Like other governments and corporations seeking to mix yesterday’s IT investments with today’s emerging technology, the state of Massachusetts has directed its IT staff to begin adopting open standards and open-source software.
The move mirrors other government and enterprise initiatives that have IT staffs moving away from Microsoft technology in favor of such open software and standards, which are perceived to be a better value and more easily integrated with future technologies, according to analysts.
Industry observers differed on whether Massachusetts’ and other governments’ efforts to move away from Microsoft indicate a trend, but they did agree on the importance of government purchasing in the overall IT market.
“[Government is] certainly a key component and, at various times in history, has been a leader in IT,” Yankee Group analyst Andy Efstathiou told TechNewsWorld. “It’s one of the largest IT technology consumers.”
Married to Microsoft
Many in the IT industry see Linux and other open-source software — and, more importantly, open standards — as inevitably replacing much of government’s IT resources, which typically have been dominated by Unix and Windows.
However, Meta Group vice president Steve Kleynhans told TechNewsWorld that despite government moves away from reliance on Microsoft in favor of more open software and standards, Microsoft’s proprietary software and systems are entrenched in government IT shops.
“They don’t have the money to turn over the massive investment they’ve already made in Microsoft,” Kleynhans said.
Nevertheless, Efstathiou viewed governments’ reliance on Microsoft as one of the drivers in the move toward open-source software and open standards — a move that also is occurring among businesses.
“The reason [for the move is that] they have large investments in IT,” he said. “If you go to open source and open standards in particular, you don’t have to rip out your existing investment in IT.”
Efstathiou also said the movement to open code is “more forward-looking” because it allows companies or governments to replace or keep in place old IT resources while offering more choices for expansion in the future.
“It’s really a very logical move based on existing investment in IT and the fact that everybody’s budget has been constrained,” he said.
Kleynhans referred to government as an important part of the IT market, but he said it does not necessarily set a precedent for what the rest of the industry will do.
Pointing to different measures of IT performance and ROI, he downplayed the Massachusetts directive and said governments overall are not likely to walk away from what they have already invested in Microsoft.
Indeed, Massachusetts administrator Eric Kriss reportedly said there still will be areas in which the state will keep using Microsoft software because of a lack of alternatives.
Kleynhans also indicated Microsoft will not let go of any large customer base without a significant fight.
“If changes are needed, Microsoft will make those to match what governments are looking for,” he said. “Like any business with a large customer looking at moving away, Microsoft can be an aggressive negotiator and can be very good at the marketing approach of their products.”
Efstathiou said that while Microsoft historically has been a less expensive, proprietary system compared with Unix, the Redmond, Washington-based software company faces renewed competition from Linux and Java.
“That has forced Microsoft to undertake .NET, which is their attempt to make their systems more open,” Efstathiou said. “[The .NET framework] is gathering steam and gathering acceptance in the market.”