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back to article Sheffield hospitals pay thousands for dodgy software

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals are to pay £13,000 for inadequate software licensing, after an ex-staff member reported them to the Federation Against Software Theft. The hospitals had failed to get enough licenses for Esker's SmarTerm emulation software. The failure was reported to FAST by a presumably disgruntled ex-employee of …

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Linux

Stop giving my money to Americans

Lesson here : All public institutions should migrate to Linux now.

Stop giving my tax money to an American company which stifles innovation (windows 7 is just vista with a new skin.) and gives funding to the republican party (in 2002 MS spent more money lobbying than Enron - http://www.zdnet.com/news/microsofts-lobbying-efforts-eclipse-enron/120716 )

I assume now this public institution is going to be fined now - thus costing the taxpayer more.

There is absolutely no reason not to use Linux for the police, hospitals, schools, etc - the only thing Linux lacks are games...

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FAIL

Yeah Linux!

It's free! Save billions! ROFLcopters.

Remind me who Red Hat are.

Remind me how much the training will cost, support will cost, re-writing all the software will cost...

It would be nice, but it ain't going to happen.

Can FF on Linux run ActiveX? Because if it can't, it can never be used in the NHS which still has IE6 as the default browser.

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Welcome

"Remind me who Red Hat are."

Your reminder, sir: http://www.redhat.com/about/companyprofile/

I'm still mystified why you seem unable to use the dubyadubyadubya.

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Non-argument

"Remind me who Red Hat are."

One of many companies providing Linux....

"Remind me how much the training will cost, support will cost, re-writing all the software will cost..."

It depends but it is still a non-argument. How much will the cost of migrating to Office 2007, Win 7 etc cost the NHS. Migrating to a non-windows platform *may* have a larger upfront cost but this will be recouped many times over.

The short term "its too hard" argument is the reason why public institutions are being financially raped by consultants, failing to adequately licence their software and just generally being crap. If it wasnt for panic-spreading "it will be too hard" obstructionists they could over come this by adopting a rational, long term approach that met their needs in a cost effective manner (be that *nix or something else).

"Because if it can't, it can never be used in the NHS which still has IE6 as the default browser."

So how is that an arguement?

Are you saying that the NHS should never upgrade their systems because they have the most b0rked browser of the millennium as their browser of choice?

Surely it just means they should change their bloody default browser.

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Throwing good money after bad technology?

The cost of moving *ANY* technology > £0.

Sooner or later it's going to have to happen anyway - irrespective of whether or not some shitty ActiveX intranet apps were written at some point MS is going to say, "cough up some cash for new versions, and deal with migration pain because we don't support IE6 anymore".

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Anonymous Coward

Aaaaand...

...they're American. So even if the NHS did go Linux (and RH seems like the most likely candidate to scale to that level) we'd still be throwing money at Septics.

Thanks for proving my point - but I did think it would have been obvious enough.

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FAIL

Money ?

I think you'll find the NHS has a deal with Microsoft that allows them to use Windows (client and server) along with various applications for a zero license cost (they still have to audit, but don't actually pay anything).

Microsoft is not the only major corporation to do this deal - Oracle had a similar agreement, and I'm sure there were others.

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Grenade

Public institution fined

Who do you think the fine goes to? When a public institution is fined, all that happens is the money is reshuffled in government. It isn't like when a public institution is sued when the money is transferred to a private individual/company.

When you are going to have that sort of rant, at least be accurate.

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Pirate

I think you're confusing the ICO with FAST

FAST is *not* a public institution.

That money will go into FAST's coffes, or be distributed to its members.

What *might* make large institutions care a bit more about this is if it was distributed to whoever turned them in. IE A reward.

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in other news

an ex-employee of Sheffield NHS IT deprtment has just cancelled his upcoming vasectomy appointment after it was suggested by senior executives the new cost-cutting measure was to execute the procedure with two bricks on certain patients.

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Anonymous Coward

Won't it hurt?

<pause>

Only if you get your thumbs caught!

Ba-dommm Tisssshhhhhhh

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Happy

How's this work then?

How does FAST work then? Presumably, the company concerned (Esker in this case) needs to be a "member" of FAST in order to give FAST a mandate to go after the evil-doing software-licence evading public/hospital/etc.

But it is, of course, yet another example of why huge public or government organisations need to move to either free software, or develop their own. Yes, of course the NHS is not in the business of developing software, but the people that decide what software to use need to wake-up.

As for suggesting that everyone migrate to Linux (first post), there are other free OSs out there you know! Some much more free than GPL'd Linux! And more stable, more secure, etc etc... Linux is not the only fruit.

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Silver badge

OpenMolar is a good example

I have a pal who is a doc...some of the stories you get to hear are shocking. Thing is, who is going to pay for the open source software to get written? I can't see it being hobbyists, you are talking about a huge infrastructure.

OpenMolar is miniscule by comparison.

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Happy

Who will write it?

I agree - you can't rely on good-will and hobyists to write stuff for thr NHS - that's just silly.

But of the software that something like the NHS uses, a lot of it, like word processors, terminal emulators (!), databases, etc etc IS available off-the-shelf for free. Yes, of course it will take money to configure it and get it running, but that's true of whatever software you use - you can't just take an SQL server and it works for you - you need to invest effort into it. And (and this is the crucial thing), you damn well make sure that you (the NHS) retain any rights over any configuration work that is done; you don't want to be locked-in for the next hundred years into going back to the original supplier.

As for the rest, I bet a lot of the software is either bespoke or very heavily modified/configured stuff. In which case, it's no harder to write it to use a free platform (for example) than it is to use an expensive one. And again, you make sure you retain the rights.

Clearly the procurement people are simply not driving a hard enough bargain in this respect, because lock-in is as serious an issue today as it was back in the 70s and 80s when IBM were eventually stuffed-up for doing exactly this. Lessons seem not to have been leaned. Maybe the procument people don't actually know what they are doing? Could this be true? Surely not!!

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Pint

FLOSS??

If the sysadmin had done a 5 minute google research he might have found this:

http://sourceforge.net/projects/console/

which could have saved 13000 pounds of tax payers money. I don't know the particulars of the case but if it's terminal emulation on windows you are looking for...

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WTF?

I have to agree

I've just had a quick look at this SmartTerm thing - it's nothing special at all - it's just a normal SSH client. The only thing I can see that is at all unusual is a "VB compatible macro language", but I'm guessing that in the case in question this is either not used at all or if it is, it's only used because SmartTerm supports it (ie - if they used a different terminal client, they would have used some other, probably perfectly adequate, macro language).

WHY would you shell out money (or not, as the case may be) on an SSH client like this when you can pick one up for free from sourceforge or wherever. Or use PuTTY?

Who the hell makes these brain-dead procurement decisions? They should be made to pay personally for this.

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Happy

AC@11:38

But no doubt it will be the *only* one with the Special Sauce (c LewisPage) that some package or other simply *must* have in order to run.

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I wonder...

I wonder if the disgruntled employee in question was responsible licensing (or lack thereof) of software in question.

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Anonymous Coward

That's a big hole to fill

£13k would pay for a new baby incubator.

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FAIL

Typical...

...and what will happen? My guess is that they will get away with it - handslap moment. Please let a "new" Government put an end to this NPfIT garbage, money-wasting, CSC/BT/Fujitsu?HP/Accenture/Cerner farce....

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Anonymous Coward

w00t for capitalism

FAST +1, Hospitals -1 A grade nurses wage (Grades may have changed and maybe "nursing assistant" is around the 13k mark instead of A grade) each.

Whilst the hospitals should be licensed correctly I think it would be far fairer to fine the director of the hospital directly instead of the Hospital.

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Go

Why are you reading this

and not out voting.

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Go

Because

I got up at a sensible time and walked to the polling office this morning.

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Anonymous Coward

erm...

Because I'm at work...

Your excuse?

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Thumb Up

Stuff that!

I was sensible and did a postal vote last week!

You see long before "da Net", we had this thing called a postal service. It still sort of works and indeed a very large firm starting with the letter A, use it to deliver your fun stuff!

( Anyway I wanted my vote to be blasted all over Twitter the day after it was counted! )

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Alert

LOL

Does it surprise you? This just like everything else that is related to piracy in work places stems to one thing... Doing things on the cheap. The main reason in my opinion why ICT in the workplace is crud is because it is all done on the cheap if they properly invested everything would be fine.

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Linux

terminal emulation

Why pay £13,000 for a terminal emulator when there are Open Source solutions available.

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Why pay...

One possibility is that the application has some proprietary features and won't run properly with any other terminal emulator. I'm sure there will be plenty of people here who'll suggest that the application should have been bought if it wasn't fully standards compliant, but if its the one that best supports the customers needs you'll find that will have throughly trumped standards compliance in the shopping process. Unfortunately in the real world things are a lot more complicated than the more doctrinaire will believe, be they the "only use open source" zealots or the "only buy microsoft" zealots... In practical terms I reckon both are equally divorced from reality!

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Stop

Who needs a court !

"Anyone who thinks that FAST is an organisation without clout needs to think again"

I must have missed the assignment of their statutory powers.

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Anonymous Coward

That made me smile

""Anyone who thinks that FAST is an organisation without clout needs to think again""

OK...

* Thinks again...

Yep, still no clout.

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It's a shame nobody will take notice.

It would be nice to think that some people who though about using Esker software will think again now that they're been seen to employ a bunch of thugs against a public-funded organisation.

Sadly most people couldn't care less about ethics when making purchasing choices.

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Anonymous Coward

RE: using FOSS or writing own software

As already mentioned FOSS is not really free in the definition of no cost (training, migration etc.), without talking about the issues involved in making dramatic changes to such a sensitive area. Chances are the FOSS stuff out the box won't do exactly what is needed anyway - so development / testing / evaluation required. This itself would take years.

Writing own software is also problematic, as with above training etc. would need to be paid for, not to mention the actual writing of the software - if you think the NHS will be doing it rather than outsourcing it to HP/EDS, Accenture, Crapita, Fujitsu or one of the other many IT companies that already provide such a poor service for such a large amount of taxpayers cash, then you obviously come from a parallel reality - welcome.

It would take years to develop software and then more years to get it signed off as usable - by the time it is ready it will already be obsolete and no doubt way over budget. If it was developed centrally it would certainly fail to meet the needs of the PCTs and if developed at each PCT it would cost far more and almost certainly have compatibility problems between different PCTs.

Buying software is straightforward, simple, easy, supported and costed - for businesses where software development is not a core operation it makes sense to just buy existing products.

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Stop

NHS are big enough

The NHS are big enough to have their own in-house IT department, which could earn part of its keep by being contracted out to customers during slack moments.

Writing software in-house based on existing Open Source solutions also has the advantage that the software can be modified to fit the existing workflow, rather than the other way around.

Training is often mentioned as a cost barrier; but the ugly truth is, much less of it is required than you think. OpenOffice.org doesn't have a different keyboard layout from Microsoft Word, you know! But still, if you did decide to do re-training sessions, you could take the opportunity to teach people to use headings for table-of-contents generation that can survive page insertions, not to use spaces for layout and centring, and not to use a calculator to add up columns of figures in spreadsheets (no, I did not make this up -- I have actually seen all three faults committed in practice, by people who should have known much better).

And well-written software can evolve, so there needn't be upheaval when new features are introduced.

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OSC
Linux

You are rebutting a point no-one is making

FOSS has always been "free as in speech not as in beer". All training and migration comes at a price. FOSS come with a zero exit price.

"the FOSS stuff out the box won't do exactly what is needed anyway - so development / testing / evaluation required. This itself would take years"

Perhaps you could also explain how proprietary software gets to predict the future so accurately?

That the NHS is in the grip of large poor value consultancies is another problem that has to be solved, and has nothing to do with FOSS.

"It would take years to develop software and then more years to get it signed off as usable - by the time it is ready it will already be obsolete and no doubt way over budget"

- have you been following NPfIT or have you just turned up?

"If [FOSS based solutions, I presume] was developed centrally it would certainly fail to meet the needs of the PCTs and if developed at each PCT it would cost far more and almost certainly have compatibility problems between different PCTs"

Now, this is definitely one area where you are wrong. No FOSS project has ever developed an unidentifiable API nor included features which serve no other purpose than to defeat interoperability. And "if developed separately" is a false predicate as FOSS is all about collaboration (e.g., have you checked the Linux kernel contributors list recently?)

"Buying software is straightforward, simple, easy, supported and costed - for businesses where software development is not a core operation it makes sense to just buy existing products."

Your first statement is definitely true alas it is not a predicate for your conclusion (cf NPfIT)

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FAIL

For crying out loud

Who the hell *pays* for a freaking terminal emulator?

It should be law that government departments (and anybody else on the taxpayer's shilling) *must* use Open Source software, unless they can prove there is some really compelling reason not to.

I pay my stamp for free medical treatment when I need it. Not to make millionaires richer.

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Hmm 13K... It was probably

cheaper to pay the fines than it would have been to employ extra staff and set up extra software to audit how much was out there...

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Anonymous Coward

@AC

"which could have saved 13000 pounds of tax payers money. I don't know the particulars of the case but if it's terminal emulation on windows you are looking for..."

Middle managers don't like using FOSS in large organisations because it doesn't have the cover-arse of having a support contract (despite the fact they're often less use than FOSS online forums). If for some reason the s**t hits the fan about software, they want to look like they did their job properly.

And what do they care? It's not their money...

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Thumb Up

WOW!

A whole £13,000! Well that really will put all those thousands of dodgy copies of Microsoft and Adobe software, currently being run up and down the country, into perspective! Gosh a whole £13k!

FFS! No clout? Well if you really had any clout you'd be out busting every Tom, Dick and Harry down the local Car Boot sales, when they are offering knocked off Windows XP/Vista/7/Office!!!

Jesus what a freaking waste of time! Probably cost more to process the proceedings than what was recovered!!

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FAST performs a valuable function

...for disgruntled employees. Along with HMRC, local authorities and relevant regulatory bodies. A 'friend', when unfairly dismissed by a particularly unpleasant employer, called FAST and a few others. The resulting fees, penalties and fines hit five figures. Very satisfying, he said.

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Coat

Sheffield steal?

Sorry

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FAST - actually "slow" or "immobile"

I personally contacted FAST to report an eBay seller who was flogging rip-off copies of PartitionMagic. I had his name, address, email address, and the physical CD-R. Was anyone at FAST interested? Nope - absolutely zero response.

Until people like FAST get busy with the *real* criminals, I'll keep my opinion of them, which is that they're bottom-feeding bully-boy scum.

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And once FAST has been paid...

...they'll be handing all of the cash to Esker, yes? Or am I being too naïve?

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Anonymous Coward

@ OSC

"You are rebutting a point no-one is making "

No, actually I am rebutting a point that has already been made.

"FOSS has always been "free as in speech not as in beer". All training and migration comes at a price. FOSS come with a zero exit price."

So you agree moving to FOSS would cost money? Good, thanks for that. next?

"Perhaps you could also explain how proprietary software gets to predict the future so accurately?"

(1) People buy the software and then fit their processes around that.

(2) Commercial software manufacturers have to produce what people want, or they won't buy. Central government developers produce to whatever buzzwords their clueless MP masters fine in vogue at any particular time.

(3) Seems to work pretty well at the moment on the prop. model

"That the NHS is in the grip of large poor value consultancies is another problem that has to be solved, and has nothing to do with FOSS."

Ah, I see. You are a FOSS zealot so you saw I had written a reason why FOSS would not be the best solution and your frothing rabidness clouded your ability to read or understand. I get it now. Let me explain: this is not about FOSS, this is about changing the whole NHS IT systems.

"- have you been following NPfIT or have you just turned up?"

Yes I have. Which is another good reason to propose migrating to FOSS would go over budget and get fucked up. Because a much smaller project already has done both of them. In spades.

""If [FOSS based solutions, I presume] was developed centrally it would certainly fail to meet the needs of the PCTs and if developed at each PCT it would cost far more and almost certainly have compatibility problems between different PCTs""

You presume wrong on FOSS - I did not specify what systems are used. Logically speaking internal development would not be FOSS as such - otherwise the change would be to move to FOSS which I covered separately. Try to focus on not being blindly focussed.

"Now, this is definitely one area where you are wrong. No FOSS project has ever developed an unidentifiable API nor included features which serve no other purpose than to defeat interoperability. And "if developed separately" is a false predicate as FOSS is all about collaboration (e.g., have you checked the Linux kernel contributors list recently?)"

OK, where to start? I care not for your APIs, I care for features. Central government would specify features that are unused and omit things that are necessary - this is fairly clear with the current state of government mandated IT projects. Localised development would be completely different as different developers/project managers/consultants would want different shit all of which would be in weird formats and mandatory.

As for your last bit - are you actually reading the same article as me? This is about NHS systems, not about the latest linux kernel. I can't see the armies of FOSS developers out there coding up NHS IT systems for free off their own bat now, can you?

"Buying software is straightforward, simple, easy, supported and costed - for businesses where software development is not a core operation it makes sense to just buy existing products."

Your first statement is definitely true alas it is not a predicate for your conclusion (cf NPfIT)

What conclusion? You can't seriously think it would be a good use of money, resources and the like to rip out the entire NHS IT systems and replace them with FOSS community developed FOSS solutions that generally don't exist and almost certainly never will?

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Anonymous Coward

Fucking hell

I can't be arsed reading all that!

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Grenade

Indeed!

Why let a good argument get in the way of your preconceptions.

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Anonymous Coward

Blame procurement

The problem with free software is there's no-one to sell it. If there's no-one to sell it, how does the NHS know what to put in the procurement spec? Then how do the procurement guys sign a contract or get their paperwork done if there is no-one to negotiate a contract with? There's just no process to deal with free.

On the other hand, the NHS is big enough that it could have it's own open source advisors (like NICE but for software). It's big enough that it could require source-level ownership of bespoke software. It's big enough that it could actually release the source and so make downstream bids more competitive, and to encourage innovation. And it's big enough that it could just transact support and training on open source software separately from the software (an MS Office trainer is rarely Microsoft). It's also big enough that it could publish prices paid for everything it buys and so allow others to come in and keep prices down.

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Joke

I must read these more carefully

"Sheffield hospitals pay thousands for dodgy software" - oh no - I thought - not another Office 2007 installation!

Seriously though - £13k for a terminal emulator. - WTF? There's plenty of free ones available that are script supported. Heck even the global megacorp that I work for (disparaged by many of the previous posters) are quite happy to use PuTTy - it's low-cost (free!), scriptable easy-to-use, reliable and stable (none of those last three descriptions applicable to Office2007 of course).

Depressingly enough I doubt that any new government will do anything other than increase this kind of stupidity.

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Unhappy

Proprietary sucks

I used to work for a recruitment agency. They used an inhouse system built back in the late 80's (This was back in the mid 90's). The original programmer and mainainer had long since left and there was only one guy who was a temp consultant who knew how it worked and hot to manipulate it (to a small degree).

I was glad I left before they had to move onto some other platform. Who knows. Perhaps they are still in business and still using the same system. But it was slow and horrid to use. They also used Sage for accounting and that was a pain in the backside to work with too (and cost a fortune on contract).

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Happy

@Dick Emery

"The original programmer and mainainer had long since left and there was only one guy who was a temp consultant who knew how it worked and hot to manipulate it (to a small degree)."

"They also used Sage for accounting and that was a pain in the backside to work with too (and cost a fortune on contract)."

So bespoke closed source software written by a single developer with *zero* documentation is bad.

Closed source commercial software is awkward to use and expensive to support as well

So your POV is both kinds of software are crap?

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Linux

False dichotomy

"So bespoke closed source software written by a single developer with *zero* documentation is bad. Closed source commercial software is awkward to use and expensive to support as well. So your POV is both kinds of software are crap?"

"Both kinds" in this case having something in common. Can you spot what it is?

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