Last week, members of the Dutch parliament and the open source community were riled by news that the Justice Department was working on a deal with Microsoft to put Windows on its thousands of desktop computers. Here, Brenno de Winter, a consultant in the Netherlands who has published several articles on the topic, explains what the deal means for technology and business in Europe.
Can you summarize briefly what is going on with the Dutch government and Microsoft?
Brenno de Winter: The Dutch government has contracts with preferred suppliers, among them are Microsoft and Novell. The contract with Microsoft has expired and Microsoft wants to close a deal with the new licensing mechanism. [Meanwhile,] the Dutch government has been negotiating in secret for a single deal with the entire government [for] approximately 260,000 desktops for a five-year period. It seems to be the case that the price per desktop will be around 120 euros [$159.452 USD]
There are two objections to a pending deal:
- In 2002, the parliament unanimously decided to prefer open source and open standards and try to change the government by 2006. This deal would be a bomb under those ambitions.
- For IT projects, one has to start a public bid as soon as the value is more than 360,000 euros. The question is if the negotiations were legitimate. Other parties like Sun Microsystems, Novell, Linspire and even Corel have indicated that they would love to compete in such a bid as well.
Didn't the Netherlands vow to use open source as much as possible? What happened?
de Winter: Yes, they did and some projects are under way, but this deal would keep open source and open standards away. Why the government [the Justice Department decided to start this process is not clear at all.
Why has the government abruptly changed its attitude?
de Winter: It remains to be seen if it is a change or incompetence by some employees. To figure out what happened, one needs information and the government is not giving this yet.
Does this hold any implications for open source adoption in other countries?
de Winter: If the deal pushes ahead this may be a business case for Microsoft and have some impact. But furthermore, it is more a national matter of a remarkable nature.
Why is it a national matter of a remarkable nature? Isn't it just another government contract bidding dispute?
de Winter: For three reasons:
- The Justice Department is negotiating with a party that has been convicted for anti-competitive behavior. By doing that they get access to a deal with a huge value and they strengthen their position in the market for the next couple of years. By not initiating an open bid, other companies like Red Hat, Mandrake, Novell, Corel and Sun Microsystems have no chance getting access to this deal.
- If you spent more than 236,000 euros, the EU normally mandates a public bid. If this is a contract renewal, that might not be the case, but if this is a new deal, the Justice Department might be acting illegally. When I discovered that the Association of Dutch Cities was trying to get the local government to buy into the negotiations, there was a scent of a new contract.
- In 2002, the parliament decided to follow the route of open standards and open source. If Microsoft is contracted, open standards and open source would then be fighting an uphill battle. The will of the parliament will then be ignored.
Is Microsoft more active in fighting open source in Europe than in other countries? If so, why? If not, are you seeing similar actions taking place elsewhere?
de Winter: Not necessarily. For Microsoft, the heat is on all around the world. There are migrations taking place in Europe, Asia, etc. Every situation is being dealt with differently. The question is, however, if Microsoft is to blame for the situation. The government entered contract negotiations and any sensible company would be too happy to pick up a multimillion-dollar deal.
How did Microsoft win over government officials?
de Winter: Well, if the government starts negotiating without paying attention to substantially lower alternatives, Microsoft doesn't have to convince anybody. If they tell that they are making the standards so that the government is OK, only smart buyers would be able to contradict that.