Texas blackballs Windows Vista — outlaws use in government agencies

The Texas state Senate, on Wednesday, gave preliminary approval to a state budget that includes a provision forbidding government agencies from upgrading to Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Vista without written consent of the legislature.

Sen. Juan Hinojosa, a Democrat from McAllen and vice chairman of the Finance Committee, proposed the rider because “of the many reports of problems with Vista.”

“We are not in any way, shape or form trying to pick on Microsoft, but the problems with this particular [operating] system are known nationwide,” Hinojosa said during a Senate session debating the rider Wednesday evening (starting at 4:42 of this RealMedia video stream).

“And the XP operating system is working very well.”

The rider requires state agencies to get the written approval of the Legislative Budget Board before purchasing Vista licenses, upgrades or even new PCs with Vista pre-installed on it.

A Microsoft spokeswoman, in an e-mail, wrote, “We’re surprised that the Texas Senate Finance Committee adopted a rider which, in effect, singles out a specific corporation and product for unequal treatment. We hope as the budget continues to go through the process, this language will be removed.”

Microsoft has 1,500 employees in the state. It also opened a $500 million data centre in San Antonio last year, the spokeswoman said.

Forty-four state agencies have already spent a total of $6.1 million to upgrade to Vista in the last several years, according to Texas Department of Information Resources data shared with The Houston Chronicle.

They range from a low of US$122 spent by the Texas Board of Professional Land Surveying to $1.6 million forked out by the Health and Human Services Commission.

State agencies make their own IT purchasing decisions independent of the DIR. They may, however, buy through contracts procured by the DIR, according to DIR spokesman David Duncan.

“As a state agency, we are prohibited from saying anything that is positive or negative towards legislation,” he said. “We will comply with the will of the legislature.”

The DIR’s 265 employees remain on Windows XP and Mac OS X, Duncan said.

Windows users are likely to skip Vista entirely and upgrade to the upcoming Windows 7 operating system, he added, because of the timing of the agency’s regular upgrade cycle.

“We’re not holding off as a reaction to what Microsoft is producing,” he said.

Texas’ two-year $182.2 billion budget was passed by the Senate last night by a vote of 26-5. It awaits final approval next week.

The state House of Representatives is crafting its own version of a state budget.

The rider must still be approved by a conference committee comprising both Senate and House members to reconcile the two versions of the budget, said a spokesman for Hinojosa.

Three senators raised objections to the provision, saying it was dangerously specific about a single vendor, and set a bad precedent.

But Hinojosa replied: “The reason we are so vendor-specific is because Microsoft has a monopoly on government PCs.”

Windows is used on more than 99 per cent of the 137,500 desktop and laptop PCs running in state agencies, according to a November 2008 survey by the Texas state comptroller.

State agencies also use 1,500 Macs.

Macs have an 11 per cent share of the 423,000 computers in use in the state’s public schools, according to the survey. Schools, however, are exempt from Hinajosa’s rider.

Like many states, Texas faces budget problems. Moreover, it has had recent problems with major technology contracts.

In October, the state suspended an $863 million data centre outsourcing deal with a group of companies led by IBM after several agencies complained they had lost data because of poor backup procedures.

In December, the state and Accenture agreed to end an $899 million outsourcing deal. The state spent $243 million on the contract, which ended two years after it was begun.

In 2007, Microsoft was also targeted by a Texas bill that would have required state agencies to use software that was compliant with open document standards, such as the Open Document Format.

The state representative who created the bill admitted he became interested in the issue after talking with lobbyists from IBM.

The bill, like many others in states around the country, was eventually defeated, though Duncan said it is scheduled to be raised again by the same representative and by Hinojosa in upcoming House and Senate hearings.

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