All Roads Lead to Rome

My attention was captured by a recent headline, ‘Microsoft scrambles to keep Munich on Windows’, which described how the company as in danger of losing the city of Munich city to an offer made by IBM and SuSE Linux to migrate the city's 14,000 computers to the open-source Linux operating system from Microsoft Windows.

Such a decision, if it were to be made, would of course be bad new for Microsoft, as it might set a precedent for other German government decisions, in a country which is increasingly prepared to consider Open Source alternatives to Windows.

In a conversation with Jean Philippe Cortois, the Microsoft CEO for Europe, I asked if Open Software and the interests of European government in Open Software and open standards represent more of a commercial threat to Microsoft in Europe than elsewhere?

The UNIX culture is very strong in the European public sector,” says Courtois "And Microsoft faces a global challenge in proving the greater value, flexibility and integrated nature of our solutions. “That challenge faces us across the world but is clearly an area of focus within Europe”.

There is”, he says “A measure of ambiguity to the argument revolving around Open Source and Open Standards”. While Microsoft has been revealing its source code to governments, it has been equally active in working with the industry to develop and support the next generation of Open standards”. These say Courtois “Will complement our XML-based interoperable world, where data can be shared as easily as text and pictures, an example of how we are enhancing technologies and connecting all systems, not just Microsoft’s. This is a credible, open and innovative approach which even our sceptics would agree is a real commitment

Not giving a great deal away then, as one might expect in such a sensitive area but Cortois was keen to stress the scale of cooperation that is taking place between Microsoft and governments across Europe. These early signs of German support of Open Source may be a warning to the Microsoft church but don’t yet represent the vanguard of the Open Source ‘Reformation’; my words not his.

In fact, the bigger picture very much suggests that as the company challenges the position of the traditional UNIX software market in partnership with traditional ‘Big Iron’ companies like Unisys, it is winning converts as government departments swap their UNIX-driven legacy Mainframes for more flexible and cost-effective Windows Mainframes, like the ES7000.

One example is the Municpale Di Roma, an eGovernment project I have been following. The government of Rome, where UNIX remains a preferred platform are putting in five Unisys ES7000 systems for a number of reasons, which involve cost, consolidation, Internet enabling of applications and a general “tidying-up” and centralising of their computing architecture.

I find it interesting to note that this move does not mean that Rome has rejected UNIX but rather it recognises where the Windows/ES7000 combination offers greater flexibility and a better TCO solution than a UNIX solution.

There I think we have something approaching an answer to the Windows/UNIX/Open Source dilemma. Each solution can play well in a particular space but Windows is a great all-rounder which continues to improve and ‘scale-up’ with every year that passes. While Germany clearly recognises the strengths in the Open Source argument, I believe that where the public sector across Europe is concerned, costs and co-existence, rather than replacement will shape future demand for software as government services become increasingly connected and Web-enabled.


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