The South Australian government is looking at a software overhaul that could see Apple or Red Hat taking over from Microsoft on the state's PCs. Analysts warn, however, skills costs could still lead to a software environment dominated by a single platform.
Early next year, the South Australian government will announce which desktop and server operating platforms it will standardise its agencies on, under a master agreement being established by the Department of Transport, Energy and Infrastructure (DTEI), said its chief information officer, Grantly Mailes.
Until then, Mailes is remaining coy about which systems are likely to feature on SA's computers. Microsoft, IBM, Apple, Red Hat and others are under consideration, he said, but no one will get a free ride, regardless of existing arrangements.
"We're not just giving Microsoft a free swing at a renewal of Vista," Mailes told ZDNet Australia. "We have a Microsoft enterprise agreement but we are looking for the best platforms for our government, and will look at all comers on the basis of the best utility at the lowest cost."
Only a few Vista deployments have occurred in the South Australian Government but none have been officially approved, said Mailes.
On the subject of open source, Mailes said: "I am keen to avoid being locked into proprietary platforms", adding this "doesn't mean I'm anti-Microsoft".
"Procurements are done with some open standards in mind so interoperability is important," he said, but any open source deployment needs to be able to compete on a utility and cost basis with commercial software.
While Mailes has aligned open source with avoiding vendor lock-in, some analysts argue that open source software is often just a bargaining tool to gain lower licensing costs.
"Smarter companies use open source as a weapon to get lower pricing," Joe Sweeney, Intelligent Business Research Services analyst, told ZDNet Australia.
However, there is doubt about the effectiveness of open source software as a bargaining chip since vendors know that a drastic change in operating platforms can imply an equally drastic increase in training costs.
"You have to remember that the cost is not in the technology, but the manpower," said Sweeney.
Because of this, vendors are able to second guess customers that attempt to use open source as a stick to extract lower pricing from their suppliers.
"The decision to do open source versus say Microsoft or Oracle, is not where you get your savings; best practice is where you get your savings," said Sweeney.