back to article Swiss public sector allowed to buy Microsoft software

A Swiss federal court has handed Microsoft a temporary reprieve that allows the firm to sell its products and services to public sector customers, even though it could face an annulment in the final judgment. The move follows software rival Red Hat launching a legal appeal in May this year against a Swiss government agency’s …


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  1. Anonymous Coward


    ...this will no doubt generate into a "my dads OS is harder than your dads OS" type situation soon, but before that happens (if I'm not too late already), can anyone explain exactly what the problem with what the Swiss did is? from what I understand, they decided they wanted to buy some software, then they went out and bought it, and then a rival company kicks up shit because they didn't get asked to tender for the deal. it probably would have been just as "scandalous" if they had to go through the (possibly) expensive and (probably) time consuming process of reviewing tenders from myriad different companies, only to come to the conclusion that the best product for them is the one they decided upon three months ago and could have implemented by now if they hadn't had to bugger about so much.

    next thing you know we'll be seeing affirmative action for open source products

  2. Geoff Mackenzie


    Don't be stupid, the problem is that a public body threw a huge amount of public money at a product without shopping around at all. Red Hat's motivation for pointing this out may be selfish (given that they might have bid, given the chance) but the problem is real.

    They could have invited bids, and if Microsoft's was best, gone with it, and nobody could complain. When public bodies make huge purchases at will, there's a serious risk of incompetence or corruption.

  3. Kevin Rudd


    Here, here Geoff Mackenzie! Now AC, Redhat are well justified with their complaint no matter what company, be it Novell, Apple, Sun, whatever, was involved. Transparent public tendering is essential for when public money is spent. A private business can do what it wants, competitive pressure, share holders etc, will lessen the chance of corruption. But when taxpayers money is involved, without transparency, corruption will spread faster than swine flu. And all a corrupt public system need do for additional funds to line the pockets of its cronies is raise your taxes. (google sorry in your case bing Zimbabwe)

    So AC, "better that you not comment on stories and be thought a fool than rush to comment and remove all doubt."

  4. CurtisB


    Don't be such a champagne socialist. They made a decision on a particular product range that is a well known and tested quantity and then went and bought it.

    If I were a Swiss tax payer, I'd be impressed that a government organisation can make a decision without wasting time and money on needless bureaucracy - did you stop to think it might have been a decision driven by the technical staff themselves?

    But, oh no. Not good enough for the freetards who view government contracts as something they deserve. We don't need a benefit state support system for uncompetitive software houses.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Beyond Mackenzie's apposite response lies a deeper issue: if a public institution acquires software that dooms its data to formats over which it cannot exert control, then that institution effectively signs a 'lifetime subscription agreement' with the vendor, where extraction of _publicly owned_ data will incur substantial costs.

    For a business to do this is plain stupid; for a government to do this is (constitutionally?) irresponsible.

    This kind of deal would be dangerous in any case, but particularly so in the case of Microsoft, which goes to profound (and sometimes illegal) lengths to preserve path dependence.

  6. Big-nosed Pengie
    Gates Horns

    I hope...

    ...that this is the beginning of a global challenge to governments everywhere that open their public purses to Redmond and say "help yourself".

  7. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

    Cute solution - branding MS a risk without appearing to do so..

    "You can buy MS but we may have to cancel that contract later" has the same effect as "buying MS is a risk" but without saying so or giving MS a chance to go against the judgement (because it isn't one).

    However, it confirms the very thing MS has been fighting: there IS a case to answer.

  8. Ian 59
    Thumb Down

    Along with Geoff Mc

    Acknowledging Switzerland is outside the EU...and that EU rules do not apply...

    There are rules in the EU that state that any large capital outlay is made against a Competitive Tender. This way the merits of each company's case can be evaluated and the best value per Euro/Pound (and whatever unconverted currencies remain) can be achieved.

    Large is a relative term, it may be as low as £100k.

    The Swiss choice of Microsoft as the sole supplier without due diligence is simply negligent on the part of the purchasing authorities.

  9. Leo Maxwell

    Why should software be different from any other product?

    If the government had bought 14M$ of Ford trucks or Toshiba Photocopiers (for example) without inviting other tenders, it would have been seen as a public disgrace.

    Why should software be any different?

    (and before anyone comes up with the "only Microsoft software is any good" chestnut, your chip is showing)

    Mine's the high visibility one with silver stripes.

  10. Anonymous Coward


    "If I were a Swiss tax payer, I'd be impressed that a government organisation can make a decision without wasting time and money on needless bureaucracy"

    Clearly, that last bit would rule you at as even a prospective Swiss tax payer...

    Mine's the one with Nazi gold in the left pocket, and a sheaf of red-taped papers in the right one.

  11. Michael 28

    champagne socialist?

    Someone (not me ) mentions prudent oversight into spending public money, and they get accused of not being a go-getter! How did the credit crunch happen again? Deregulation anyone?

    Curtis is right, however, but not for the reasons he believes .

    1. Swiss PUBLIC sector.. ( "Ich bin nicht ausgebildet, um diese Schnürsenkel binden!")

    2.You can only de-skill so far before you are OBLIGED to use MS products.

    Wonder what browser they'll use

  12. the spectacularly refined chap

    Complex procurement is an expense in itself

    I'm no friend of MS but I saw the limitations of competitive tendering and obsessive focus on saving money all the time when I worked in the civil service: in an effort to ensure that the best deal was got for the taxpayer multiple quotes for anything had to be obtained and suppliers needed to jump through all sorts of arcane hoops just to do business with us. A lot simply didn't have the resources to do so, especially if it was only a small contract. All this bureaucracy means endless paperwork and paradoxically the taxpayer pays a lot more than they need to.

    I remember one particularly petty example when I needed a chinagraph pencil costing £5. Since this was not a standard stationary item I needed to complete a business case form showing exactly why it was needed. This then went to my manager and then my manager's manager and ultimately _his_ manager to be signed off. Procurement then got involved and and found prices and I eventually got my pencil over a month after first needing it.

    Two months later it was running out. The pencil with one lead in it cost £5 but a pack of 18 refill leads was £7 - needless to say the refills are much better value for money. However, doing that would require going through the entire process again. Neither I or anybody else could be bothered goign through the whole process again so we just requested a duplicate of the original item to shortcut the procurement cycle.

    The system was so "sophisicated" it encouraged us to piss money down the drain. One pencil every couple of months may not be such a big deal but when twenty or thirty people across the unit notice that style of pencil was the best for a particular job it soon adds up.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    @various idiots

    Many public bodies in various countries are subject to "fair trading" rules from one source or another. MS are famous for their attempts to short-circuit or subvert them, often in collusion with greedy public officials. Often they don't bribe them outright, but offer benefits in kind, such as "factfinding" trips, use of luxurious houses in pleasant locales which just happen to be empty when said execs want a holiday etc.

    Such is the way of big business sadly, beyond a certain size and hubris takes over. This isn't peculiar to Redmond, big oil companies, pharmaceuticals, arms manufacturers etc. all get away with the same. Right now, we can exclude the car industry from that list, of course, but in happier times, they'd be right in there too.

    Paris, because it costs a lot to get her to put out, too.

  14. Anonymous Coward


    "We don't need a benefit state support system for uncompetitive software houses."

    Very true, it's about time Microsoft has to start COMPETING for their business!

    They have had too many years of "state support" already.

    Maybe the quality of their software will improve then too...

  15. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

    @Ian 59

    Such rules are not exclusive to the EU. As a matter of fact, the UK had them as well, even before the EU, but they have been enthusiastically bent out of shape by using consultancies that are creative with numbers, like the one that proved speed cameras were directly responsible for saving lives (I've seen the report and it's utter BS).

    Any land that calls itself a democracy has provisions in place that (attempt to) safeguard the use of public funds, and Redhat et al were right to question the lack of tender - a case now confirmed as the court has confirmed there is a case to answer.

    That doesn't imply the end solution won't be MS, only that they need to produce a viable case for it. That won't be so easy, there are a number of Swiss cantons that have made the switch already. It may create the same result as in UK Newham: Microsoft ends up so worried about losing the deal and the monopoly grip on that specific government sector that it dramatically lowers the prices and so clings on to the deal.

    That merely time-shifts the problem in my view.

  16. John Savard Silver badge


    It makes sense to put a bid up for tender when what is desired can be specified clearly.

    If a government department were buying trucks, for example, it can specify the horsepower of their engines, the size of their tires, and so on and so forth.

    Choosing an operating system for a computer isn't as simple, because it isn't just a matter of what it can do. Microsoft Windows is the means to have access to the pool of software that is written to run on Microsoft Windows.

  17. Giles Jones Gold badge

    Is this the right way to do it?

    I know the government departments are trying to avoid the Microsoft lock in. But surely they can do this by simply mandating standard open file formats to be used to store information?

    That way the tool used becomes irrelevant. Sticking to a standard that can be implemented in any platform is the fairest way.

  18. GrantB


    £24.3m contract for what exactly? Given that any new hardware they buy in the country for the next 5 years comes with Windows and that they probably have enough server infrastructure to met their current needs, then you a looking at a staggering number of say Office licenses for that sort of money; at least some of which might be met with alternatives like OpenOffice or simply continuing to use Office 2003. I don't know how many desktops this agreement covers but its is a lot of money no matter how you look at it.

    And how much discount did they get over what a business gets on a select agreement? Did it reflect the size of the non-competitive contract?. The NZ government certainly found that MS did not offer enough discount this year, so after many years of rolling over govt wide licenses, they pulled out. We found in our company that using a mix of Office2007 (purchased with new hardware), OpenOffice and Google App was far cheaper than buying a site license for MS software.

    I'm sure everything was above board, but part of the reason for open tenders is to be sure the contract was based only technical requirements and best value; closed awards without going to tender can hide stuff.

    With public money, there is a requirement to do the best as money spent on say upgrading 100K desktops from XP to Vista could be better spent on health, education or local industry.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    I trust the Swiss

    They know exactly what they are doing...

  20. Wulff U. Heiss


    you don't know the swiss - democratic to the very last bone; the impression is that they have a very direct democraty (opposed to many other countries)...

    but i'm just lookin at it from the other side od the EU border :)

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Public tender

    I think people are missing the point that the public tender part would have been more along the lines of the Swiss saying "We want Windows/Office, who'll sell it to us?" Under EU rules, which don't apply here anyway, the competitive tender just need to be that they've looked round for the best deal for the product required, not for a rival incompatible product.

    With competitive tender you also don't need to choose the least expensive, you just the best suited product.

  22. Psymon

    lifetime subscription?

    doomed to incompatible file formats?

    talk about making mountains out of molehills. Exactly how long do you think this software purchase is going to last?

    At best, you're probably looking at 7 years before it's time to purchase a new suite of software. Hardly tying them eternally to redmonds coat tails.

    Format incompatiblity? This is MS for pity's sake! Yes, the formats themselves are closed source, but they are also THE most universally recognised and accepted formats.

    Let's not get all pissy about the .doc/.docx issue. I've seen much worse examples of format/standard/protocol abandonment in the open sauce arena.

    The whole concept or terndering was brought in with the best intentions to prevent corrupt indiviuals taking back-handers.

    Unfortunately, as with all buerocratic legislation, it causes the rest of us an inconvenience at best, or actual harm at worst.

    I remember that we actually lost business with one company who provided the best value service, simply because the powers that be forced us to go through tender everytime we made a purchase from them.

    In the end, they said it wasn't worth their time (they actually had one girl employed full-time dealing with our 'tender'), and we ended up paying more for less.

    At the end of the day, closed or open source doesn't matter. You've weighed up the alternatives, made the decision, and now it's time to purchase. Oh, great. Because of the price I've got to tender.

    Looks like this gonna take 3 months, not 3 days. The backups will have to wait, I suppose.

  23. Anonymous Coward


    if only were just 14m swiss francs... its actually 41m swiss francs.

    and there's probably more to come since some similar contracts probably haven't been unearthed yet.

    meethinks we probably need them pirates to stop this nonsense, arrggh

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