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Dump Microsoft, Use Linux to Save Money, U.K. Officials Suggest (businessweek.com)
39 points by dotcoma on July 10, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 31 comments



Dumping Microsoft would be a smart move, not only in terms of saving money on licenses but also in order to increase the governments IT procurement options (freedom from lock-in). Ideally to maximize return on investment any software written using public money for public use should be open source.

In reality the government won't be able to dump old systems overnight, but should put in place a transition plan similar to the Open Source Action Plan proposed about a year ago. Any new software developed should preferentially take advantage of any open source systems currently available, before considering proprietary options.


90% of these open source initiatives are just schemes to put pressure on Microsoft to lower licensing fees.


This isn't even that, this is a single suggestion on a public forum asking 600,000 civil servants in the UK for suggestions of lowering costs. Using 'UK officials' to describe these 600,000 people is absurd. If you could that would be 1% of the UK population would could speak for the UK. No.

This isn't costed, nor is it an official stance. This is from a total random person. It is statistically far more likely to be a secretary or janitor than a head of IT.

In other words it is a TOTAL non-story. It is, to be frank, very, very bad journalism.

It is the equivalent of reporting that all Nike sports shoes are potentially going to be made in the US because someone put a note in a random store's suggestion box that they should.

It was bound to have been posted by someone. I'm guessing that switching to single sheet loo roll is also somewhere in the suggestions.


Did you bother reading the entire article? Yes, it was one of many ideas, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, was pushing for open source. Not some random secretary or janitor.


I think you need to read the article again, I assume you're talking about:

“We need to follow the example of businesses all over the world and take advantage of open-source technology,” Osborne wrote in The Times of London in February 2009.

You mean the quote from Feb 2009? A full year before they got into power? No commitment, no oversight, no civil servants actually assessing the plan, just a Shadow Chancellor musing about something.

So still a total and utter non-story.

You need to learn to read articles more objectively, see what they're really saying.

This one is saying a list of suggestions from the 600k civil servants included using OSS (big whoop, meaningless). George Osborne said while he was Shadow Chancellor we should take advantage of OSS (note no mention of MS or OSes).

That this got twisted into "Dump Microsoft, Use Linux to Save Money, U.K. Officials Suggest" is a travesty. No officials have said anything resembling this and they certainly didn't target MS.


The other 90% of these initiatives, on the other hand, are genuine attempts to reduce costs with the added benefit of breaking vendor lock-in and thus reducing costs down the line while increasing decision autonomy.

I have no idea who suggested it, but, if I were a UK citizen, I would prefer the money that comes from my taxes to be diverted to companies that create more jobs in the UK than they create in Redmond, or Bangalore.


That's the issue that many countries deal with, do you purchase a sub standard product from a local vendor to keep money in the local economy or do you go for the most effective product anywhere.

The big problem for them will be that it's fine to give all these people OpenOffice but they have the extra effort of also saving it into an Office format most times they have to interact with people outside there business. Then there could be translation problems.


In this specific case, it's the choice between the most effective product and the one with biggest marketing budget.

Also, in this case, companies wishing to do business with the government should adhere to government norms. If the government dictates OOo-compatible file formats, then OOo-compatible it will be.


... and why is that bad? or rather, who is it bad for?


I never commented on whether it was good or bad. I merely pointed out a fact that isn't obvious at first glance to everyone when they encounter a story of this kind.


I'm not sure if this is controversial at all, or if more govts are sticking with MS out of plain old inertia.

MS has a place. Look at the requirements, and if MS is the 'best', use them. But... the 'best' definition needs to be clear at all levels, and understood by everyone involved.

My argument for migrating towards more Linux/opensourceness would be one of 'keep the money local'. Especially in the early stages of a migration, there may in fact be a short term increase in spending, to find local talent to train and reprogram systems. After the initial transition, the need for fewer license renewals can be substantial.

Assuming there wasn't 100% reduction in licensing costs. Let's say there was a 60% reduction in licensing costs, but in reality that became only 70% because of increased training, customization and programming costs. You've saved 30% but also kept more money flowing in the UK economy.

At some point, stuff need to be paid for. You can choose to hire local consultants and companies who use MS tools, meaning you're paying for local talent and paying license fees over to an US-based company. Or you can pay local talent to use free technology.

Bottom line: You have to pay talent/labor, but you may have more money in the budget to pay more local people to get more done after migrating to free technologies.


I'm skeptical of "keep the money local" and "create local jobs" arguments. They sound good, but rarely end up being good economics.

Beware: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protectionism

In my mind, the two most important things to consider are:

1) How will worker productivity be affected by the transition? Retraining and relearning can be extremely expensive, especially for information workers who are set in their ways. Not to mention the cost of migrating all a company's documents, scripts, programs, assets, etc. over to the new formats.

2) How is worker productivity affected in the long run? OpenOffice is still far behind Office in usability for the average information worker. The savings in license costs is probably outweighed by the long-term productivity hit.

In the grand scheme of things, software is pretty cheap. Wasted man-hours are very expensive. I haven't seen evidence that these transitions to open source actually save money.


> How will worker productivity be affected by the transition?

It's easy to run a pilot and check. From previous experiences, it drops a little in the beginning, but training smooths the transition. With increased decision freedom due to removed vendor lock-in, governments can both choose the best tool for a given job (even if it's incompatible with, say, MS SQL Server) or develop the missing functionality (because they have access to source code). And governments can cooperate over these developments across regional or national borders. Reduced licensing cost is just the beginning.

> especially for information workers who are set in their ways

In other words, who can't learn another IDE beyond Visual Studio and other language beyond VB. Oh! Wait! They have to learn a new Visual Studio every couple years. And they had to learn VB.Net (or C#, or managed C++). They already do relearn lots of stuff.

And if you have a developer who is not willing to learn, fire him.

> OpenOffice is still far behind Office in usability for the average information worker

Come on... How many people within Microsoft really stress Words feature-set? 1%? The average "information worker" would be perfectly fine with WordStar and Visicalc. Also, it's not like Office 2003 users weren't completely lost when upgraded to 2007 and more so on 2010. The GDP of a decent-sized country was lost on menu repositioning over Office's history.

> The savings in license costs is probably outweighed by the long-term productivity hit.

Long term productivity hit meaning these workers cannot learn new things?


Oh! Wait! They have to learn a new Visual Studio every couple years. And they had to learn VB.Net (or C#, or managed C++).

Most information workers are not developers and have never heard of the above technology. Keep in mind that developers are more receptive to change than most computer workers, which is part of the reason MSFT evolves dev technology more rapidly.

They already do relearn lots of stuff.

Switching to the new version of Windows/Office is not the same as switching to Linux/OpenOffice. To keep things in perspective, the switch to the Ribbon was the biggest change to Office in many releases. Most releases (e.g. Office 2010) require little relearning.

And if you have a developer who is not willing to learn, fire him.

Long term productivity hit meaning these workers cannot learn new things?

It isn't black and white like that. This isn't about not being willing to learn or not being able to learn new things. Many computer workers -- lawyers, managers, schoolteachers, administrative assistants, my parents -- hate having to learn new technology. They'll learn eventually, but it might be slow and costly, and might not result in any productivity boost in the end.

Come on...How many people within Microsoft really stress Words feature-set? 1%? The average "information worker" would be perfectly fine with WordStar and Visicalc.

It's not about feature set. It's about familiarity, muscle memory, ease of use, efficiency, stability, performance, interoperability, accessibility, backwards compatibility, ubiquity (Office is installed on most PCs), documentation, supportability, and visual polish.

Alternate response: why are so few organizations switching to WordStar & Visicalc?


just because it's a headline doesn't make it a controversy.

I have seen what my government (not UK) needs in terms of IT infrastructure and there isn't anything microsoft specific that is being exploited to any degree. Most IT related jobs are outsourced to contract workers and the big money play would actually come from migration costs.

also, some government branches might be running custom software, which would either need to re-written or, quite frankly, trashed -_-.


I wasn't meaning it was specifically controversial in this case - poorly worded on my part. I remember when these ideas were first gaining steam years ago in various govts (linux people always liked to point to any 'wins'). I guess I was just wondering if it's primarily inertia that still keeps people from basically even trying pilots to determine cost savings or other benefits.


I work in an analysis shop for state government, and the minority of us who do "sophisticated" analysis (which is really just basic numerics and trending plus making maps), could go to a Unix/ FOSS world and increase productivity in no time. However, it gives me the shakes thinking about trying to explain CSV's to 100s of local jurisdictions, much less the less sophisticated 50% of OUR office. But when I say "send me an excel spreadsheet of X, Y, Z" EVERYONE knows what I mean; so we won't be installing Ubuntu on our desktops any time soon, unfortunately.


>But when I say "send me an excel spreadsheet of X, Y, Z" EVERYONE knows what I mean; so we won't be installing Ubuntu on our desktops any time soon, unfortunately.

For real? OpenOffice.org and KOffice (that I know) both output XLS files. OOo in fact is more compatible with more versions of MS Office than MS Office is AFAICT.

There are some esoteric differences between OOo's spreadsheet (called Spreadsheet) and MS Excel so you'd want to do some testing first.

There used to be StarOffice (not sure if it's still around) which was Sun's payed for version from which OOo was extracted and also Lotus Symphony based on OOo - both commercial offerings; like I said I'm not sure of the status of these now.


OOo, umm, still sucks. I don't know about Koffice, and I really love Gnumeric. It is more that the government is in world of not very savvy users (ahem), and getting out of sync with one's colleagues/ customers/ etc would be a huge productivity hit, even though personal productivity alone on projects would be fine.


>OOo, umm, still sucks.

I'm curious. I've come across some things on more complex forms (PAYE+NI calulators for example) that differed from the MS Excel way but not much/often (but I don't use it much).

Can you be specific about what your colleagues are doing in MS Excel that OOo Spreadsheet can't do or how else it sucks?


OOo does a decent job with XLS files (in my limited experience) but butchers PPT slides (also in my limited experience)


Last time I was asked to send an Excel spreadsheet, I used "Save As" and chose XLS. For good measure, I attached the OOo version with a brief explanation. The other side responded he was also using OOo.

I still call presentations "PPTs", even when made in OpenOffice.


Yeah, when you're using Open Office you can always ask the person your sending the spreadsheet to to download OpenOffice to read it. Especially if they are someone you're paying money to, like a consultant or an outside firm. It's free after all.


Weird moderation on an article that could be interpreted as an attack on Microsoft... Why am I surprised?


Open Source in Government is just another political buzzphrase along with Open Data. However, Open Data is relatively easy to do and it has various emotional or financial attachments to some: e.g. "It's our data" or "We paid for it" and so it won various brownie points when data was released. Open Source is a different kettle of fish and vast swathes of Government IT are set-up around Microsoft and other proprietary systems.


Given that the NHS alone has spent 400Million on an unfinished unified medical records system (for real, 400Million GBP!) then I'd have thought having a UK Linux OS created by the gov and used throughout all gov departments, schools, etc. and given away free for private and business use would be a drop in the ocean of UK gov IT spending.

Guess it's too communist looking.


I seriously doubt that, if the NHS system were to be developed "in the open" with public access to daily builds and in-progress documentation, a 400M GBP disaster would have happened.

Light is a great antiseptic.


In related news, I just discovered (today in fact) a real-life Adobe DreamWeaver alternative that DOESN'T SUCK! And for the most part, it's completely free, unless you want the Pro version which costs a whopping $59: http://www.evrsoft.com

I dunno. I feel like dancing on my dining room table with a lampshade on my head, I'm so freakin' happy. Except I don't have a dining room table, so that takes care of that.

P.S. I have absolutely nothing to do with Evrsoft. I only heard of them today. The software is great, so I thought I'd pass along the good news.


>I only heard of them today. The software is great, so I thought I'd pass along the good news.

Use it for a couple of weeks and then post us a review.

Personally (and I've developed using about 20 different apps/environments) I feel you need to have done a whole project on it to really know if it's any good.

Tagged for a closer look. Currently I'm using Quanta+ and am exited that a GSoC dev has stepped in to push it into KDE4 proper (trials of Kdevelop halted for now).


I've used DreamWeaver exclusively for about a decade (way back when Macromedia was the shiznit), mostly for static HTML/CSS projects. Then recently, my main PC died, and with it my last Adobe Creative Suite 5 licence (I couldn't get back into the drive and deactivate the licence on that computer).

That sent me on an epic voyage for a dreamweaver alternative, and I've been disappointed by the half dozen or so open source alternatives. Yeah, I've only kicked the tires on Evrsoft, but it seems sturdy enough for what I'll use it for.

Let's face it, things are moving away from static HTML to online CMS platforms like Drupal and Wordpress. I'm not crazy about forking over hundreds of dollars for a) software that's already paid for and b) software I am needing less and less.


Afterthought: I've used NVU years ago when I ran RedHat, and it wasn't terrible. Still isn't.




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