[Gllug] UK Government software

Chris Bell chrisbell at overview.demon.co.uk
Tue Jul 9 19:37:32 UTC 2002

   I recently sent a letter to my MP stating some of my concerns at the way
that this government is handling control of the country's computer systems.

The British government has claimed that it wishes to provide Open Access to
the public.
   Many countries throughout the world, including France and Germany in the
EEC, are taking action, not only to counter the near-monopoly status of
Microsoft, but also to replace their often poor quality and unstable
software with better, reliable, and secure software, much of it developed by
universities and professionals throughout the world, and available free
together with its source code.
   The British government has given the control of its computer systems,
together with control of access and access method, to Microsoft. There has
not been any request for commercial or other tenders.
   Microsoft repeatedly change their software so that each version of their
software is unable to access files produced by different versions of their
software, their current license restricts or prohibits access by other
systems to their files, their current licence is only available for
expensive short term lease, while none of their software licences provide
any warranty whatsoever as to the suitability or performance of their
   Government owned Information Technology departments are not being allowed
the choice of Best Value systems. The NHS is being forced to use Microsoft
filing systems to store hospital records, to which the NHS must provide
access for at least the liftimes of its patients, many government documents
are provided in Microsoft proprietary formats, access to the Inland Revenue
electronic returns system is restricted to computers running Microsoft,
schools are being forced to teach the use of Microsoft rather than the
control and use of computers, and Microsoft has effectively been given the
ability to insist that the whole of the country must use Microsoft products.

The following is copied from a reply from Stephen Timms MP, Minister for
E-Commerce and Competitiveness at the DTI.

The UK Government conducts 5 billion transactions a year with citizens and
businesses, spread over 20 large departments, 480 local authorities and more
than 200 agencies. Our aim is to make those transactions available
electronically, in a customer focussed form, and in a joined-up fashion by
2005 - the Government Gateway is the cornerstone of this initiative. The
Government is committed to making the Gateway accessible to as many citizens
as possible regardless of the software they use, but given the need for
users to be confident that communications through the Gateway are secure,
there have to be some quite stringent security requirements.

The majority of citizens and business use either a pc or a Macintosh running
Internet Explorer or Netscape browsers. For this reason only it was decided
that these systems should be tested for use on the Government Gateway first.
However, I should stress that we do not have a policy of developing services
that are only available to users running Microsoft, or indeed any other
particular operating system, and other browser and operating systems will be
testedand brought into use as soon as possible. I am pleased to say that
Linux (Redhat) with Opera, Mozilla and Netscape browsers, have been tested
successfully for user ID and password transactions.

>From a wider perspective, you may be aware that the Office of Government
Commerce is taking a robust approach in its negotiations with Microsoft on
their scale of charges for covering the public sector as a whole. In
parallel, they are also investigating whether there are viable alternative
products available in the marketplace in order to ensure that competition is
available in future.

   Would anyone else like to reply, or add some comments to my next post?

mpst.timms at dti.gsi.gov.uk

Chris Bell

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