The Foreign Office signed an agreement with Microsoft on Wednesday to supply the software platform for Future Firecrest, their proprietary platform.
An FCO spokesperson said, "We considered an open source solution but in the end decided that choosing Windows would be more cost effective. We already run Firecrest on Windows, and decided to upgrade. Our focus is on evolution rather than revolution — we are trying to keep pace with technology, but are by no means revolutionary."
The FCO are only now upgrading from their current Windows NT4 based system. Windows NT4 became obsolete on 1 January 2005, when Microsoft ended support. Neither the FCO or Microsoft would say what they are upgrading to.
When asked how Microsoft got the tender, the spokesperson replied, "Microsoft products are already an essential part of the FCO system. Replacing the system with another would not have been cost effective in terms of time or resources." When asked how much it would cost, the spokesperson said, "We have allocated £1.7m per year over three years for this contract."
According to the FCO, there were other benefits in choosing Microsoft. "The agreement [with Microsoft] provides flexibility and gives us the option to adapt to new innovations. For example, it gives us the option to upgrade to Longhorn should we wish to," said the spokesperson.
Recent security issues such as hackers circulating Outlook Express source code have led to concerns that Longhorn may not be backwards compatible with current Windows operating systems. However, the spokesman said that future incompatibility was "just a hypothetical possibility. When the time comes we will evaluate the most cost effective solution. We won't discuss security issues at all."
The FCO signed a three year agreement with Microsoft to provide software and software support. Microsoft will design, build, and support Future Firecrest, which will run on HP hardware. The FCO have a seven year contract with HP to provide hardware support.