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MP warns against Microsoft monopoly in e-gov services

'Those who don't use Windows should simply not bother'

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Citizens are being excluded from e-government services because they don't have the right software, an MP has warned.

Liberal Democrat MP Dr John Pugh believes the government is unwittingly creating a Microsoft monopoly in its delivery of online services because, in many cases, the public can only access them by using the US company's Windows software.

Speaking to GC News, Dr Pugh said: "Why can a Mac user not be able to apply for benefits online?"

"If a company built a road down which only a Ford car could go, there would be an outcry."

In an adjournment debate in the Commons this week, Dr Pugh challenged the government's stated position of neutrality and of supporting a "level playing field" in the software systems it wishes to see used.

He outlined a "damning" range of preferential treatment, which he said was tantamount to advertising and product placement.

During the debate, Dr Pugh said: "The Driving Standards Agency driving theory CD-Rom can be used only on Windows computers.

"The Revenue website has limited functionality for the Firefox web browser...The Department for Work and Pensions online benefits system can be accessed only by those who have a Windows computer.

"Those who have Unix or Linux computers or who use Mac computers should simply not bother."

In response, Treasury minister Angela Eagle said the government had made increasing use of open source software, which is now playing a key role in the delivery of some high profile IT projects.

She said the key online portal, Directgov, accessed by 6.5 million users a month, successfully uses open source products. Also a significant part of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency's electronic vehicle licensing system is delivered through open source components.

"Some open source projects cannot meet our needs for quality or security, and we are not prepared to compromise on those," she added.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

Kablenet's GC weekly is a free email newsletter covering the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. To register click here.

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