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back to article Microsoft beaten down 16pc on software sales to NHS

The UK's Cabinet Office has lifted the embargo on NHS Trusts buying Microsoft software after negotiating a double-digit discount on current pricing, according to sources familiar with the deal. As revealed by El Reg in the summer, Crown representative Stephen Kelly told trusts to freeze all but essential product spending with …

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Headmaster

so paying 100 quid for something you can get for nowt is bad, but paying 84 quid is good?

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Mushroom

The real question

is why are the NHS using MS software at all? I'm not particularly happy about my taxes going straight into Microsoft's coffers, and to be honest a 16% discount is neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things.

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I agree

Whilst Open/Libre Office are not perfect, I would think that it would cost less to throw money at one of those projects and having the missing/non-working parts sorted than splurge on MS.

Either that or the code used on the projects should be opened, the custom code was paid for with public money, the code should be public as well.

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FAIL

So...

...they are still hostage to a single platform from a single vendor, just for slightly less?

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Vic
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> they are still hostage to a single platform from a single vendor

Yes. And they're planning to stay that way; I've just been part of a bid proposal for an NHS trust where changing the platform wasn't even on the cards - Win7 was a requirement of the bid.

> just for slightly less?

Even that's not clear; IIRC, the issue a year or so back was that MS was increasing its prices from £65m/yr to £85m/yr. If the NHS has managed a 16% reduction in that latter figure, that's still a 10% price *increase* over the previous one :-(

Vic.

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Linux

All taxpayers are forced to fund Microsoft .

Why on earth in this day and age does the NHS need Windows/Office licenses ?

What exactly does Windows do that other (free) os's don't? Apart from games there is nothing that the NHS could NEED that other systems couldn't offer.

Yes you will need retraining, yes software will need to be re-written . - all possible and will save OUR money in the long run - and will stop funding a hideous American company with MY tax dollars ...

It make me feel sick that unless I risk arrest by not paying taxes I am FORCED to give Microsoft money (some of which could be being used for the legal assault against android/Linux.

Do the NHS need the latest version of Microsoft desktop software ??? (are they playing games ?

One final thing is that a move to Linux may save lives due to the lack of downtime in systems and will stop hospitals being grounded by some windows virus (aids)

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/02/18/conficker_nhs/

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/11/18/london_hospital_malware_shutdown/

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Windows runs IE6

This is still the standard in the NHS because they blew so much on MS-only ActiveX and IE6-only sites back in the day. If they had gone with the standards (and helped shape the standards where none existed) they would not be in this mess. The vendors would have to compete on a level playing field and on merit.

But today's economy is not about open competition.

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Devil

It was not entirely their choice

Medical software is built by muppets who always built windows only. So in a lot of cases NHS has little or no choice in using Windows.

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Umm...

...the NHS is a big customer. Very big. I am sure if they said "Standards only" people would have obeyed. If the NHS had any spine.

NHS.

SPINE.

Geddit?

Maybe if the NHS spent less on lawyers to attack whistle-blowers, they'd be able to afford better IT.

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Anonymous Coward

Let's see....

...

A decent email system (show me a Linux one as good as exchange)

Oh that needs to nicely work with the instant messaging solution, which of course will work nicely with the video conferecing system, in turn working nicely with voice,which needs to work nicely with desktop sharing, which of course nees to work nicely with the office apps.

Or you can have a clunky mismatch of bodge job, half arsed, beta (or abandoned) , user unfriendly, imcompatible software.

Oh don't forget that is needs to all be backwardly compatible.

Don't get me wrong, Linux has some decent software, but trying to get it all working nicely together is a joke.

Here is a rough guide to critical, mutli thousand user, business needs.

They wil NOT use beta software.

They will not use software supported by a forum only.

They will NOT use software created by a single bloke in his house.

They want full, support that they can call upon 24/7

(yes if you are a reasonable sized company you can do this with MS).

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Paris Hilton

> Why on earth in this day and age does the NHS need Windows/Office licenses ?

In primary care, the main reason is that surgery systems (Synergy, EMIS, SystmOne, etc) must run on Windoze, so everything else has to. A fair number of the guys who write and maintain this code will pass by here, so they may like to comment.

On another note - as a frequent user of OpenOffice writer, I have to say that I am very impressed by some of its abilities. For example, it always recovers documents flawlessly after a crash. I test this feature on perhaps, oooh, one out of every two days that I use it.

And, on yet another note, people in this part of the NHS seem to have moved on from IE6. Everyone around here seems to be on IE7.

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Vic
Silver badge

> A decent email system (show me a Linux one as good as exchange)

Exchange does a number of things quite reasonably - but email is not amongst them.

*Any* G/L-based mail system will outperform...

> Oh that needs to nicely work with the instant messaging solution

Easy. Which protocol would you like?

> which of course will work nicely with the video conferecing system

H.320 and similar are properly standardised - so supporting them in Linux is easy.

> in turn working nicely with voice

It's all SIP.

>which needs to work nicely with desktop sharing

RDP is well supported.

> which of course nees to work nicely with the office apps.

So long as you're not *deliberately* trying to break the FOSS variants (i.e. OOXML), that's hardly difficult. Even if you are, chances are we'll cope just fine.

> Or you can have a clunky mismatch of bodge job, half arsed, beta (or abandoned) ,

> user unfriendly, imcompatible software.

I'd rather have a FOSS solution instead. You can keep your buggy beta proprietary stuff.

> Oh don't forget that is needs to all be backwardly compatible.

Yep. That's not a problem.

> Linux has some decent software, but trying to get it all working nicely together is a joke.

Is it? Oh, I must have been doing something wrong all these years. Thanks for letting me know - I'll cease trading instantly.

> They wil NOT use beta software.

They will. But they might not realise it.

> They will not use software supported by a forum only.

Professional, paid support is available for every single FOSS package available. The fora are a way for people to obtain support without paying for it. If you want a better SLA than that, you pay for it - and it is readily delivered.

> They want full, support that they can call upon 24/7

They can have it.

> (yes if you are a reasonable sized company you can do this with MS).

And even if you're a small company, you can have it with FOSS.

FOSS gives you a competitive market for support - because you're no longer tied to the code authors, you can decide on the level of support you want, and get multiple quotes from different organisations. That's a good thing.

Vic.

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Is Exchange a mail system?

for 100 000 people?

I know it does email, but then all large programs do.

And the NHS use of the cleverness in MSE/O is minimal.

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Anonymous Coward

EMIS runs on Linux.

although the company is unkeen on it.

But then they are unkeen on using Terminal Server, whcih should be rather useful for it.

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Bronze badge

ONLY 16% discount?

So why didn't the Cabinet Office negotiators suggest that they were engaged in a study for the implementation of LibreOffice government-wide? 16% is loose change to Microsoft.

<sarc>No wonder our NHS is the envy of the world.</sarc>

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Anonymous Coward

yet again, someone can't read.

16% on TOP of the existing discount.

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Anonymous Coward

>So why didn't the Cabinet Office negotiators suggest that they were engaged in a study for the implementation of LibreOffice government-wide?

...I expect they just looked at the resultant horror show when a number of German & US municipalities, school districts etc ditched MSO for Gnu/Open Office a few years back.......the financial cost of the initial migration and then crawling back to MS was terrible and, probably more importantly for negotiators, ended the careers of many involved.

...MS's take on what happened has formed part of their enterprise/business pitch for a while - eg in the 'return to freedom' video or 'eyes wide open'

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@AC

"...I expect they just looked at the resultant horror show when a number of German & US municipalities, school districts etc ditched MSO for Gnu/Open Office a few years back.......the financial cost of the initial migration and then crawling back to MS was terrible and, probably more importantly for negotiators, ended the careers of many involved."

Nice spin, but not the dull truth. In Germany there was an election and a power shift. The new incumbents were more closely tied to Big Business and keen to help their pals rake it in. Even the internal analysis conducted by the German equivalent of NAO seemed to show that the F/OSS solution was value for money.

I say "seemed" and I have no way of knowing how independent or unbiased that report was.

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Not good enough

simply not good enough.

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Meh

Read the small print

It's an additional 16% off the already discounted rate.

Although I do agree Open Source should be where they NHS is at.

Neither happy nor sad. Although reading the article it seems to suggest that the NHS has a 'shortfall' of licenses, so I'd rather spend money getting the correct licenses, than getting sued for punitive licenses should MS decide to audit the NHS!!

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Anonymous Coward

That's not the problem that needs solving..

The real problem they need to solve in the NHS is that of Open Standards. The moment you have an open framework, it makes no difference whatever you use and you actually have an open market instead of a proprietary one where the monopoly pretends to lose money.

Sixteen percent says "you didn't really haggle enough" - with open standards in place they would have been able to tell Microsoft to walk the plank where required.

So, NHS and Cab Office people, get that fixed, and pronto. You have the same problem in other places such as Criminal Justice..

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Anonymous Coward

"The real problem they need to solve in the NHS is that of Open Standards."

The NHS seems to get very conflicted on matters such as this.

The example I always use is that of Choose and Book - the system which allows NHS patients sat in their GP surgery to be booked into a hospital of choice, into an appointment which suits the patient.

C&B is separated into two parts - the bookings part and the data-sharing part (so the target organisation has a copy of any relevant notes).

The bookings part uses an XML/HTTP framework which allows ANY patient administration system to tie into the system. The GP's systems will hit up the target hospital's on HTTP (over N3 - the NHS internal WAN). The target hospital runs a HTTP application which translates the booking information into something their systems understand. All this is heavily documented on Connecting for Health's internal wobsite.

All good so far!

The data-sharing part (the Choose and Book Portal) holds the patient notes centrally until the hospital marks that they have received it. This uses NHS national smartcards for authentication. This used to be Java based until about a year or so ago when the NHS decided that for "security", they would move to an ActiveX based authentication module. IE5.5 and above only. No other browsers allowed. WTF?

Oh, and they also have yet to write an authentication agent which properly supports Vista/2008/W7. So we're forced to maintain a bunch of XP machines in our hospitals for staff who need to use this service.

So sod open source, we can't even upgrade to the latest Microsoft systems without being fully supported!

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Not all Criminal Justice

I work on a CJ account, we run SLES albeit on VMware, we've been running it for years, we've got some IBM stuff too, which is where I reckon a lot of money goes.

I suggested open source AV instead of paying McAfee, but that was basically laughed at, other open source stuff does tend to get jumped on if you can make it work though.

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Don't hobble the NHS

Since most profit making organisations choose to pay for software platforms when they could choose Free or Open source software do you not think there might be a case that there are some benefits to the MS platform in the round to large organisations?

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Anonymous Coward

Well the managers in my place refuse to touch FOSS as, "We can't get support when we hit a problem at say 2am on a Sunday morning batch run, so no. MS can always be relied on!".

No what you mean is you can pass the blame onto someone else when the shit hits the fan and those above you are demanding answers, even when the problem turns out to be our in-house dev team's shonky coding. Nothing like paying insurance to a third-party to prop up your pathetic finger-pointing, blame culture!

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Vic
Silver badge

> "We can't get support when we hit a problem at say 2am on a Sunday morning batch run

Your managers are wrong.

Feel free to contact me if you would like a quote for that sort of support.

> Nothing like paying insurance to a third-party to prop up

There are worse things they could be doing. Like doing all the finger-pointing without and insurance...

Vic.

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Anonymous Coward

Reality shock.......

Hah hah. I love reading the freetards comments. You people are so far detached from the reality that it makes me wonder if you are school kids. If you are school kids, I think I need to warn you off a career in IT as you obviously do not have a clue.

Anyhow. In answer to the comment from BigYin. Does he seriously think that:

Training about 1m people in how to use a new office package

Rolling out a new office package across several hundred thousand devices

Supporting a new office package across a user base of 1m people

Rewriting every internal application that interfaces with Office

The loss of productivity through use of an inferior product that users are unfamiliar with

Etc

Would represent a SAVING for the NHS?

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FAIL

@AC

"Training about 1m people in how to use a new office package"

So they can NEVER move beyond Office 98 or whatever they have now? Office 2010 is a big change, a F/OSS version could be made to ape the current interface to cut the training budget.

"Rolling out a new office package across several hundred thousand devices"

So they'll NEVER upgrade?

"Supporting a new office package across a user base of 1m people"

So they'll NEVER upgrade?

"Rewriting every internal application that interfaces with Office"

So, once again, they'll NEVER upgrade?

"The loss of productivity through use of an inferior product that users are unfamiliar with"

And again, they'll NEVER upgrade?

"Would represent a SAVING for the NHS?"

I'll give you a choice. You can spend millions to upgrade to a product with the same brand name from the same vendor that will cost a massive reduction in productivity, increase your training bills and force you to buy entirely new kit; OR

You can spend millions on a F/OSS solution will cost a some reduction in productivity, potentially increase your training bills but you can keep your current kit. The first hit will be the worst. After the that, the traction gained from your investment will reduce future costs and the improvements you sponsor will be available to other departments, NGOs and society in general.

You clearly have not thought through your argument as everything you state as being anti-F/OSS counts double for MS Office. That does not mean there is no place for MS Office or MS back-end software, just that it is not the be-all and end-all of corporate IT.

Once last thing AC - grow a pair. Use your "real" login and reply to me directly.

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Anonymous Coward

Granted but lots of organisations around the world are looking into transitioning from MS software to OSS, lots already have. Some have tried it, failed and gone back.

Nobody said it would be easy, no one even said everything has to change that much. Does every single one of those desk-jockeys need Word, Excel and Access licenses? I'm not even saying you have to have one platform or another another but picking the low hanging fruit can be done first. I bet there are bucket loads of farty little apps that could be coded in Java, ActiveX, whatever and taken off the desktop. Take some of those pissy little web apps all companies have, move them from IIS/ActiveX if possible to something else cheaper and more easily maintained, like Drupal, Joomla, stuff that doesn't need developers to spend thousands of man hours maintaining, time better spent developing better MS desktop apps.

No one said, rip it all out and stuff LAMP setups all over the place, just look at places where our taxes could be better invested.

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I would be more sympathetic to the 'cost of retraining' aguement ir there was any evidence at all that they have trained anyone on MS stuff.

Word documents laid out with spaces, "databases" kept in Excel, using memory sticks to copy files between machines in the same building.

Need I go on?

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Anonymous Coward

I fear I'll have to tear you off your high horse - apologies for the bruises but you chose to climb so high all by yourself.

I was the architect of the largest IT project of the UK government. When we built this, we had trouble getting maintenance windows agreed because it was so wanted, even though we weren't even out of pilot phase yet. We're a good 10 years further, and the damn thing still underpins EVERY bit of IT in government .

There were two key reasons why this worked (apart from intelligent managing of the politics involved and the strict avoidance of anything even resembling consultants): keeping it simple and sticking to Open Standards, That was very evident when the next government let in the consultants who set about trying to Microshaft it all - I spend a lot of time digging them out of trouble by undoing most of the damage - by switching back to Open Standards. Not that they gave up trying, but like you, Microsoft people are blind to a very simple, very basic fact:

Microsoft software is not written for anything the size of a government. That's why it uses LDAP instead of X500 in its directory service, that's why it's a sod to layer security (let's not mention the fact that it's a bastard to secure to start with), that's why redundancy "is a hardware job" and a pain at anything higher in the stack, that's why addressing large disk pools is a battle - scale is ALWAYS a problem.

There is s good reason the UNIX world finally gave up on the proprietary game and created the whole RFC model: you can't scale without letting some diversity in (apart from that, it also dramatically improves your fault tolerance).

I've been doing this stuff for over 2 decades, at military, government and enterprise level. I have seen the many, many attempts of Microsoft to play at this scale, and I have seen people come back from their jollies and golf games with the shiny suits, ready to nuke the stuff that worked and try it the Microsoft way, usually at fantastic expense. And I have always planned ahead to catch them when they fell, but in such a way they knew who had been lying to them.

May I remind you that this is the same organisation that saw no problem in destroying the decision capability in the same organization that sets the standards for child safety seats, just to get an "ISO standard" tick in the box for their office suite - yes, that suite with about the worst usability impact for over a decade?

Let me draw a little contrast here - I won't talk about the Googles and Amazons of this world because they don't really touch the office in the way the NHS needs. In Spain is a very poor region called Extramadura. That whole regain runs an open program which defined interfaces. All the schools now run Linux, and as a small business you can also go to the council and get a CD that will run your business admin, and directly interface with government. The whole show is based on Open Standards, and you could probably develop Windows code that could talk those standards. But they prefer to spend that money on decent hardware, and use the rest to support the region, because there isn't any money. Key is that it all works, and that entire region is supported by a bunch of people in an office who cut new code when needed, and otherwise keep their own distro up to date. In other words, all that money needed for nurses and doctors is actually there, but will now be exported to wherever Microsoft hides it money from the US IRS..

I know of a number of countries that HAD to switch because Microsoft didn't consider them large enough to support their language. As the interfaces are quite well designed in Linux (and in BSD, and in almost any over *nix you can think of), supporting their language was easy. That's Open Standards too.

You see, if you write towards Open Standards it works on Microsoft too, because they cannot afford not to support it - especially if you give them no choice. But at least you have the option, and it forces MS to choose between sane prices, or no income at all, and you can truly choose best of breed where you need it.

I would thus suggest you hand back your MSCE and learn about large scale computing. You clearly haven't been near it yet.

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Flame

Commentards always much cleverer than the ' idiots ' in the public sector

Good to see the commentards on El Reg think everyone in the public sector is an idiot and they are gods gift to enterprise IT. Just what is your prescription for saving money while simultaneously retraining the workforce for the world's third largest (might be the second largest, certainly the chinese army employs more people) employer in a different operating system and office package, and rewriting thousands of software apps.

Or maybe it would be better to choose the best software tool for the job, look at whole life cycle costs and make a managed transition where it makes sense. Open standards are a great goal, but it's the work of years to transition to them. Unless you know different, which if you do then you can make a lot of money in consultancy showing the different NHS organisations how.

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Silver badge

Solution?

Well, if you don't want to spend money on re-training everyone/re-writing all integrations; don't upgrade. There's a solution for you, won't work forever though.

If you are going to spend millions (probably billions the way government IT contracts go) in retraining/recoding on the same application from the same vendor, then there is a very good case for at least thinking about the alternatives. It's shame that in the NHS (heck, UK in general) that beyond a few examples such as "Open Molar" this simply does not happen.

"Open standards are a great goal, but it's the work of years to transition to them."

And it begins with one contract stating something along the lines of "All files and communications will be in openly documented standards that can be implemented by any person or vendor without fear of patent, copyright or trademark infringement. In perpetuity."

Still, we live in a country that would rather spend billions off-balance sheet, lumber future generations with crushing debt and not prosecute fraudsters than do the right thing.

Unlike the previous AC, at least you have the courage to use you forum name in the clear.

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Silver badge

I don't think anyone expects short term savings in IT

It's more the long term that commentards are interested in.

Yes training and rollouts are expensive. That's why you wait until you get to a natural refresh cycle. How many doctors need full blown Office 2010 over LibreOffice? How many of them are interested in the computer's OS? How many need a windows feature that OSS doesn't provide?

XP to Win7 is quite a large gui change, but I would hazard a guess that most staff just click the icon on the desktop or the menu. No change there from XP, Win7, Linux or OSX.

All those IE6 apps need to be rewritten. As that requirement comes up, build them on top of an OSS platform. Mandate cross-platform compatibility Windows and Redhat/SLES/Mint or whatever. QT GUIs and the like. Yes it is more expensive in the short-term, but there is long term gain.

Commercial companies are beholden to the whim of the markets - deprive the shareholders of their dividend and the management team gets fired. Governments are specifically designed to do things which companies won't. So take the up-front financial hit and move your systems to something which provides long-term gain. You could also put the money into the UK economy instead of sending it abroad. Get the government to serve the national interest.

In commerce, you have to fit in with the industry. If you can't read/write MSOffice files you may not get the contracts you're looking for. The NHS is the industry - it can mandate that suppliers use a particular format and if supplier's documents don't look pretty because they did some conversion from MSOffice, then tough luck.

Certainly there are things which windows environments will do better than OSS, that's why you use the massive economies of scale afforded by government to build the bits you need and share them.

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And there's so much more to it than just the end user

Well said Sir!

There's so much more to running an IT infrastructure than simply the cost of the software. In fact I would guess the NHS has done the Math (well being the NHS this may not be true) and decided that as an overall part of it's IT budget paying for Software or getting it free - doesn't make much difference.

It's not just retraining the end user in using Libre Office. What do you do with all the trained up MS network admins who then have to retrain to use Linux. It costs thousands (millions even) for the NHS just to keep these guys trained up in MS tech. They need their costly certificates as you can't let an uncertified admin anywhere near a network with patient information on it.

Then there are the 3rd party suppliers. It's not for no reason that the NHS is still stuck on IE6. All those extra Active-X plugins JUST WORK. Move to any other browser (even IE9) and they need to be retested.

Then there is the web infrastructure which in the NHS almost exclusively uses .Net and Sharepoint and so on.

The list goes on and on.

And don't for a second think that an organisation the size of the NHS, with the purchasing price is paying anywhere near the published price of the software. I would expect discounts of over 50%.

In fact the only crime the NHS is performing is that they are paying for MS software at all. MS make so much money out of 3rd party suppliers to the NHS that the NHS should be getting their software for free!

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Paris Hilton

@P.Lee

It's not about office packages. Most GPs will almost never use Word; that's what secretaries are for. The only MS product they use on a daily basis is Outlook. Retraining the secretaries would be trivial, assuming that the OSS alternatives actually work. I don't know about secondary care, but I assume it's much the same.

The issue is that the software that the NHS actually uses is written, in this country, by NHS suppliers, to run on Windows.

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Anonymous Coward

I've no problem with the NHS using MS software, even as a FOSS proponent but not every single person needs MS software to do the things they need to do. What happened to horses for courses? I'm sure that forking over some extra money could get them some top notch contractors and specialists who could build integrated platforms using a mixture of appropriate technologies, both FOSS and proprietary.

Oh sorry I started making sense there didn't I? This is the UK Gov we're talking about here, "Sir John-Was-At-Eton-Wit-Me-Smythe-Jones has a little computer consultancy and reseller business hasn't he? Tell you what, he'll appreciate the business, pass it all through him and he can sort it all out for us. I'm sure he'll make sure we have a few jollies on the company, eh?!"

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Big Brother

Come on ...

If the NHS changed software vendor, the nurses would have to relearn how to look at their holiday and party pictures at the Nursing Station.

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Anonymous Coward

The cost to the NHS is around £5-10 per office pro plus license......

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Silver badge
Coat

I pay for the NHS. Can I get that pricing?

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Anonymous Coward

@ BigYin. Why the fascination with my ‘real’ user name? I am not going to post it, but even if I did it would tell you nothing.

Anyhow, I cannot be bothered to spend time arguing with someone who thinks that upgrading from an earlier version of Windows/Office requires the same amount of investment as it does to migrate a company off the MS platform and on to a Linux platform. You obviously have no experience in this area. I guess you ARE a school kid or some junior systems admin or something. I am a Senior IT Leader, so I actually know about this stuff.

And finally, when will you freetards realise that Linux on the desktop will NEVER EVER HAPPEN? It is crap, users hate it, it has something like a 1% market share (trending downwards), it does not run the majority of applications customers need (especially in the Health Service) and it is hugely unproductive compared to Windows.

By all accounts you would be better off spending your time reassuring yourself that ‘Android is Linux’. There is some basis of truth to that, (although actually it is an operating system created by Google to butt fu<K their customers by selling their data) and it actually does have some market share….

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