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Council mumbles Microsoft benefits

Dubbed NetNazis, after snubbing open source

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Microsoft wheeled out a small council who had chosen its software over open source yesterday.

South Gloucestershire unitary council completed a £1m installation of Microsoft software last year at two new data centres.

Paul Appleton, head of IT at the unitary council, said he had considered using open source software and had discussed the plans with his opposite number at Bristol Council, the authority that famously ditched Microsoft and went open source in 2004.

He even commissioned the Society of IT Management to study his options. He chose Microsoft, he said, because it meant less aggro in the long run.

"We have about 60 permanent staff in IT so we don't really have the capacity to do a great deal of development inhouse," Appleton said. He also said Microsoft software would better "future proof" his systems.

But he could not explain the decision in any more detail. The society report might be released for the benefit of his peers in the public sector if his "public relations" manager allows it.

He appeared to squirm when pressed for figures to support his decision. Fortunately, Microsoft UK director of platform strategy Nicholas McGrath was able to butt in with some well-polished one-liners straight from the public relations handbook: "Cost savings...integration...ease of use...support".

Appleton later said maintenance, upgrade, and licensing costs for the old and new systems were about the same.

However, there were 10 per cent fewer calls to the help desk, more of which are being resolved immediately.

"But the long-term benefits are still to come because we've got a long learning curve still to go through," he said. "Our engineers have got experience in Novell. Their retraining is not yet complete."

He also said the new system caused an upset with council staff when they were prevented from using their own screen savers. The local paper called them "NetNazis," Appleton said.

Microsoft partner Telemon was brought in to do the work, which involved consolidating 40 IT offices and 27 servers into two data centres. ®

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