FRAMINGHAM, 24 MARCH 2011 - The European Commission has been accused of favoritism in handing out its IT contracts as it looks set to move internal IT systems to Microsoft Windows 7 without holding a public tender.
At a secret meeting last December, Commission civil servants agreed in principle to upgrade more than 36,000 desktop computers in European institutions to Windows 7 without holding a public tender. The proposed move could tie the Commission to Microsoft for the next four to five years, flying in the face of the Commission's own advice to avoid public procurement lock-in.
Jan Wildeboer of Linux distributor Red Hat said on Wednesday that he was very disappointed in the decision. "The Commission's supposed deal with Microsoft is not really strengthening its own message of avoiding lock-in. We are hopeful that the Commission will practice what it preaches. In the interests of a fair and free market we must have vendor-neutral tendering," he said at an event organized by open source advocates in Brussels. Commission representatives attending the event were visibly uncomfortable, but did not comment.
However, even within the Commission task force at the Dec. 15 meeting, there were differing views on the upgrade, with representatives from the budget department (DG BUDG) asking why it was not being put out to tender. The Directorate General for Informatics (DIGIT) sets the Commission's IT strategy, and wants to make the upgrades using a "negotiated procedure," a process that allows the Commission to acquire software made by a single vendor. DG BUDG said that although this was technically allowed under the Commission rules, a more competitive procedure should be followed next time.
DIGIT argued that the current license agreements for Windows XP and Windows 2000 are due to expire in May, and therefore an upgrade now is essential. According to the minutes of the meeting, members of the task force approved the request "given the contractual time constraints." The Commission's legal and budget departments have yet to report on the legality of the deal, but given the time pressure it seems almost certain to go ahead.
However, no final decision has yet been made, said Antony Gravili, Commission spokesman for Inter-Institutional Administration, on Wednesday.
The proposed deal will have a huge knock-on effect, potentially worth millions of euros to Microsoft, as other bodies and organizations seek to keep pace with the Commission's technology practices. European governments represent 19 percent of all software purchases in the European Union, according to IDC.
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.