Yesterday I read the article by Gijs Hillenius http://www.osor.eu/news/pt-
gvt-must-stop-breaking-procurement-rules-and-move-to-open-source and it got
me thinking about the situation in the UK. Effectively the question is: is it
appropriate for desktop and laptop products to be procured as
hardware/software combinations or should the hardware and software be procured
In the early days of computers (*) computers came with operating systems
provided by the hardware manufacturer. End users purchased a bundle of
hardware and software from a single manufacturer, with different manufacturers
offering different products in terms of operating system as well as hardware.
Procurement consisted of requiring the manufacturers to tender their bundle,
and for the purchaser to make a choice of the best bundle for them. Software
as well as hardware was a variable in this process.
Then we entered the Unix era, hardware and software, especially operating
system, started to have much more separated existences. End users could choose
from the old hardware/software bundles available or they could choose to run
Unix and buy hardware to run it on. This widened end user choice and so added
more parameters to the procurement process. Software and hardware were still
factors in procurement. Of course, manufacturers didn't like the
commoditization of hardware that the existence of a portable operating system
provided and caused Unix to be splintered into many versions and hastened a
return to hardware specific operating systems, and a return to the purchase of
a hardware and associated software as a bundle. Despite this end users still
had software as a factor, software as well as hardware was a factor in
With the rise of the personal computer a new opportunity for separating
hardware and software arose. The operating system in this case was Windows.
Windows rose as an operating system that was portable across many personal
computers, it commoditized hardware. However, procurement did not gain any new
parameters. Quite the opposite. Due to the amazing contracts signed by the
Gates' on behalf of Microsoft, all personal computer manufacturers only
offered Windows as the operating system. Worse hardware manufacturers seems to
have capitulated on the commoditization of hardware rather than fight it as
they did with Unix, and just tow the line and supply Windows bundled.
Procurement was of a hardware/software bundle but it was always the same
software no matter what the hardware. End user choice has been eradicated.
What is arguably wrong here is that after 20 years, procurers are no longer
sensitive that software used to be a variable. They have been fooled by the
personal computer hardware/software bundling into the mind set that hardware
is the only variable, that getting Windows is a fixed thing. There has thus
been no challenge to the procurement process being referred to in Hillenius'
The real issue for procurers now is longevity of workflows and access to data.
Hardware and operating system are essentially irrelevant. It is all about
people being able to read and amend documents over periods of years -- where I
use document to mean any file of data, not just letters, papers, blurb, etc.
One solution is to continue with the model of "Windows as the only platform to
consider". Another solution is to ensure documents are stored in a format for
which there is an international standard. Standard formats admit multiple
suppliers and hence a market. Competition is supposed to be a cornerstone of
business in EU and USA (but perhaps not across the whole world). Currently
there are multiple different applications for manipulating documents, we do
have some competition. However the procurement processes appear not to have
accepted that there are multiple suppliers of products for creating and
So despite having separated hardware and software by having a portable
operating system, procurement people continue to purchase combined hardware
with Windows as software bundles. Now that Linux has created a viable
alternative to Windows as a portable operating system on workstations, there
is choice. However, this choice is not present in most procurements that are
undertaken. Why aren't tenderers allowed to offer hardware/Linux as an option
compared to hardware/Windows. Corporate culture seems to have bought in
totally to Microsoft's desire: Windows is the only operating system.
Hillenius' article is challenging this status quo by asking: is the status quo
illegal given the rules of procurement? Portugal and UK are different
jusridictions so in principle the answer could be different for the two
countries. On the other hand both are members of the EU and so there should be
significant commonality. I am not a lawyer so cannot comment on the legal
position, but as a voter I think it ought to be illegal for all government
procurements to be founded on the assumption that Windows will be the
operating system. Tenderers should be allowed to offer any combination that
allows the workflows to be fundamentally unchanged and for there to be
continuity of access and amendment of documents. Hardware/Linux and
hardware/Windows should be seen as competitors and the competition should be
part of the procurement.
No matter how much hype and FUD Microsoft and others put out, the total cost
of ownership of Linux is significantly lower than that of Windows. Whilst
Linux is free of charge, it doesn't mean there is zero cost of ownership.
There are issues of deployment, maintenance, etc. all of which involve people,
and there lies cost. Windows though requires more maintenance, and has a
significant purchase price, so therefore has a higher cost of ownership.
Moreover, malware on Windows involves installing defensive software that
invariable does not come bundled with the operating system but is separate,
thereby increasing the cost of ownership hugely. In these days of financial
austerity, wouldn't a FOSS software solution help the country's finances? So
even ignoring the legal situation, surely the financial situation means that
hardware/Linux should be admitted to the procurement processes where feasible.
(*) _ Of course there were even earlier days when computers didn't have
operating systems; operators loaded user programs direct onto the hardware and
they ran to completion to be unloaded by operators. What is worse, those
computers were significantly less powerful that today's average smartphone. _