Freedom of Information Act: Microsoft Rules O.K.

One of my favourite commentators on the Open Source phenomenon is Glyn Moody. And today he has clarified something I had been struggling with for a couple of days now.

The story in question, from The Inquirer, is basically this:

Becta refused to satisfy a Freedom of Information request made by the INQUIRER for details of the latest Microsoft schools megadeal, “after consultation with Microsoft.”

Which is pretty bad really. We are talking about Taxpayers’ (that’s you and me friend) money here. Why should we not be allowed to know what our beloved Government is spending with a US Software company on our children’s behalf? And don’t forget that it’s a company that has been convicted of monopolistic and anti-competitive practices, so it should be even more important we know what we are giving them. Shouldn’t it?

Well, on the face of it I bought the argument from Becta that goes:

If Becta, a UK government quango, published details of schools’ Microsoft spending, it “could give rise to an actionable breach of confidence by Microsoft against us,” it said. This was a “considerable risk”, it added.

And further, plausibly stated:

Becta said there could also be repercussions in disclosure for itself: “We have concluded that disclosure of any part of the MOU would prejudice the commercial interests of Becta and of schools throughout the UK because the significant savings achieved under the MOU would be put at risk,” it said. “We believe that our future negotiating position with Microsoft would be weakened and we would not be confident of our continuing ability to obtain the best deal possible for those UK schools that choose to purchase Microsoft products,” it added.

If we ignore the fact that the Microsoft products are pretty crap, and they aren’t really the right thing for education to be using in the first place, I can sort of understand the bit about their negotiating position – if they know no better.

But I wasn’t totally convinced… Something was niggling at the back of my mind as to why this is really bad…

Enter Glyn:

I do realise that it’s too much to hope that Becta will take open source seriously, but I wonder if it has ever crossed Becta’s chosen minds that putting themselves in this position of snivelling dependence on Microsoft isn’t actually the optimum way to get the best deal for UK schools – even for those benighted enough to want to bathe their charges in the delicate glow of BSODs. Has it ever occurred to them that if they started negotiating from a position of dignity and strength, rather than abject, supine servitude, they might just possibly do their job a teensy-weensy bit better?

Microsoft is scared witless by the prospect of open source getting a foothold in schools, and would agree to any deal rather than let the UK education system discover the power and value of free software. Becta is actually in an incredibly strong position, and yet somehow manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The idea that “our future negotiating position with Microsoft would be weakened” if it dared to cross Masher Microsoft, as it has claimed to The Inquirer, is simply risible, and shows how desperately out of touch it is with the realities of the marketplace. The sooner this particular quango is abolished, and decisions are made locally, the better.


Thanks for clearing that up Glyn 😉

Encourage UK PLC to use Open Standards

Do you remember that total Jerk Dennis Byron? The chap who thought that Digistan was some sort of terrorist organisation? Well here’s a rather nicely ironic way to shove his ignorant and frankly stupid views in that familiar place where “the sun doesn’t shine”.

A fellow colleague on the blogosphere, Russell Ossendryver, sent me an email linking to a recent on-line petition instigated by John McCreesh (of on 10 Downing Street’s petition engine.

Basically it calls for the UK Government to:

(1) Procure only information technology that implements free and open standards;

(2) Deliver e-government services based exclusively on free and open standards;

(3) Use only free and open digital standards in their own activities.

as adopted and proclaimed by the founders of the Digital Standards Organization in The Hague on 21 May 2008.

That sounds like a fine idea to me! It would save the country literally hundreds of millions of pounds just for starters.

There are some particularly interesting names already on the list of signatories:

Mark Taylor (Open Source Consortium), Chris Puttick (CIO for Oxford Archaeology), Glyn Moody (Journalist and Open Source Commentator:, and Ian Lynch (of INGOTS fame).

I’ve signed it. If you think that Open Standards are important (and you SHOULD if you are reading this!) then what are you waiting for? Click here and register your opinion.

Please welcome a new foundation to aid the cause of freedom and open standards: Digistan.

The Digital Standards Organization (Digistan) seeks to promote customer choice, vendor competition, and overall growth in the global digital economy through the understanding, development, and adoption of free and open digital standards (“open standards”).

I first came across the group via a post on Glyn Moody’s blog the other day which in turn led me to this piece written by a chap who calls himself Dennis Byron (I can only assume that he has no relation to the famous poet). To be frank, he must be either very stupid, or on the payroll of a large software company the world’s largest convicted monopolist. To make the comments he does shows such ignorance that it quite beggars belief…

Let’s start with the opening paragraph shall we? (highlight mine)

Another anti-Microsoft (MSFT) front group has emerged in favour of “free and open standards,” hyping what it calls the Hague Declaration and making some absurd connection to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The propagandists, partially funded by publicly traded companies, have a little trouble describing what that term “free and open standards” means (or even using it consistently), but the group has no trouble indicating its political stripes. Unbelievably it calls itself Digistan, apparently to identify with the fascist terrorists based in countries and regions using the Farsi-based suffix “stan.”

Honestly. Where the f*** did that come from? Stan means “place of” or “land” for pete’s sake. And “Digi”, well I’m sure you can guess. How you get from Digital Standards to Fascist Terrorists is really just too much for my simple mind to comprehend.

All of these front groups percolate around about two dozen individuals, mostly European. The vast left-wing conspiracy of George Soros works around the edges of their mostly web-site-only organizations…

So, let’s see. Dennis now draws what must be one of the world’s largest generalisations by tying all groups who support freedom and Openness to just 24 people and somehow manages to ink in George Soros and Left Wing (Socialist by inference) politics. Blimey, I must say, having read the Digistan Mission and the Hague Declaration I didn’t see any of those conspiratorial links at all! Just for the record I’m a Tory (Conservative, Capitalist) voter and supporter of free and open source software and open standards. I see no conflict there at all. And neither do the Conservative Party who are quite vocal in their support for Open Source software; unlike our current Labour (left wing) government. So how would I fit in with Byron’s analysis I wonder?

I’d also like to educate our very ignorant Mr Byron about Left Wing politics in Europe: there isn’t much of the kind he seems to imagine. Our socialist and left wing governments and opposition parties are, in the main, capitalist by nature and support free market economics: they wouldn’t get in the EU if they didn’t. This is unlike the Government of the USA for example who engage in and condone market distorting activities such as allowing convicted monopolists to go unpunished, or using embargoes and punitive import tariffs to hinder free trade with anyone who doesn’t pay the right homage to Uncle Sam.

And how did George Soros come into this absurd rant? From the Wikipedia we read:

“George Soros has made his mark as an enormously successful speculator, wise enough to largely withdraw when still way ahead of the game. The bulk of his enormous winnings is now devoted to encouraging transitional and emerging nations to become ‘open societies,’ open not only in the sense of freedom of commerce but – more important – tolerant of new ideas and different modes of thinking and behavior.”

Ahhh now I see. Mr Byron clearly feels extremely jealous of George’s speculative skills and also seems to hate anyone who is interested in protecting or advocating freedom and openness. (Who is the terrorist now Mr Byron?)

I love this…

If only these lefties could be time warped back to the last century so that they could ‘fight the right’ in Spain (or sit in the Les Deux Maggot and talk about fighting the right in Spain). Then the rest of us could avoid having our tax dollars wasted and our share values diminished.

I wonder if Mr Byron has ever been to Spain? Do you think he might like to ask some of it’s inhabitants about General Franco and whether they prefer fascist dictatorships to democracy, freedom and membership of the world’s largest free trading community? I like the “Les Deux Maggot” reference but can only guess as to what he really knows about it.

And why has Digistan got anything to do Mr Byron’s Tax Dollars? As for his portfolio, rather than bleating on about his dwindling share value in a tired and very last-millennia software company monopoly that is finally getting some serious competitive pressure from the left-field that is really hard to attack (since it is free), he’d be much better dumping his M$ stock and looking for the “new money”, especially in some of the highly successful and rapidly growing Open Source software companies.

The rest of his rant continues in much the same vein. No research or facts to support his claims and little argument that makes any sense anyway.

But, having said all the above, I must thank you Mr Byron for introducing me to Digistan. I signed the declaration immediately after reading it and will now be contacting Digistan to see how my company can help to support and grow their campaign to fight for freedom and open standards.

If I were you Mr Byron, I think you probably need to retire to the golf course…

Kudos to Glyn Moody

Glyn Moody’s blog is a source – no a font – no a fountain – of information and commentary regarding all things Open (& Source).

In the last day or so he’s posted three articles (among several others) that have really grabbed my attention:

First this one: I would not have believed it had I not gone to Tesco’s web site and verified it myself.

Tesco may not be a name that means much outside the UK, but the fact that this huge retailer is selling GNU/Linux-based systems – some for as little as £140 (without a screen) – is pretty significant.

PRETTY SIGNIFICANT? It’s nothing short of amazing in my book. I can understand how Dell and Lenovo can do it. But Tesco? They must have a very strong conviction in Linux to sell it to what I imagine to be their “typical” customer. I notice they are supplying the LTS (Long Term Support) version of Ubuntu (6.06) so I wonder if they have a support arrangement directly with Canonical? Does anyone know anything more about this?

Then this on the EU vs. Microsoft case:

I worry that there’s some wiggle room here – just what exactly is “the open source business model”? – but given the soundness of its thrashing, maybe Microsoft really has given up fighting the EU. Let’s hope.

I love a damn good thrashing don’t you? (Bit of an English Public School joke in there somewhere). I tried to get the detail on this yesterday via Groklaw but PJ’s analysis seemed a little dour. But maybe that’s just because of the stupid IP/Patenting laws in the USA.

And then to cap it all this from Mozilla:

It’s also doing rather well on just about every other metric, as Mitchell’s post “Beyond Sustainability” explains. Recommended reading.

Which I hadn’t seen. Thanks for bringing this to our attention. Mitchell’s post is indeed great reading. Mozilla is a true powerhouse in the Open Source ecosystem, and seems for the most part, to be successfully juggling the twin balls of making money and keeping a strong public community behind it. Some of the statistics are incredible… Go and have a read.

And stick Glyn’s blog on your RSS feed reader while you’re there.

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