Dutch government software tender favours Microsoft software

Posted by hkwint on Jan 31, 2008 10:57 AM
Webwereld.nl; By Webwereld / H.Kwint (summary & translation)

[ My personal opinions are between () parentheses. If you like to read a rather unbiased article, skip the bits between brackets and you should be fine - hkwint ]

(Dutch source here)
Yesterday Webwereld.nl (a Dutch IT-site called "Webworld") revealed it laid its hands on a 'non-public' document which describes a non-public tender for new software for 3k to 21k desktops for the financial department of the Dutch government. It seems the tender favours Microsoft and other closed software over other solutions leaving little chance for open source software. That's because the tender asks for support for several closed / proprietary platforms like Active Directory to manage logins and firewalls, and (the patent encumbered) .NET. After protest from society and politicians, the Dutch Minister of Finance / Vice Prime Minister, Mr. W. Bos answered the Dutch government will switch to open standards and open source software in 2012, but at the moment this is not a viable option (not viable since they are locked in rather badly it seems).

Recently the Dutch government adopted a plan called - translated - 'Netherlands Open in Connection' * which describes how the system of tenders should be changed to migrate to open source software and software conforming to open standards. However, the very same Department of Finance that wrote this plan - because the parliament asked for it - has written a 'closed' document covered under copyright for a closed tender which is called 'GOUD' (Gold). For a large part, the tender indirectly only allows Microsoft software it seems**. Last time there was a closed tender, Microsoft was awarded a deal of €156M worth of software and Michael Robertson's Linspire €6M alternative was not even considered***.

The software asked for - apart from .NET and AD - has also to support (Apple's) Filemaker Pro, MS FoxPro and MS SQL Server Client. The most controversial requirement was Trusted Platform Module support. Recently, like in Brittain, privacy encumbered data leaked to the press because of data in plain text which was retrieved from computers or devices coming from government officials who had lost the device or had thrown it away without erasing the hard disk. (I assume) the Dutch government thinks TPM accompanied with Digital Right (better: Restriction) Management is the solution to this problem. However, TPM also enables the makers of the TPM soft / hardware to decide what software does and what doesn't run on a particular desktop or laptop. At this moment only MS Windows Vista supports TPM. Because the Department of Finance had claimed copyright to the tender document, Webwereld.nl was not able to publish the document. However, because of the WOB ("Law Publicness Government" which states citizens should have access to government documents) the government is / was obliged to hand out this document when Webwereld.nl asked / if a citizen asks for it following the right procedure.

When one company reading the tender asked for the policy concerning open standards and open source, the department only pointed to an existing policy referring to .rtf, .txt and html but also the closed standards .doc and .mdb. What's very odd and really disturbing is that gratis (free as in beer) software is NOT allowed, and desktop solutions costing less than €100 per desktop are disqualified. Also, the tender states vendors are liable if the products delivered are not in compliance with the (proprietary world compatibility) requirements tender. For a lot of vendors (other than MS I assume that means) this is a problem, and they contemplate not to bid at all.

Before an 'emergency-debate' will be held next week, the Minister of Finance sent a letter to the parliament today. It states migrating to open source software and open standards too fast - like in a big bang - is not a realistic option. It also states, the current documentation being version 1, the department works on a second version of the tender for 2012, which is being written in such a way that does ask for open standards and open source software. A politician noted however, that the department started this tender before the Dutch open source software / open standards migration plans were presented.

BTW: To make things worse, the Dutch Competition Authority NMa is also one of the institutions which are part of the 3k to 21k desk/laptops mentioned, so this tender is also on behalf of them. That's the very same NMa which refused several consecutive years to research the possible abuse of a dominant market position by Microsoft when it comes to the deks/laptop market although it asked for input from the community and several community groups together with the deputy minister of finance asked them to do research this issue!

Related stories:
*Netherlands supports open standards and open source, by HeiseOnline, Dec 13th 2007
**Open Bid For Netherlands Government (Or how to save 150 million euros), by Michael Robertson, back then CEO of Linspire, Dec 14th 2004
***How to hire Guillaume Portes (Bill Gates ed.), by Rob Weir / IBM, Jan 3d 2007

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