Leaders have been accused of giving the software giant too much power and shutting out low-income citizens by denying them lower-cost options
A Liberal Democrat MP has launched a stinging attack on the government's IT strategy, saying it has given Microsoft too much control.
John Pugh, who is MP for Southport and a member of the Public Accounts Committee, was speaking in an adjournment debate that he had called. The aim of the debate, he said, was to explore the alternatives to using Microsoft software, including open source.
The current government strategy left too much in the hands of Microsoft, Pugh argued, and he accused the company of "predatory pricing and stultifying competition".
He said of the Government Gateway: "Technically, the Government Gateway is owned by Microsoft" and said the government's policy "is, in part, in breach of European Union regulations" on competition.
The government's strategy hits the poorest hardest, Pugh added. "Why should people on benefits have to use Vista when it costs hundreds of pounds and there are cheaper open source solutions available?" the MP asked. "Why should people have to use Vista rather than Apple, for that matter?"
The government had ceded control to Microsoft, the MP said, pointing to Connecting for Health, the NHS' multi-billion pound IT programme as an example. "I am happy for Connecting for Health to go to a company like Microsoft," he said. "I am less happy when the details are subject to a confidentiality agreement."
Speaking for the government, Angela Eagle, MP for Wallasey, said the government's strategy on IT is not governed by a desire to choose any particular vendor but by the "need to get value and the best possible deal".
Eagle said there are many benefits of open source software but, in the end, it is the price to the taxpayer that matters. "I agree that open source platforms can help open competition and that we want a free marketplace," she said. "We are using open source in many areas and we do realise there are benefits."
But while open source could appear cheap, there are extra costs in training and support that means it may not always be the cheapest solution, Eagle said.
Pugh is a frequent critic of the government's IT strategy. In November 2006, Pugh called for a "level playing-field in software", arguing that the government was favouring Microsoft above other companies.