Vista's licensing speeds NSW govt move to Linux desktops

The NSW Office of State Revenue (OSR) is taking a tough stance against Microsoft's decision to make an enterprise edition of Windows Vista only available to companies that have signed on to its Software Assurance program. The tax collection agency has declared it would rather switch desktop operating systems than lock itself into Microsoft's licensing regime.

Delivering a presentation at the South East Asian Regional Computer Confederation (SEARCC 05) in Sydney yesterday, OSR chief information officer Mike Kennedy and the agency's manager of client services Pravash Babhoota confirmed they would start scoping for a move to a Linux desktop within six months.

The OSR collects taxes, levies and duty for the NSW government and is the second biggest revenue authority in Australia after the Australian Taxation Office. Answering directly to the NSW Treasury, OSR has about 600 staff, 200 of which it recruited during the past year.

Babhoota said the agency had already successfully bedded down open source on its back-end, running its Oracle 9i and 10g core databases and assorted other transactional applications over Citrix on Dell-based clusters and had guarantees of open source support from key enterprise applications vendors.

While the back-end migration consisted of moving off heavier Unix- and Solaris-based operating systems running on Sun hardware, Babhoota said the emergence of a new version of Microsoft Windows, Office and their commensurate licensing would naturally lead his IT shop to consider consolidating its applications on open source.

"At this stage the benefits have been in delivering [savings through] consolidation and thin clients. In a few more months the focus will shift to replacing Office," Babhoota said.

Asked whether Microsoft's Software Assurance subscription licensing regime - under which volume users pay an annual fee for support, patches and upgrades - was influencing any potential shift on desktops, Babhoota said previous upgrade offers from Microsoft had provided a less than compelling economic case to his organization.

In particular, he said early offers to upgrade from NT to XP under Software Assurance had not provided sufficient value in their initial stages, noting the waiting game had paid off because ultimately prices dropped while stability, functionality and support increased.

"As soon as support ends for XP, we will look at moving to Linux [desktops]," Babhoota said, adding the back-end switch to open source had cost 17 percent of what a proprietary upgrade had been costed at, with the agency doubling the amount of business it processed in the same 12-month period.

IDG is the official organizer and media sponsor of the SEARCC 05 conference.