Newham CIO sees open source as 'red herring'

Newham CIO sees open source as 'red herring'

Summary: IT chief who took part in a key battle between Microsoft and open source software is now getting ready to tackle the Olympics


The IT chief at a London Borough which was a key battleground between Microsoft and open source has described open source software as a "red herring".

Richard Steel, chief information officer at the Borough of Newham, made the comments to a large audience of senior IT professionals at London's IP'06 event on Wednesday.

Newham is cited as a critical victory by Microsoft in its battle against open source, after the Borough decided to deploy a Windows XP-based infrastructure followed a detailed evaluation of Linux.

Steel told delegates, "Open source is a bit of a red herring. It's just a piece of software at the end of the day."

Critics have suggested that Newham evaluated Linux purely to enable it to negotiate substantial financial discounts from Microsoft. It is a view which Newham IT executives dispute.

"We asked consultants to look at the desktop and server [environments]. We wanted people who would challenge the status quo," said Steel, explaining the evaluation.

"We developed some radical theories around technology refresh. And we achieved some significant savings. We are pleased with our decision."

Steel is in the throes of preparing the Borough's network for the Olympic Games, which will be held in the north west of the Borough at Stratford.

Having laid a new fibre backbone with converged voice, data and CCTV and some 88 points of presence, he is now evaluating wireless technologies to connect residents and public sector buildings.

Carrying what Steel described as "fairly sophisticated services", the new Wi-Fi and WiMax network will provide connectivity outdoors and for council facilities including libraries, community centres and schools.

"We have proposed the UK's leading 21st century infrastructure, certainly in government," said Steel, who won the Public Sector CIO of the year award in the UK Technology Innovation & Growth Awards last year.

On his plans to connect the Borough using wireless, he said that the private sector had failed. "Some areas are commercially unattractive," he said. "We see it as quite critical to provide universal access."

That universal access may be extended to Olympic visitors when the games launch in six years time, depending on discussions with the event organising committees.

In the meantime Steel is firming up the backbone network and the key applications, which must be finalised by the earlier Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008.

"It's the biggest show on earth," Steel said. "I don't want to be risking new technology."

Topics: Apps, Software Development

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  • Richard Steel: words are cheap. Full and uncensored publication of the memorandum of understanding between Newham and Microsoft would settle this issue once and for all.
  • Open Source is more than just whether or not you want to upgrade to linux. Of course it's just software, but for me it is a way of getting what you actually need from software, rather than what the vendors think you ought to buy. It puts more power in the hands of IT leaders, not more risk (although it means you have to have a more mature approach to this than a worthless and expensive support agreement with a big vendor)
  • Comments like this confirm why public sector IT is so highly regarded and respected in the UK and elsewhere....
  • Yes, well, he would wouldn't he. It's part of the... 'understanding' between Microsoft and Newham that Newham executives will promote Microsoft at the expense of Open Source. A fact that would be plain to all if the 'Memorandum of Understanding' was published.

    This is just business as usual, and the UK Public Sector IT will continue to be open to accusations of corruption, inefficiency, and wastage of *billions* of pounds whilst these kind of practices escape the full light of public scrutiny.

    Publish the Memorandum of Understanding Mr Steele, the full, unedited one, and let the world judge for itself the sincerity of these statements.

    Prove that your comments are not just Microsoft PR regurgitated as part of an... understanding.
  • "It's the biggest show on earth," Steel said. "I don't want to be risking new technology."

    This statement sums up the whole argument and proves that this was stunt for a Microsoft discount. Steel went into the evaluation with his mind already made up. He didn't want to take a risk.
    But who could blame him? Linux is about 4 years off from being mainstream.
  • all fighting over which is best aside. It is a case of open source is just another piece of software...

    One you can control if you should so wish or that you can pay somebody else to control for you.

    closed source, well that only comes with one flavor we control you with it.

    I'd like to see all public bodies forced to use Open source. Train our selves how to use and control software rather than be controlled by it and it's creators.

    BTW I do like the many good things that microsoft has brought the usablility of PC's. I just don't like the way they get the job done or cost they charge for it.