Once again, Microsoft has been accused over it’s UK government lobbying practices, according to an article in Computer Weekly yesterday.
In the article by Brian Glick, a former director of strategy to David Cameron while opposition leader and as prime minister, Steve Hilton has claimed that Microsoft threatened to shut down research facilities in Conservative constituencies over Tory plans for government IT reforms.
According to The Guardian, Hilton told an event in London to promote his new book that, “When we proposed this, Microsoft phoned Conservative MPs with Microsoft R&D facilities in their constituencies and said, ‘We will close them down in your constituency if this goes through’.”
It appears that Microsoft has lobbied for years to prevent the government pursuing its open standards policy, which arguably levels the playing field for other software vendors. After a somewhat controversial consultation process, the adoption of the open source Open Document Format (ODF) as the standard for document formats was confirmed by government in July last year.
The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) had previously approved the open source Open Document Format (ODF) as an international data format standard. The ODF Alliance, a cross-section of industry associations with more than 150 members worldwide, academic institutions and suppliers, had all been lobbying for the decision. The ODF Alliance was created to resolve the potential problem of proprietary software limiting the ability of governments to access, retrieve and use records and documents in the future.
While it is often good sport to knock Microsoft for being a giant of the industry, and stifling (or buying up) the competition, if these accusations are true then the criticism is justly deserved. Round the office, we suspect that the motivation may be less about open standards, and more about potential market share and loss of revenue. If government should enact the long threatened Open Source initiative, then the writing may be on the wall for the big ticket software packages, at least in public service.
Perhaps that would be a good thing for consumers in general, and tax payers in particular.
For more on the story of the open source Open Document Format see the following links: