaged an outside consultant to help direct long-range IT planning, and the decision went to Microsoft.

"'They looked at TCO (total cost of ownership), security and other issues, and based on a number of those factors, they chose Microsoft,' she said. 'It was very surprising to a lot of people they chose Microsoft, given the stance they'd taken before, but the facts were there.'"

As regular Reg readers will be aware, the consultants were engaged and paid for by Microsoft, with the brief to show how Microsoft software could help Newham achieve lower TCO. To claim that it was an impartial play-off between Windows and open source is simply not true, and we fear Wildetrotter must know this. Newham itself was so impressed, as we pointed out yesterday, that it promptly made an in-principle decision to implement an open source desktop system, and Microsoft subsequently won Newham by slashing its own prices. To, we suspect, levels that might even undercut Sun's Java desktop rates.

Get the facts, as the saying goes. ®

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