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Microsoft has upped the ante in its pursuit of public-service contracts by launching an online marketplace, as the company counters the open source threat. Governments across Europe will be able to select technology vendors specialising in public sector development projects, following an announcement by Microsoft on Monday.

The software giant also revealed it has been working with consultancy firm Accenture to offer customisable sets of software, strategies and best practices tailored to the needs of public-sector organisations. The blueprints, which are based on the Microsoft.NET platform, will be available for several operational areas including tax and revenue and human services.

As part of a day-long event in London devoted to the company's initiatives in the public sector and education, Microsoft Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) also launched four Schools Technology Innovation Centres, which are being opened to help teachers use information communications technology (ICT) and technical learning tools in the classroom.

"Typically, it can take months for governments to find the right solution provider with the right combination of ICT skills and services," said Pete Hayes, Microsoft EMEA's vice president of public sector. "With the Public Sector Partner Marketplace, governments can identify qualified vendors in minutes."

The online marketplace will bring together public sector customers and technology vendors in a Web forum specifically geared towards Microsoft-based solutions for government and agencies. Scheduled to launch at Tech Ed Europe, which starts on 29 June, the Public Sector Partner Marketplace will include listings of independent software vendors (ISVs) and systems integrators (SIs), as well as their offerings, organised by location, language and solution category.

Monday's announcement follows news of another agreement just inked by Microsoft and BearingPoint, the consulting company. BearingPoint has already cooperated with Microsoft on a number of major e-government implementations, including a retirement benefits system for the state of Florida and for teachers in Georgia. The two firms said their emphasis would be on building "repeatable enterprise solutions" for various aspects of e-government, and will cooperate in areas including technical training, solutions co-development and pre-sales support.

Such initiatives can been seen as an attempt to halt potential erosion of market share as Microsoft counters the threat from open source software (OSS). Public sector bodies of all sizes across the globe have been the most aggressive in testing OSS.

This is the case in Britain, where the government is among Microsoft's largest UK customers. Experts consider OSS tests carried out by the authority a significant threat to the company's UK public-sector business.

Locally, the Information Society Minister, Mary Hanafin, used the Irish Software Association's annual conference in April to throw doubt on the use of OSS, emphasising "open standards" instead. She indicated that since OSS is "open to amendment and reconfiguration", the long-term cost of using it in Irish e-government projects may be too great.

The comments drew an angry response from several proponents of OSS, who argue the statement is not consistent with European policy.

© ENN

Related stories

MS preps new Shared Source challenge to OSS?
UK Gov's open source mandate policy attacked
Microsoft, Sun, IBM and the war for government desktops
MPs call for Gov.uk to switch to open source (maybe)
Open source 'too costly' for Irish e-gov

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