back to article MP warns against Microsoft monopoly in e-gov services

Citizens are being excluded from e-government services because they don't have the right software, an MP has warned. Liberal Democrat MP Dr John Pugh believes the government is unwittingly creating a Microsoft monopoly in its delivery of online services because, in many cases, the public can only access them by using the US …

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Security and Quality

"Some open source projects cannot meet our needs for quality or security, and we are not prepared to compromise on those"

and Microsoft products can?

Anyway, we don't need stuff to be open source, just to be accessible by other OSes. There's plenty of companies producing closed-source, proprietary software running on linux, unix, mac systems and they seem to have quality and security sorted out - I know, I work for (a small) one.

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Clueless politicians

Angela Eagle clearly demonstrates her IT illiteracy when she confuses 'open source' with operating systems other than Windows.

Perhaps someone should point out to her that Mac OSX is anything BUT open source.

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Foot in Mouth Disease

"Some open source projects cannot meet our needs for quality or security, and we are not prepared to compromise on those."

As if using exclusively Microsoft (or any other closed source) products for those applications makes them immune to unknow and unseen bugs or threats. I would rather dance with a devil I know. Thank you very much indeed.

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Gates Horns

Angela Eagle: Shill, Troll or Idiot? discuss

"Some open source projects cannot meet our needs for quality or security"

But windows does?

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Tom
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Wrong Road!

Its not just the fact that you can only use a Microsoft car on the road.

The road seems to be built to move money from government coffers to companies and not provide services.

Get paid buckets to write bad software and then get paid to nearly fix it.

Makes dole scroungers look like productive angels.

How do these companies get the contracts and fail again and again?

No one can be that incomptent - it must be corruption at the highest level.

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Riiiiigh

So they're using open source infrastructure, web-servers etc, but the results only work (more or less) on Internet Explorer. So I guess that's ok then?

I dispair.

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Gates Horns

security? Microsoft?

Sorry I must have missed something there. They said that because of security concerns they were sticking to microsoft?

I still can't believe the government is paying for MS office. Just change everyone over to open office and odf in one swoop. Even with the ms discounts they get they are wasting money on licenses. Christ pay a quarter of what they currently pay for OS developers to work on specific areas and they'd have outstanding code and solutions in a year.

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Too easy, too easy...

Quoth the eagle : "Some open source projects cannot meet our needs for quality or security, and we are not prepared to compromise on those,"

So they insist on Windows 'solutions'.

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Before the flame war

Before the flame war starts, let me point out that this is more to do with piss poor development and design by the Gov's contractors and project mangers than MS.

There's millions of sites that are interactive, feature rich and work very well without excluding particular browsers. They can be hosted on IIS or on Apache. I know this as I work for a web development company who mainly work on .Net web services for blue chip clients - but also some Java stuff on the side too.

Not a single one of the 100's of site's we've produced are limited to just IE - yet we're a MS Gold partner and develop mainly in .Net.

If, as a SME and a Microsoft Gold Partner can manage it - why the hell can't the governments contractors also do it?

This isn't about standards or Microsoft, it's about crap development and project management.

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Gates Horns

Not always entirely the Governments Fault.

Take the on-line planning portal used by Cheltenham Council which uses software from an external commercial company

Using Firefox, or Safari (on Windows but I suspect its the same on the Mac) or Opera? Want to view the documents associated with a planning application? Sorry - not possible, it returns a "The page cannot be found" error as it tries to load a page called "undefined"

Of course it works fine on IE and its down to the javascript used to redirect you to the relevant page.

That's just crap coding from a lazy developer who has no concept of other browsers apart from IE.

But you really have to ask why a government body which is spending OUR money has paid for shoddy goods which are not fit for purpose and despite being told of this problem over 18 months ago hasn't apparently tried to do anything about.

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All Relative

Sure, getting benefits and the like are designed for windows users- it makes perfect sense. How many of todays glue-sniffing, job-dodging dole scum use Linux? And how many poor people use Mac? Sod it, they could sell their mac, trade it in for a PC and live off the difference for years.

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Dead Vulture

Open Source =/= open standards

What, I ask with tears in my eyes, has UK Gov's use of Open Source components got to do with ANYTHING that the good Dr Pugh is concerned about? It's playing wonderfully into MS' hands to conflate "open standards" with "open source" and then "lack of quality standards".

Not supporting Macs or Firefox users (anywhere from 5-20% of total population) has nothing to do with open source, it's about observing documented industry standards and basic Website design professionalism.

When did "lazy, sloppy MS-centric app and Web development" come to equal "meeting our needs for quality or security"?

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Open source not secure?

"Some open source projects cannot meet our needs for quality or security, and we are not prepared to compromise on those,"

Which is why, of course, sites favour IE over other browsers. Or it might be complete incompetence on the part of the web developers in understanding the whole idea behind HTML.

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I don't care what they use to produce it

["Some open source projects cannot meet our needs for quality or security, and we are not prepared to compromise on those," she added.]

And so what does this have to do with the citizen's access to the government? Can MS IIS not produce standard HTML? Can MS Windows not run PDF creation software? Can it not manage ASCII text?

The production of services can be via ANY product that will manage it. The product MUST be available for all citizens without fear, favour or requiring a commercial product be bought. People without a PC should be able to use a PC in the library. People with a PC shouldn't have to buy any particular OS. People with a PC and the right OS shouldn't have to buy any particular package.

And people should not be denied access based on disability (whether financial or physical).

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Numpty in charge

She really said this?

"Some open source projects cannot meet our needs for quality or security, and we are not prepared to compromise on those,"

And this is some sort of reason for *choosing* windows? Who appointed this idiot, or briefed her?

Hey, use IE folks, we like to see you being compromised...makes a change from us politicians being compromised!

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Anonymous Coward

Laugh

"Some open source projects cannot meet our needs for quality or security, and we are not prepared to compromise on those," she added."

So we'll use Microsoft products.

Now that IS funny. Where do they get these people?

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Gates Horns

They should write a law

They deliver document in formats that MS claim rights to, hence your right to view that document requires acceptance of Microsoft's terms. OOXML has the same problem, MS claim IP rights to it, and require a license to use the format in products, which in turn requires a license on the end user.

So if I have to read or submit a document in OOXML format, I need to accept Microsoft license terms.

BBC TV, Windows only, PC only, does not play on devices plugged into the TV, no PS3 no Wii no Tivo, none of the Media centers, no video iPod, no portable video players, nothing. Even the format it's delivered in means it cannot be downloaded to PC and later played on TV. Same problem, the format used is not open, so it can only be played on a tiny subset of possible devices.

I've seen several cases where documents are delivered in Word format, why not RTF? It will open in word aswell. Why not HTML?

There are so many times where documents are delivered, and so many opportunities for the vendor who supplies the software to lock that information to his product. They should mandate open formats for government documents. That way you give a legal basis for people to get the document in a format they can access.

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Gates Horns

How Government works

You ask a question about the difficulty in accessing Government websites using anything other than Windows and IE.

You get an answer praising the Goverment's successes in taking on Open Source software in its various tentacles.

Exactly how are the two related again?

I suppose that the only real question here is whether the response given was a deliberate attempt to confuse the issue or just incompetance.

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Open source != open standards

Use of open source software does not, per se, imply cross-platform usability. There is lots of open source software that is Windows only.

What you need is to use open standards and, preferably, before using them ensure that viable implementations exits for (at least) Windows, Linux and Mac.

Additionally, if these standards require software that you can not assume are installed by default on all computers, you should provide guidelines of how to install them. And these guidelines should be written i plain HTML, so you don't need any software other than a minimal browser to read them.

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Their point is?

The problem is people are excluded society for much more fundamental reasons than this and the government is being a completely disingenuous to suggest otherwise. By far the greatest cause of societal exclusion is poverty and this is a far more fundamental issue than using a bloody Mac or Linux PC. People are excluded because they're poor, because of their gender, ethnicity, sexuality or religious beliefs. The idea that people are excluded because they use a non-Windows OS is simply a sideshow that shouldn't distract us from more pressing issues.

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Anonymous Coward

"If a company built a road down which only a Ford car could go, there would be an outcry."

A bit like Virgin trains on the west coast main line then?

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Security and quality? Hmm

"Some open source projects cannot meet our needs for quality or security,"

Given the insistence on MS products, obviously HM Gov needs poor quality and shoddy security. She's right then, open source won't meet those needs.

Stuart

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Anonymous Coward

She doesn't understand the problem does she?

It's nothing to do with using open source software or not. Our council's web site runs under IIS and works perfectly with any browser on any platform that I care to use against it. A web site that shall remain nameless is built entirely using open source components (including php) but it doesn't work unless you're using IE on Windows.

Hats off to the good doctor though.

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Paris Hilton

Deaf Minister?

Angela Eagle seems not to have listened to the question. It has nothing to do with open source on the server. What was suggested was that network services be available to all _clients_, not just those using Windows.

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It highlights the fact the gov. don't know what they are talking about.

Once again we see a govt. spokesperson equating open-source with cross-platform.

Gettings sites and services to be platform neutral is NOT related in anyway to being ope source.

Using standards compliant products is. You don't have to have an opensource content server to deliver platform neutral content.

It just shows how poorly some top government officials understand IT.

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Gates Horns

Really?

"Some open source projects cannot meet our needs for quality or security, and we are not prepared to compromise on those," she added.

Which ones? What are the problems? What's that got to do with MACs.

Sounds like a smoke screen excuse to me.

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Gates Horns

Garbage

"Some open source projects cannot meet our needs for quality or security,"

Do Microsoft products have a spotless security record?

What does a treasury minister know about computer security anyway? Except what she is told by a high ranking Microsoft employee of course.

"and we are not prepared to compromise on those"

Maybe if we hadn't just had 10 years of Labour government we might buy into that.

Unless you are using ActiveX (so secure) there is no reason you cannot make all government websites work with browsers other than IE. And surely a simple cd based system instructional system can be made cross platform easily without any real security concerns.

"She said the key online portal, Directgov, accessed by 6.5 million users a month, successfully uses open source products. Also a significant part of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency's electronic vehicle licensing system is delivered through open source components."

Talk about moving the goal posts. We don't really care what platform the systems are running on as long as we can access them with non-Microsoft products. Sure it would be nice if our government used more open source products but or big concern is that we are having IE and Windows shoved down our throats.

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Gates Horns

The honourable MP has forgotten that who holds the UK govt leash

The honourable MP should ask himself a couple of questions:

1. Where were the last Labour campaigns announced?

2. Who was used by Labour as an example of technological prowess and their investment into technology for the last 10 years during each election campaign?

Once he has got the answers he should reconsider his terrorist stance and dutifully conform.

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Secure

"Some open source projects cannot meet our needs for quality or security, and we are not prepared to compromise on those,"

Um, that's right. Just as some closed source products cannot meet the needs for quality or security as well.

I'll take Exchange 2007 any day over anything that I've seen from OSS projects, but then again I wouldn't consider setting up a Windows box to use as a dedicated firewall.

Once people realise that one vendor or development model (open or closed) isn't going to suit every solution all the time then the better it will be for all.

Back to the point in hand:

IIS will handle standards fine - shame the developers can't see beyond IE when testing. Morons.

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Gates Horns

inertia?

I had a brief e-mail chat with support people for my local council website as I couldn't use half the 'features' including viewing local services mapping.

Basically, their reply was "The ignorant bastards haven't a clue about what happens in the real non-M$ world and we're fed up with people asking us when the powers that be will wake up. Well, it ain't gonna happen 'cos they are pig-ignorant and are happy to waste all the council tax funds on crap that only half the people can see. But they can still say they have a website so everything is fine."

"Oh, and we also can't use it at home unless we stop using Firefox"

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As usual...

As usual an MP (Angela Eagle) has demonstrated a lack of understanding of an issue placed before them. The issue is not whether or not the government is using open source software to run its web services, but whether or not they are using open standards in their web services and distributable media. I'm quite sure its possible to build very comprehensive web services using Microsoft Server products, and still have them accessible to non-Windows machines. So the problem lies with the web designers and programmers the government departments are using.

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Stop right here

"Some open source projects cannot meet our needs for quality or security, and we are not prepared to compromise on those"

Bollocks.

Open Source is almost by definition more secure than Closed Source. If the Bad Guys can look at the code, then so can the Good Guys -- and there are more Good Guys out there than Bad Guys.

As for quality, I'm presuming she's referring to the User Interface (since you get to inspect the internals in detail). Open Source may be a little rough around the edges; but if you pay someone to improve it, you get to keep the improvements they made. Forever.

All government websites should be required to be tested on Firefox. (In my place of work -- a near-100% Open Source outfit -- that's all there is anyway.) Nineteen sites out of twenty that work correctly on Firefox will work correctly on IE without any changes; and anybody having trouble with the twentieth can just be told to download Firefox and have done with it. (The figures are even better for Opera and Konqueror / Safari which actually follow standards.) *Anyone* can run Firefox, but only Windows users can run IE.

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Jobs Halo

Accessible Services != Open Source

Have to agree with comments so far, application / website accessibilty has nothing to do with open source.

Accessibility for web based applications is always a development issue not the platform by which content and services are delivered.

The lack of testing and ensuring compliance always relates to time and money spent on development and developers. A result of either the supplier cutting corners, the client not paying enough, or both.

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Coat

Clueless reporter?

I blame the reporter who accepted this response as an appropriate answer to the question. If the reporter knew what the issue was about he/she SHOULD have pointed out that the question was not about open source but about open STANDARDS.

How do gov spokespeople get away with talking bollocks? Because they are not challenged by reporters who give a REAL damn about getting an answer to the story, but simply accepting whatever the talking head says. Its journalistic laziness that allows them to get away with it!

Watch Paxman, listen to Humphries - there is a reason politicians fear to be interviewed by these guys. They actually LISTEN to the answer given and are not frightened to repeat the question (ask Michael Howard!) to get a proper answer.

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Anonymous Coward

@Tom

"How do these companies get the contracts and fail again and again? No one can be that incomptent - it must be corruption at the highest level."

To do anything more than supply a paperclip to a government body, you need to jump through lots of hoops. The bigger the potential contract, the more hoops you need to jump through, which means that only the larger companies can afford the resoruces to do this. Once you get to the size of projects that central government (attempts) to run, only big companies like EDS, Capita, etc can stand the resources to jump through the hoops. (I work in a government body, and I see the red tape from my side. It is incredably difficult for small companies to break into government supply contracts)

You then get the problem that contracts & projects this size are controlled by managers who's knowledge of IT comes from reading the Times and playing with Solitaire on their swanky new Vista laptop/PC. They don't know or understand that not eveyone uses Windoze on their PC.

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IT Angle

DVLA EVL (Electronic Vehicle Licencing)

"... delivered through open source components".

Yes. It uses Apache as the webserver, and Java to run some of the harness code, but that's about it. Otherwise it is AIX, Oracle, QAS (on Windows) and Weblogic.

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Microsoft consultants have done their work well

All credit to Dr John Pugh for raising this matter in such a public fashion.

As others have said above, what matters in terms of standards compliance, cross-browser compatibility and accessibility is the nature of the content served up to the user's browser, not the back-end systems used to generate that content. Whether proprietary or open source, custom built or off-the-shelf, any server-side content generating system worth its weight will be able to pump out standards-based Web content. If it can't, the people responsible for implementing it should be summarily fired.

Any use of Microsoft-only components should, in my utterly humble opinion, be regarded as clear evidence of incompetence and/or corruption within public sector IT procurement. There is no excuse for including IE-only components or content on the pages of publicly-accessible web applications. For the government to be locking up public information within proprietary formats is unforgiveable. Perfectly good, standards-based and open alternatives exist. And why even describe standards-based delivery as an 'alternative'? It should morally be the default choice.

On the subject of security, some of the most secure systems on the planet are built entirely using open source tools and languages. Does Angela Eagle even know this I wonder? She ought to be hauled in front of a committee of inquiry in order to explain her "Some open source projects cannot meet our needs for quality or security, and we are not prepared to compromise on those" remark!

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Okay I stand corrected

It wasn't the journalists fault, this was reporting the answers to Dr Pugh's questions in the debate, which means the blame for accepting this non-answer falls firmly at the feet of Dr Pugh.

All kudos to him for bringing the matter up, but marks deducted for allowing the Treasury Minister to talk bollocks and get away with it without asking again for a proper answer to the question that was asked.

Try again please and this time insist on getting a proper answer.

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RW
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Not only in the UK

The last Canadian census allowed you to fill out the (long and detailed) questionnaire online if you wished. Being a good e-citizen, I went to the website but discovered that (a) it required Java to be enabled and (b) the JDK had to be a specific version. Anything else produced a rude error screen telling you to update your software and intimating that you were behind the technological curve.

I keep Java turned OFF unless there's heroin content at the other end that requires it -- and a census form is not heroin content by any stretch of the imagination.

And I'm not about to upgrade software just to satisfy the demands of some clueless idiot who doesn't know how to write simple software. Has the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) principle been utterly forgotten?

In the end, I had to use the paper form after all.

I am continually astonished at the number of websites that have been validated only against whatever the developer had on his winbox, but no other browsers, no other browser versions, and no other user setups. This is, of course, no news at all to the El Reg readership collective, but it's disturbing nonetheless.

All that money put into development produced a website that I'm sure a great many people could not or would not use because of its insistence of very specific software. So much for cost savings through technology.

One wonders if Statistics Canada had a projected usage level for their online census system and whether the website attained that usage level. Betcha a jelly donut it didn't for the simple reason that Joe and Jane Sixpack don't know how to upgrade their JDK, "helpful" url notwithstanding.

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Private sector are insecure

So, according to the govt. all those private sector companies who DO support non-Microsoft technologies are comprised security wise?

Was the medical system secure? I think not! Next they'll be telling us of a successful IT project in the NHS........

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Joke

Haha

"Why can a Mac user not be able to apply for benefits online?"

Anyone who is able to afford a reassuringly expensive fashion statement for a computer doesn't deserve benefits. They can sell it, along with their Jaxon berets and Tory Burch Sgt. Pepper sports jackets, use the money to buy a modest PC AND pay the rent for 12 months.

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Dead Vulture

John Pugh should quit

I agree with the points raised in this matter, everybody should be able to access all online services regardless of the OS they use but John Pugh is a self serving moron who jumps onto any current hot topic to keep himself in the news. He is my local MP and has systematically thrown millions in council tax money away, arranging useless changes that the town doesn't need or want while at the same time ignoring things that the town is crying out for as they are not high profile enough to keep him in the papers. One example is he organised our weekly rubbish collections to be once a fortnight. He was instrumental in forcing this change on us, but now it is in place he is making statements to the local press about how it should never have happened and he was against it all the time, despite his words to the contrary being a matter of public record. Another example is the closing of our hospital A&E and childrens unit that are now located over 10 miles away which went ahead with his support. Now he is in the papers saying he is campaigning for the return of these services which would not have been lost without his support. He is good at one thing, grabbing onto a subject to make himself try to look good and proactive but in reality he is a very selfish man looking out for himself to try and get re-elected while doing nothing constructive for the people he is supposed to serve. Over this issue he most likely does not have a clue, he has just heard certain buzz words in the media and from his spin doctors and it is yet another lame attempt to try and make himself look good. how he ever got re-elected is beyond me as everybody I know hates him and no-one admits to voting for him. I know I certainly didn't.

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Exchange 2007?

If you'd rather use that, either you don't look after your exchange server or you're using sendmail administration via a GUI.

Exchange is broken by design. It's entire reason for existence is to ensure that Outlook is required and therefor Windows is needed to talk to management and hear their pronouncements. The protocol it uses has to be fiddled so that reverse engineering must always play catch up and that design requires that the changes be illogical and arbitrary. Not a design that lends itself to robustness, security or utility (rather than use).

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Gates Halo

I Ms. Eagle's point...

I mean, think about it... My copy of UBUNTU needs its monthly "Patch Tuesdays" updates in order to remain as secure as they need it to be....

...oh wait....

Hmmm... I can't seem to find the KB articles referencing the buffer overrun trojans or IE ActiveX holes for my "open source operating system"...

Well Mac OSX simply can't meet the needs either! Ms. Eagle would have to return the promised "No strings attached Bentley" to Microsoft if she went against her word to Bill! And that's just outrageous!

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@ Exchange 2007? / Mark

Couldn't have put it better myself, although you missed the part that it's now a delivery point for foisting Sharepoint on all users... (for example, the depracation of the _almost_ working shared folder system in deference to a not-working at all and almost useless sharepoint based "shared folder" system).

As for mail systems other than Exchange (which is an utter pig to attempt to manage), there are a few quite good ones, including ones that work in windows - for example MDaemon to name just one. Yes, it has it's problems, but it's immeasurably easier to manage than Exchange.

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Some boxer shorts ...

... don't meet my requirements for comfort, so I bash myself repeatedly in the groin with an expensive mallet.

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Jobs Horns

Politicians have nothing to do with - Pounds do.

Let's be fair to Angela, she only knows what she's told by her political adviser, who only knows what he's been told by the PPC, who only knows what he's been told by, and so on until we get to the technical people.

Ultimately it's down to Money, there is a thin called eGiF which has been around for years that states that Citizen services should not be tied to one technology. Originally you had to make all web forms compatible with Netscape and IE.

I pointed out a long time ago to various Project Managers that there was a world outside Windows, but their attitude was, well I don't know anybody who uses X, when asking the clients they always stated that we should follow eGiF, but once the costs started escalating for testing on Macs, Linux and others, well just test it on a couple of browsers under windows. But then the desktop policies wouldn't allow Netscape. Actually it isn't always as bad as that but you can guess the arguments you have to go through. Remember politicians in the UK only have to keep 40% of the electorate happy, and the Civil Service has to show value for money, don't think Macs and Linux have enough traction yet that the cost of supporting them will be acceptable. Also remember who develops these systems, we only have to look at some of the Linux v Mac v Windows zelots comments to see that Windows developers, just don't think outside IE without the use of thumbscrews, and most development platforms are Windows.

It's funny though how many of the oh well most people use Windows brigade now use Macs at home because the get fed up with constant patching and virus upgrades.

I'll be joining them at my next PC upgrade. Oh, and for you Linux lovers, my home servers going that way as well, when I have time.

So don't just have a go at Angela, fun though it is, have a go at, The Treasury, the Public Accounts Committee, OGC, The SIs, The techies, and the buying public, we're all responsible.

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Security ... my arse!

And they want us to believe ID cards will be secure!

Nurse ... the screens!

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Coat

UK failing to exploit open source

MPs are not IT experts and we can't expect them to be. However the civil servants who feed them this garbage should know better, and should be fired for lack of knowledge or impartiality.

Here's a link to a ZDNet article complaining about the UK failing to exploit open source.... http://news.zdnet.co.uk/software/0,1000000121,39289240,00.htm

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It's TOO Easy...

to call yourself a "web developer", if code was properly formed and standards (by standards i mean W3C) compliant it would work on ALL platforms anyway.

Most so called "Web Designers / Developers" get a copy of dreamweaver or whatever, draw a nice WYSIWYG page, hi-jack a few javascripts and other code, stick it together and then call the "cut and shut" their own creation.

Others know a little HTML, but are not well versed and discriminate with the excuse "well IE is the most popular so I'll develop for just that" Truth is, it's their skills which are lacking not that it's hard to create a good well formed site, accessible by all.

Any company commissioning a website or online service should look at existing sites by this person/company and run them through http://validator.w3.org if they pass, hire them, if not then they aren't a true developer, it's not a fail safe solution but it'll help shortlist them.

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