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The ninth annual Cal-IT conference met today in London and heard from a panel of distinguished public sector IT experts that the relationship between software vendors and users is becoming far too unbalanced in favour of the big software companies.

Cal-IT is a showcase for small Californian technology firms organised by the state government. This highlight of this year's event was to be an opening address by The Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sadly, if not surprisingly, Arnie didn't make it. According to one of the organisers, word from his camp was "I'm confirming, I'm confirming....I'm not confirming."

A panel discussion on European software licensing models heard from Richard Steel, head of ICT for the London Borough of Newham, Stephen Heard, director of frameworks at OGCbuying solutions - the Treasury body tasked with improving government procurement and Ole-Bjorn Tuftedal, CTO for the city of Bergen. Marc Fleury, CEO of JBoss, was also on the panel which was chaired by Ovum senior analyst Bola Rotibi.

Tuftedal, who recently moved much of Bergen's IT onto Linux, complained that the pendulum has moved too far in favour of vendors and away from users. He said: "prices are going up, there is less flexibility and an increasing administrative burden in dealing with licenses...we hope to reverse this trend."

Richard Steel, head of ICT at Newham, talked about how he considered open source but eventually decided to stay with Microsoft. "18 months ago we looked seriously at open source. In the end we didn't do it. We got a better deal from Microsoft by the stance we took but we were serious about doing it." He said the reason was not just the price reduction offered but also more flexibility.

"Microsoft set up a public sector unit for the first time - they started talking our language. They are getting more local - not all decisions have to go back to the US now."

Stephen Heard from the Office of Government Commerce said licensing needed to be simpler. He used the example of a 64 page licensing guide from a major vendor which "wouldn't win any Plain English awards". He also pointed out that government is looking to cut 2.5 per cent from back office costs and software licences would play a role in this. ®

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