Sun wins NHS desktop deal

Five thousand NHS computers are set to move from Windows to Sun's Java Desktop System

Sun Microsystems has landed a deal that will see its Java Desktop System (JDS) software deployed on 5,000 desktop PCs across the UK's National Health Service.

The NHS' National Programme for IT has been testing JDS over recent months. The decision to buy 5,000 JDS licences indicates that the NHS found that JDS is superior to Microsoft Windows in some circumstances.

A spokesperson for the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) confirmed to ZDNet UK on Tuesday that the NHS has concluded that JDS "represents a viable desktop alternative for certain types of user communities" and that 5,000 licences have been purchased.

Duncan McNeil, chief technology officer for the National Programme, said in a statement that "the National Programme continues to view the use of open-source software and open systems architecture as a key way of achieving best value and systems interoperability into the future."

It's not clear which NHS users will get to use JDS. The word from the NHS is that the software will be rolled out through a 'tactical deployment'.

Sun itself wasn't able to talk about the deal on Tuesday, but sources did confirm that it had sold 5,000 JDS licences to the NHS.

The move doesn't mean that Microsoft's close relationship with the UK government is over, though. In 2001 it won a three-year deal to supply software for 1.2 million NHS desktops. This is currently up for renewal. It is understood that the UK Treasury is currently considering whether to sign a new deal with Microsoft.

The NPfIT spokesperson wouldn't say how much the deal with Sun was worth. The company has recently secured a number of JDS deployments, including with the Chinese government and Allied Irish Bank.

These deals have been hailed by Sun as proof that JDS has plenty of momentum behind it. But Sun's own staff, including chief executive Scott McNealy, have admitted that some of the contracts aren't major money-spinners.

A total of £6bn is being spent to upgrade the NHS' computer systems, and this massive commitment is about to come under renewed scrutiny.

The UK National Audit Office has just launched an investigation into the NPfIT, amid concern that the NHS may not be able to cope with this transformation.

A report published last month by the Institute for Public Policy Research expressed concerns about the readiness of NHS staff and organisation to handle the change and suggested the project could be undermined by such barriers.

Silicon.com's Will Sturgeon contributed to this report.

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