Should the US and UK Gov'ts Ditch Microsoft?

Brandon Dimmel's picture

Earlier this week application analytics firm SoftWatch revealed a report which found that, at many businesses, workers rarely used the Microsoft Office software package. That prompted some experts to suggest companies move away from Office and instead use free business platforms, like Google Apps.

Ditching Microsoft Too Costly, UK Official Says

Now, the United Kingdom's Chief Information Officer (CIO) is defending the UK government's use of Microsoft products. In fact, Jos Creese says that the UK government has repeatedly explored the idea of abandoning Microsoft products, but always determined that the transition would be very expensive.

Furthermore, Creese insisted that Microsoft has been willing to work closely with government officials, making it easier to use their products. "Microsoft has been flexible and helpful in the way we apply their products to improve the operation of our frontline services, and this helps to de-risk ongoing cost," Creese said in a recent interview.

"The point is that the true cost is in the total cost of ownership and exploitation, not just the license cost." (Source:

US Government Also Keeps Open Source at Arm's Length

The UK government isn't alone in feeling this way. The United States government has also kept open source platforms at arm's length, opting instead to use Microsoft and Apple products for its various systems.

In fact, both the US and UK governments have reached "survival deals" that involve Microsoft providing special support for government PCs running Windows XP, an operating system Microsoft officially discontinued last month.

But the UK government's insistence on using Microsoft products has not gone without criticism. Recently, UK cabinet minister Francis Maude slammed the government for continuing to use Microsoft Office. Maude estimates that the UK government could save itself "tens of millions" of British pounds sterling by switching to an open source platform.

Maude even went so far as to suggest that the UK government's continued use of Microsoft Office is evidence that a "tiny oligopoly dominates the marketplace."

Creese isn't convinced, however, insisting that many of the open-source platforms offered by smaller companies "can't handle the scale and complexity" of a government system's infrastructure. Of course, there's also the risk that a smaller company could go under.

"If we are the larger clients of a small company and it gets into difficulty, what happens if they can't sustain a system that schools are depending on?" Creese asked. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Do you think the US and UK governments should make the switch to open source platforms? Or do you think the costs and risks involved in making that transition are too onerous? Do you think these governments should keep some Microsoft products such as MS Windows, and ditch others, such as MS Office?

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Douglas Godbey's picture

Cleese has obviously been seduced by the MS Marketi9ng machine. Of course, MS is going to give special support and super deals to the UK and US Governments. They are protecting the MS bottom line! Without the millions of dollars and pounds paid to MS, they might not survive! I'm sure that a lot of the large companies that use MS products have been likewise targeted with the same result, even if XP remains in heavy use by those companies and governments. THATS where the Money is, NOT with the Home user community.

How can a software package that is totally free of cost be too expensive? How can open software, which is not developd by a 'company' be in danger if a company closes it's doors? Weak my friends, very, very weak! More of MS Fog in action.

I doubt any of the above detractors that are waving the MS flag so franticly have given even 5 minutes of serious trial effort to see if, for example, Open Office can't do something they say they use in MS Office, even if it's something they do only once a year.

This is just something that sits in a pile and attracts insects.

DavidFB's picture

I would suggest it's quite a bit more complex than the article indicates. For example, the government may use Exchange server for it's email system. Transitioning from something like that would indeed be expensive.

There is also the simple cost of retraining. Not just users but IT staff. It's one of the reasons many companies who have "bought" licenses (with a subscription package) for Windows 8 have not actually implemented it. Not to mention the references to XP systems. It's cheaper to stay with the old.

On the other hand, a number of governments have shifted to the Open Document standard which Microsoft does not support well. They have thus shifted to open standards software to ensure their archives will actually be accessible in the future. That's something Microsoft has been terrible with. Ever try to open a Publisher 1 document? It's toast, something thats a big problem for agencies like governments.

I'd also note his excuse is a little lame. Open Office for example is supported by Oracle, hardly a small company.

I would however note that this is a dead-end street. Throwing millions to maintain systems that are underutilized dinosaurs eventually leads to a massive cost and a quite a bit larger change. Going from XP to Windows 9, for example. It may actually be easier to go to Linux.

Microsoft has lost over half it's market share of computing devices in recent years. Those that still use it are often trying to stay with old versions that are not all supported anymore. How is this going with the market leader?

Sparkydog's picture

Why are most of the articles on infopackets, about Microsoft, negative?
This is almost an "I hate Microsoft" website, with as many negative articles I have seen on here over the years. Not that I am a big an of MS, but other OS's and applications have their problems and quirks, but you choose to zero in on MS.I don't hear you talking too much about Google's invasion of privacy and the fact that they seem to be in Obama's pocket, another big invader of privacy and lawlessness.
Or Facebook's constantly revolving-door terms of use, also in Obama's pocket.

Dennis Faas's picture

On the contrary, I don't believe the articles are negative. They are factual and provide food for thought in order to provoke discussion.

Vicinca's picture

I made the switch to Open Office 10 years ago and have never looked back. For my personal use, I use documents, spreadsheets and databases and have found them fully functional and easy to use.

Apogee's picture

> Creese isn't convinced, however

Of course not. He's a cogwheel public servant. It's not in his nature (or interest) to be innovative; make changes; or truly foster improvement. Reducing his budget would only serve to demote his own importance and career status. Changing practices, even bad ones, would only serve to upset his colleagues. This is why more of the functions of the public service need to be outsourced.

> insisting that many of the open-source platforms offered by smaller companies "can't handle the scale and complexity" of a government system's infrastructure.

Almost all of the world's supercomputers run open-source. Almost all of the world's largest scale data handling systems (the very things the government claims they need to use) run open source (facebook, google, and many others). These are systems that are orders of magnitude more extensive, complex and data-laden than even the largest government systems (except perhaps for some of the NSA systems, and let's face it, those aren't running Windows either).

> Of course, there's also the risk that a smaller company could go under.

This is the strength of open-source, not the weakness. With a company like Microsoft, there's always the risk that they might decide, unilaterally, to stop supporting their most popular product one day (wow! what do you know! they just did!) resulting in a need for special deals, special payments, and special arrangements just to continue using, say, Windows XP - itself one of these products that supposedly would be upheld by Microsoft. Ten years ago, Creese would have been telling us that Windows XP wasn't about to go away and that's why we should be using it. The "open" aspect of "open source" is what makes it stable. It will always be here because it's a public resource. There's no "owner" to take it away or increase support charges. If any one company withdraws support, they can simply source ongoing support from another. What's more, they can accept bids for best offers.

All Creese has demonstrated by his comments is that he doesn't understand open source.

eugene_krysztof's picture

I'm new in subscribing to infopackets and self taught myself in the operating system and most familiar with it beginning with XP- Vista and now have adapted to Windows 7. I think it would be to costly nto dump Microsoft and go to Goole or Apple completely. The Marketplace is where there is competition and it should remain so. I think Google is to invasive and is in Obama's pocket.

matt_2058's picture

The argument for non-MS software, or open source software, is very strong if looked at on a small scale. I think the argument is more about a David and Goliath situation even though nobody wants to say it. Large, established companies vs smaller companies trying to get a foothold in the market.

On the small end of the scale, open source works. Whether it is a few employees at one or a handful locations or the freelancer that is responsible for his own IT and Training. Costs are low. Changes are easily implemented. And when something new looks promising, it is very easy to try. If it doesn't work, everything can be changed back over the weekend, if not sooner. If a problem surfaces with support or availability, changes are right at quick and easy.

Large organizations need consistency. Any change will disrupt production to the 'x' power. Along with the consistency of tools to do the job is consistency in training. MS even has free training if you want it...for everyone, not just the large companies. Good training, not a community-driven FAQ file. Support and security are there due to the large investment by the customer AND supplier.

I've used large and small supplier-based software working in a very large organization. The software that was not developed enough for it's purpose didn't last. Software with a small following didn't work out. Software with a steep learning curve for basic, no-experience tasks was a problem.

A small software company with a great product doesn't have a chance until there is confidence of sustainability. Companies today produce a hit and move to the next money-maker. What's the risk if the developer calls it quits at delivery, rather than staying in business and furthering the product? Restructure and retrain takes the longest.

Sometimes cheap or free cost more in the end.

Sparkydog's picture

"On the contrary, I don't believe the articles are negative. They are factual and provide food for thought in order to provoke discussion.
You write the stories, of course you would think that.

al's picture

Without a doubt Microsoft are fleecing us. When you consider the millions of licenses sold for all their various software and operating systems, and even hardware and other revenues, like Bing, it is daylight robbery. The charitable aspect of Bill Gates work is commendable but that doesn't fully compensate for amassing millions through extortion as legitimate activity. The mere fact that Linux, Oracle and Apache can offer products nearly as good for free highlights the over-charge. In theory it would seem logical for governments to provide their own systems and make them available for free, just leaving add ons, like themes to be provided as secondary bolt ons. Properly managed, it could save the UK a lot of money, less so the USA. Patents are part of the problem. With most patent designs the concept exists before it is 'discovered' and patented despite the fact that most patent ideas and mechanisms would naturally be discovered without copying being involved. Patents can drive up cost and stunt growth by others. Take the slide to unlock that Samsung 'stole' from Apple. Such an obvious feature shouldn't be patentable. But where a lot of development is involved like a Rolls Royce jet engine, and huge cost of research and design and prototype is involved, for that to be stripped back and copied bolt for bolt, that is a legitimate case for a patent. We need to get in control of costs, not be subservient to exploiters like Microsoft who are now going down the licensing business model to protect themselves because maturity of their products was pretty well reached a few years ago, they are looking to their own survival and can't face that the future needs them less and their employees may need to find new ways to earn their livings. Change is here to stay, but it seems to me they are trying to use us as a pension pot despite their product progress being pretty well due for retirement.