Selling proprietary software the Top Gear way


Imagine you have just settled down to watch the BBC's Top Gear programme. You've cracked open a can and are looking forward to seeing all the latest shiny stuff on which you may just blow your redundancy cheque.

Jeremy strides into shot confidently smiling a.. “you are just gonna love these cars smile”. Then he says, “What we have on offer is so scary, so unbelievable, that even Sister Wendy would have the bejeezus scared out of her.”

He goes on, “What we have are cars...lots of cars but,... we cannot tell you what we have bought, we cannot tell you how much we spent and we are not allowed to tell you which one is best. So instead I am going to sing to you while my colleages sellotape my arse to a camel.”

Yes I know that last bit could actually be a plot-line from Top Gear but the first bit would have you spluttering your drink over your plasma screen!

Fortunately Top Gear would not do that to us, but sure as heck this would be the scenario if the programme was called 'Top Proprietary Software'.

No, really, lets have a look more closely at this assertion.

Mr Brown goes shopping for the nation's software

I am sure many of you know that we have signed and resigned an MOU with Microsoft which stands for 'Memorandum of Understanding'. Many will also know that UK plc is Microsoft's biggest European customer.

So, given the above, how many of you know what we spend on MS software?

I'll tell you. Only the folk who sign the cheques know and they are not telling.

When HM Gov had a FOI (Freedom of Information) request lodged last year asking (not unreasonably) how much we as a nation helped swell the software giant's coffers, they were told to 'go away'. When it was followed up, the Courts upheld Microsoft's 'protection of commercial confidentiality' claim.

In other words 'really go away you nosy, plebian taxpayer'.

Moving on. What software have we bought you may ask? Erm, no figures there either I'm afraid. In order two illustrate the point consider they (you) are buying a private Cloud system (for an unknown amount obviously) for the Public Sector.

We know as much thanks to the Cabinet Office's candour. But, from whom is not known (officially). However leaks and slips tell us it's those loveable boys and girls from Seattle: no one told you?

Finally, even if we don't know what it is costing us, let's compare software performance to and maybe get some idea of quality that way. We all know what a EULA (End User Licence Agreement) is and that when we buy proprietary software and use it, that we agree to the EULA.

Now imagine, for instance, you want to compare the performance of an Open Source database with say MS SQL or Oracle even. Is it easy? Yes. Can you publish it? No. Check out the following transmission between engineers trying to do just that:

”We came across the following issue from the PostGIS lists: people want to do a performance comparison between PostGIS and MS-SQL/Oracle Spatial and we've hit an interesting snag: it is impossible to publish the results. In particular, the MS-SQL EULA contains this lovely piece of language here: 5. BENCHMARK TESTING. You must obtain Microsoft's prior written approval to disclose to a third party the results of any benchmark test of the software. However, this does not apply to the Microsoft .NET Framework. Oracle also has a similar clause, although I can't seem to find the exact text on the internet.”

Hmmm...So If we are interested in proprietary software bought on behalf of the nation by civil servants, it seems we don't know what we buy, what it costs or judging by the above even how well it performs!

Does anyone have a problem with this?

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