Red Hat Sues Switzerland Over Microsoft Monopoly

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£8 million a year to Microsoft, with no public bidding. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, say open source activists

Linux vendor Red Hat, and 17 other vendors, have protested a Swiss government contract given to Microsoft without any public bidding. The move exposes a wider Microsoft monopoly that European governments accept, despite their lip service for open source, according to commentators.

The Red Hat group has asked a Swiss federal court to overturn a three-year contract issued to Microsoft by the Swiss Federal Bureau for Building and Logistics, to provide Windows desktops and applications, with support and maintenance, for 14 million Swiss Franc (£8 million) each year. The contract, for “standardised workstations”, was issued with no public bidding process, Red Hat’s legal team reports in a blog – because the Swiss agency asserted there was no sufficient alternative to Microsoft products.

Red Hat and others have made the obvious response that there are plenty of alternatives to Microsoft, and the current situation makes them more attractive than ever, according to a report issued this week by Freeform Dynamics.

“It’s not just Switzerland who have been getting away with this kind of nonsense,” said Mark Taylor of the UK-based Open Source Consortium, adding that much of the credit for this action should go to the Free Software Foundation Europe, led by Georg Greve.

“All over Europe this kind of thing is happening, and in the UK almost all public sector tenders that we see actually *specify* Microsoft products,” said Taylor. “Even those that don’t will normally insist that the tendered for technology ties in with specific Microsoft products. I cannot imagine any other area of Government procurement where this practice would be allowed.”

Governments are tacitly accepting Microsoft’s monopoly on their ICT systems, said Taylor, despite public statements such as the UK’s recent announcement that it could save £600 million a year with open source said Taylor: “The cost is phenomenal,” he added, with Government spending billions a year on proprietary systems. “It is a scandal and a waste of public money that makes the MPs expenses scandal look like a drop in the ocean, and yet hardly anyone talks about it!”

The challenge to the Swiss government “raises important issues of openness in government and of a level playing field for open source and other competitors of Microsoft,” said Red Hat’s legal team. “Red Hat is seeking a public bidding process that allows for consideration of the technical and commercial advantages of open source software products.”

Even within Switzerland, Red Hat countered the bureau’s argument, by pointing to several Swiss agencies, including the City of Zurich, the Federal Agency for Computer Sciences and Telecommunictions (BIT), and the Federal Institute for Intellectual Property (IGE), who are Red Hat customers.

Microsoft’s European chair, Jan Muehlfeit recently boasted to eWEEK that Microsoft effectively owns 40 percent of all Europe’s IT, on the occasion of a giant promotional event with the EU in Brussels.

European ignorance and hostility to open source and free software is such that a group has launched a pact for candidates in the forthcoming European elections to sign,.pledging support for free software.


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