Norway government cancels Microsoft contract

Norway is calling for more competition in the public sector software market, as governments show increasing interest in open source

The Norwegian government has cancelled an exclusive software contract with Microsoft, saying that greater competition would deliver better, less costly solutions.

The government made the decision because it was unsatisified with the Microsoft procurement contract, which effectively handed Microsoft a monopoly on government office software, according to Victor Norman, Norway's minister of labour and government administration. The news was reported on Friday by the Norwegian daily Aftenposten.

Norway's move arrives as many governments are reconsidering their relationship with the software world, and in particular with Microsoft, which US courts found guilty of illegally using its operating system monopoly to extend its reach in other markets. Many in the industry argue that a better alternative would be for governments to use open-source software such as the Linux operating system and applications such as OpenOffice.org.

Businesses and governments alike have become concerned about changes to Microsoft's licensing scheme, which encourages large-scale buyers to pay a subscription fee for regular upgrades whether they are needed or not.

The Microsoft agreement gave the company exclusive rights to provide software for public sector office computers, according to Aftenposten. Norman said that greater competition -- both in the public and private sectors -- would lead to better software as well as lower prices, according to the article.

For large organisations, open-source software is generally seen as the main alternative to Microsoft's Windows platform. A recent European Commission study recommended that European administrations should share software on an open-source licensing basis, to cut soaring e-goverment information technology costs which, it says, are set to rise by 28 percent to 6.6bn euros (£4.2bn) this year.

Governments in Germany, France, China and the US have made substantial commitments to open source. Open-source licensing requires that the software's original programming code be freely accessible for developers to modify and redistribute, as long as the redistributed version is itself open-source. The development model keeps one company from gaining absolute control over any piece of software.

Microsoft has long preached the mantra of closed, proprietary code. In a speech delivered to the Government Leaders' Conference in Seattle, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates likened the concept of open-source software to anti-capitalism.

Industry analysts say that large organisations rarely choose software based on whether it is open-source or proprietary, instead beginning by choosing the applications needed. Only at the end do they choose the software and hardware platform. "Selecting software only on the basis on whether it is open source is very much like selecting a motor vehicle based solely on the colour of its paint," said Dan Kusnetzky, vice president for system software at research firm IDC.

Microsoft was not immediately available for comment.


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