Microsoft can't afford to let Newham fail

Is it hats off to Newham Council, or should we brace for chaos?

We already knew the London borough had forced Microsoft to give it a great deal to prevent it implementing Linux. But Newham -- one of the UK capital's more down-trodden areas -- really has reached for the skies. A 13.5 percent saving on IT costs can't be sniffed at. Landing a 10-year partnership with the giant of Redmond is shooting the moon.

But should local residents be applauding the council or ducking for cover? On the upside, Newham's social services team will soon be kitted out with Tablet PCs, giving the elderly and infirm a break from 25-page forms.

On the downside, the council is still going to be using applications such as Internet Explorer - the Swiss cheese of Web browsers. Running essential e-government services gets tougher when there are gangs of malware creators targeting the software they run on. How long before a future MyDoom takes meals-on-wheels off the road?

Richard Steel, Newham's head of ICT, told us that "if things go wrong, we'll say so". We're waiting for your call, Richard, but it's hard to believe that Microsoft will want people to read about its local government flagship hitting any rocks.

Microsoft wants other councils to look at Newham and decide it makes sense to stick with Windows, Office, Exchange and the rest. But Newham can't be treated as a true testbed for the suitability and value of Microsoft's software, whether in local government or anywhere else, because of the exceptional conditions and actions that led us to this point.

It just shows that playing the Linux card is by far the best way to negotiate your software licences down. Anyone who wants Newham-style savings should be on the phone to an open-source provider first. That's the way to get Microsoft sweating. Monday's announcement just proved it.

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