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Microsoft

Microsoft Loses Showdown in Houston 540

Posted by chrisd
from the shut-up-jerry-carter dept.
An anonymous reader writes "It seems the city of Houston has decided against using Microsoft software. It really is amazing how much it costs to use (and maintain) software. I can't help but wonder if this will become a trend." Turns out they decided on the relativly unknown SimDesk suite, which has nothing to do with The Sims, sadly. Many, many posts about this. In additional news seldo writes "There's an interesting interview on News.Com with Peter Houston. He discusses Microsoft's changing attitude in competing with Linux -- no longer calling it a "cancer" but instead promoting the advantages of Windows."
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Microsoft Loses Showdown in Houston

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  • Amazing (Score:5, Funny)

    by pitabutter (234478) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:12AM (#5135139) Homepage
    As goes Peru, so goes the world......
    • by Anonymous Coward
      To set the facts straight, simdesk was selected by bid rigging and conflict of interest of a software contract in Houston.

      It's about to be thrown out and legal action pursued against the IT contractor.

      The funny thing is that Mayor Lee P. Brown has overspent all of the reserve funds in Houston so that any 'savings' from non-MS software will be much more than wasted on higher government spending. This hits everyone regressivly since all of the costs are added to each homeowner's property tax and water bill. This applies to renters since rent is based on direct taxes and water costs.

      The reason for the overspending is that Mayor Lee P. Brown wanted to fund/back several downtown sports stadiums (baseball, football, and basketball).

      It's very funny how these private enterprises (sports teams) get public funding of their businesses. A double standard since all of them break even (baseball) on their own or make a good profit (basketball and football).

      This all ties into the 300+ million 2 mile light rail project which goes from one sports stadium to another. Ridership on the bus line for this route is under 150 people a day. This project was sold as a way to revitalize that area of town. Funny how the sports stadium built in the early 1960s in the same area was sold as a way to revitalize that part of town.

      It is almost like a burecrat/politician wants to accomplish some big $$ government project so that they can go on to a job with another city with more pay and do the same thing again.

      I am always amazed at how generous liberal politicians are with the taxpayer's money.

      • by el_chicano (36361) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @09:55PM (#5140463) Homepage Journal
        To set the facts straight, simdesk was selected by bid rigging and conflict of interest of a software contract in Houston....
        It's about to be thrown out and legal action pursued against the IT contractor.
        Did you read the freaking article? There was an open bid process and MS failed to bid on it. Quit yer crying, Bill!

        And where are your references on these "facts" of yours? I'll bet they are where your head is, i.e., where the sun doesn't shine...
        The funny thing is that Mayor Lee P. Brown has overspent all of the reserve funds in Houston so that any 'savings' from non-MS software will be much more than wasted on higher government spending. This hits everyone regressivly since all of the costs are added to each homeowner's property tax and water bill. This applies to renters since rent is based on direct taxes and water costs.
        You obviously don't know crap about real estate economics. Taxes and water/garbage costs are only a small part of a renter's rent. Maintenance and upkeep are a much larger part of the bill than taxes and water/garbage fees.

        And the reason we still have a regressive property tax system in Texas is because the White Republicans in charge will never adopt a more fair state income tax because that way rich White conservatives will have to pay their fair share of taxes, unlike the situation today.
        The reason for the overspending is that Mayor Lee P. Brown wanted to fund/back several downtown sports stadiums (baseball, football, and basketball).
        The city has very little direct involvement with the sports stadiums. I guess you have never heard of the Houston/Harris County Sports Authority [hchsa.org]
        This all ties into the 300+ million 2 mile light rail project which goes from one sports stadium to another.
        The train route is actually 7.5 miles [ridemetro.org]. It begins next to the University of Houston Downtown [uhd.edu] (and runs on Main Street about 1/2 mile from the baseball park and basketball stadium), runs next to Houston Community College Central Campus [hccs.edu], the Museum District, Rice University [rice.edu], and the Texas Medical Center [tmc.edu] before it gets to the Astrodome area and the new football stadium. It is hardly a stadium to stadium shuttle.
        Ridership on the bus line for this route is under 150 people a day. This project was sold as a way to revitalize that area of town. Funny how the sports stadium built in the early 1960s in the same area was sold as a way to revitalize that part of town.
        This paragraph is so full of errors it is laughable. There is no SINGLE bus line that tracks the train. There are at least 6 different routes, and many of them have massive traffic to the Medical Center and downtown Houston.

        As far as your second assertion goes, the whole Astrodome area was once prairie, but now the Medical Center is growing to the point where it almost takes up the whole area. There are beaucoup apartments, office buildings, stores, car dealers, etc. in the area, so it HAS been revitalized!
        It is almost like a burecrat/politician wants to accomplish some big $$ government project so that they can go on to a job with another city with more pay and do the same thing again.
        And this ties into SimDesk how? Besides the "connection" in your fevered brain that is...
        I am always amazed at how generous liberal politicians are with the taxpayer's money.
        That proves it. This post is full of errors that it cannot be moderated as "informative". It is actually pure Texas-grade bullshit so it cannot considered "insightful". It is really a troll and should be moderated as such.

        Moderators, please check the facts before moderating someone as "informative". Someone needs to step up and bitchslap this piece of crap before anyone else thinks there is even a grain of truth to it...
    • Re:Amazing (Score:5, Informative)

      by tacocat (527354) <tallison1@NOspam.twmi.rr.com> on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:11PM (#5136598)

      Not amazing and Not Funny either.

      Months ago, it was quietly announced that Peru had decided to retain their Microsoft licenses and to forgo the adoption of Linux as a wide use operating system.

      I tried to submit a story to this effect, but it was rejected.. Go figure. If it isn't good news about Linux, it isn't news?

  • by Bonker (243350) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:15AM (#5135159)
    Think about it. For the first time in a decade, what with all the city and national governments giving the dirty bird to Microsoft in favor of Linux or other alternatives, Redmond has finally realized that it has real competition again. Better, Microsoft can't 'embrace and extend' this competition without a significant alteration of their core business plan.

    This means that, for the foreseeable future, MS users will be getting a product that will be the result of a pricewar with Free software, will have features that compete with OSS features, and will have a level of quality that attempts to approach OSS quality.

    I don't think that Microsoft will belly up any time soon, regardless of how wonderful that would be. I do see Windows getting very good in the near future since quality and ease of use are the only ways it has left to compete with Linux.

    • by sql*kitten (1359) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:24AM (#5135259)
      This means that, for the foreseeable future, MS users will be getting a product that will be the result of a pricewar with Free software, will have features that compete with OSS features, and will have a level of quality that attempts to approach OSS quality.

      Have a look at simdesk.com - it's covered in words like "proprietary" and "patented". Houston's decision is neither particularly good nor bad for OSS.
      • by dbarclay10 (70443) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:53AM (#5135494)
        I disagree. If everybody was honest, you'd be right. But that's not the case.

        Microsoft has spent years and years outright lying, cheating, and stealing, in order to come to market dominance and stay there. (If you don't believe me, go ahead and review the anti-trust court cases.)

        So *any* win for non-MS companies, even proprietary ones, is good. It will help mature the industry, and make it less lopsided. I'm not interested in the complete destruction of MS - that'd probably end up being just as bad as what we have now; a monoculture.

        But these *are* wins. Microsoft has less money in its pockets to lie about FOSS, for instance. It has less clout to twist people's arms.
        • by Zeinfeld (263942) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @12:46PM (#5135939) Homepage
          Microsoft has spent years and years outright lying, cheating, and stealing

          Hmm, actually that would be Piper, the guy who initiated the move from Microsoft:

          Two days later, Piper announced his resignation to take a higher-paying job as chief technology officer for San Diego County. Council members Parker and Ada Williams, who voted for SimDesk because of Piper's assurances that the city would save money, said in interviews they felt duped when he resigned.
          But Piper didn't last long in his new job. Shortly after Piper arrived in San Diego, Tatro alleged that he had rigged the bidding to assure a SimDesk win. That triggered an investigation by Houston's Inspector General, who found the allegations groundless. The county District Attorney, in a separate probe, examined Piper's financial records and stumbled into evidence that Piper may have embezzled $200,000 from his previous employer, Reliant Energy. On Dec. 11, Piper was indicted on felony theft charges and jailed.
          This is hardly the type of case that one would want to use a poster-child for open source. Particularly as it appears that Sim desk is actually closed source and that this story is yet another bash Microsoft for any reason at all story. You don't think that maybe some of the slashdot editors are getting paid by a Microsoft competitor or something?
          • "Hmm, actually that would be Piper, the guy who initiated the move from Microsoft

            Yes, Piper may be a liar, a cheat, and a thief (we don't even have a plea in the case to which you refer), but not in connection with the city of Houston's bidding process. As we see from material you quoted:

            "The county District Attorney, in a separate probe, examined Piper's financial records and stumbled into evidence that Piper may have embezzled $200,000 from his previous employer, Reliant Energy." (emphasis added)

            In fact, I'm at a loss to explain the newspaper's decision to drag this unrelated scandal into the article. I hope it wasn't to discredit one side in the Microsoft vs. SimDesk contest.

          • by Locutus (9039) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:05PM (#5136537)
            I have to ask, why was Tatro SOOO against this move? So much so that Piper was investigated for rigging the bid but later nothing was found. This sounds like what the Microsoft sales reps were saying at the beginning( before the contract was actually awarded ). Is/was Tatro receiving funds from Microsoft?

            I just loved how the Texas Attorney General backed out of the DOJ/States vs Microsoft case when Dell and another Texas company pressured such a move. You know Microsoft 'asked' these companies to do this.... What did they 'ask' of Tatro??????

            LoB
            • I have to ask, why was Tatro SOOO against this move? So much so that Piper was investigated for rigging the bid but later nothing was found.

              Well you could read the report [viahouston.com]. It is basically a whitewash job to save the Mayor's butt, but it can't do the job. As for whether Tatro has a hidden agenda, quite possibly but it seems rather more likely that his agenda is party politics than carrying water for Microsoft.

              The report is actually pretty damning. The contract amount was $9.5 million, yet the report states that "Mr Piper did not understand the contract development and negotiation process and the time it would take".

              If you have had any experience at all of city politics you know that a statement of that type is horsepucky. You do not get to be CIO of a city the size of Houston without understanding the difference between an RFP and a contract negotiation. The story that he came from private industry does not wash either, anyone involved in corporate procurement knows what an RFP is.

              When you see a statement like that in an inspectors report it means precisely one thing, namely the inspector is pretty sure that something fishy went on but lacks the evidence to prove it.

              The description of the bidding process demonstrates pretty clearly that the RFP was deliberately written to ensure that only one party could bid. It was written so narrowly that only IAT's application fitted. It was not only the Microsoft sales guy who was frozen out. The IBM sales rep would have bid if allowed additional time - which IAT did not need because they had known about the RFP two months beforer it was issued and in any case it described their product.

              Its not just the Microsoft guy who thought the deal was stinky, the BMC guy also wondered why the city would replace an existing exchange installation that was fully functional with 'an untested product for $9 million'.

              The Advarion guy also had some pretty good points, the contract was massively inflated from the start, the number of users was overstated, the number of simultaneous users was overstated. It was also plain wrong about a lot of technical issues. Why specify a 5Tb file storage device when it is easy to add extra capacity? "Many requirements do not state a problem to be solved but include required equipment, resources and programming design. Most of the time the City is concerned with solving a City problem, not a programming problem. The RFP includes software architecture and virtually useless features as requirements. This does not encourage proposal submittal but confuses software companies and discourages proposal submittal."

              Piper himself admits that the contract price grew by $4.5 million because they had underestimated the cost of bandwidth.

              The inspectors report does not actually clear Piper of all charges, the dispute over what was said to Microsoft is 'Not Sustained' rather than 'No'. It is interesting however to read the actual text used to justify these conclusions.

              The RFP process is found to have been 'fair' because the vendors who were frozen out failled to complain about the process at the time. The fact that IBM and Centrix 'indicated that they could have entered a bid'. This is pure whitewash, IBM stated they did not enter a bid because the city did not allow enough time and Centrix did not enter a bid because they did not know from the RFP what the City actually wanted.

              The inspectors report only considers the issue of whether the process was unfair to the bidders. The real scandal is that the whole project from start to finish was a collosal boondoggle that was a collosal waste of public money. It is typical of dotcom era and enron thinking rather than practical realities. $9.5 million has been spent on an IT infrastructure that we can confidently predict will never be used.

          • by horza (87255) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:09PM (#5136583) Homepage
            This is hardly the type of case that one would want to use a poster-child for open source.

            Who said anything about open source? One second look at the Simdesk front page throws up words like 'proprietry' and 'patented'. See next paragraph.

            Particularly as it appears that Sim desk is actually closed source and that this story is yet another bash Microsoft for any reason at all story.

            You are waaay off the mark. A big win for a company that is competing with M$ Office is news because breaking the M$ hold on the file formats is important for open source making headway into the desktop market.

            At the moment, M$ can change its file format as much as it likes to cut off any competitors. Those offering compatibility have no choice except to play catch-up.

            If large government departments and corporations start using "Office compatiable" software then they are going to be upset if M$ starts producing incompatiable WP files. These are the kind of people that M$ have to listen to.

            When large segments of markets start using different competing "Office compatible" suites then they will start making their users saving by default to a format that they *know* will work in all the suites (eg Word v.XXX). Once everybody gets locked into this version, and it's difficult for M$ to change it without upsetting too many people, then instead of playing catch-up everybody (open source and proprietary) can concentrate on polishing accurate import and export filters. This would be excellent for consumers.

            You don't think that maybe some of the slashdot editors are getting paid by a Microsoft competitor or something?

            Judging by the .NET ads at the top of Slashdot, they are being paid by both sides.

            Phillip.
          • "...it appears that ... this story is yet another bash Microsoft for any reason at all story. You don't think that maybe some of the slashdot editors are getting paid by a Microsoft competitor or something?"

            Most people here don't like Microsoft for very good reasons. Just because the editors seem to dislike Microsoft (which I would assume) doesn't mean they're being paid, doesn't mean they're posting articles with large bias, or only posting anti-MS articles. The editors have an interest in Microsoft and what happens to them, as do most computer geeks.

            Microsoft, AFAIK the biggest software company in the world and certainly the most powerful, just lost Houston. That is news. I'm sure the editors got a smile on their face and said, "Sweet, post it, sounds cool," but that doesn't mean anyone is getting paid off or that the Slashdot editors are largely biased.

            This is a site for nerds. Nerds, in a large part, dislike Microsoft for very reasonable reasons. This news is interesting. Quit reading between the lines; this isn't CNN, this is a fun community news site.
        • by Srin Tuar (147269) <zeroday26@yahoo.com> on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @01:04PM (#5136102)


          Youre making an assumption that the Simdesk business plan doesnt end with:

          2. Get bought out by Microsoft.
          3. Profit!


          This is exactly the reason why a win for ANY proprietary software company is a not a win for Free Software.

      • by Ho-Lee-Cow! (173978) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @01:48PM (#5136438)
        Maybe not good for OSS, but it does provide overall competition in the market, which MS is in desparate need of.

        Once OpenOffice and StarOffice mature some more, and we see the Linux community develop some if the integrations that MS claims it can't, THEN OSS becomes another, and more serious competitor.

    • OSS software? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Twister002 (537605) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:27AM (#5135275) Homepage
      I'm not seeing anything at the web site that says this is OSS?

      They don't need to embrace and extend this software because they already HAVE software that does everything this purports to do, the MS Office Suite. This is just a clone of Office, nothing innovative, I can't download the source, heck I can't even get a price list off of their web site.

      I think this is just a case of price. The city of Houston got a great deal from a Houston based company. What's it called when a city practices nepotism, except without the relatives? Oh yeah, politics. ;) Wonder if SimDesk is getting any tax breaks from Houston?

      • by ackthpt (218170) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @12:22PM (#5135732) Homepage Journal
        It's effectively delivering applications which run from a server (which we used to do back in the dark ages before everyone got a bug up their a55 to have software installed on 1.0e09 computers, we maintained it on the server only, what is old is new again.) The plus for Houston is that this suite of apps runs on a multitude of devices, not just your big hulking desktop PC or watered down interfaces on smaller devices. It does appear to indicate they will invest more in network bandwidth and hardware (HINT: If you are a network guru, apply with the City of Houston before the line gets too long.)

        Yeah, it's competition for Microsoft and face it, Microsoft is the monolithic dinosaur with an aging product line. SimDesk, whatever you want to say about them, is the fleet of foot furry little rascal which is prepared for the coming ice age.

      • Re:OSS software? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ward (7051) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @12:36PM (#5135855) Homepage
        > I think this is just a case of price. The city of > Houston got a great deal from a Houston based
        > company. What's it called when a city practices
        > nepotism, except without the relatives? Oh yeah,
        > politics. ;)

        I'd say that it's just a case of a city supporting its own entrepreneurs, supporting its own tax generating companies, supporting its own residents.

        It's like buying from your neighborhood hardware store, grocery store, or five and dime. Oh wait, they're all national chains now... Looks like folks didn't shop there enough to keep them alive.

        As a Houstonian, I'm glad to see a Houston business getting support from the city.
      • Re:OSS software? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ryanvm (247662)
        What's it called when a city practices nepotism, except without the relatives?

        It's called "keeping the money in the city" and it's actually what local governments should do.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:29AM (#5135299)

      Think about it. For the first time in a decade, what with all the city and national governments giving the dirty bird to Microsoft in favor of Linux or other alternatives, Redmond has finally realized that it has real competition again.

      Unfortunately I have to post this as an AC but I'm speaking as one of the top geeks in a large place of work (~6,000 employees). We're not upgrading to XP and we're tesing a large group of people (~200) on Linux and OpenOffice on machines we've had in storage for a year. Thus far there have been no real technical problems although the user education has been a bit of work. Once they are familiar with an X desktop they spend most of their time using email and "Office" anyhow.
      We love it, we love the price and we love the excellent support we get from newsgroups and FAQs/docs.
      • by October_30th (531777) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:38AM (#5135373) Homepage Journal
        Ok. Sounds good, but what will happen when your ~200 Linux/OpenOffice people will have to communicate with the outside world (clients?) who use MS Office exclusively?

        I've run into OpenOfficeMS Office export and import problems even with plain Word letters, so I can't imagine a complex spreadsheet with macros will work very well.

        • by esarjeant (100503) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:49AM (#5135453) Homepage
          I think it depends what you're doing. If you're sending information to customers, then simply export your OpenOffice docs to PDF. You should be doing this anyway, even if you're using MS Word, because the PDF is the only way to ensure your document will be delivered properly. Heck, even MS Word isn't compatible with MS Word!

          If you need to collaborate, then encourage everyone on the team to either adopt an open standard (HTML, RDF, etc.) or get them onboard with OO.
        • by jedidiah (1196) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @12:20PM (#5135723) Homepage
          So? Quite a few people have absolutely no interest in complex spreadsheet macros: giving, recieving or creating. You're simply describing an artifical problem.

          This is simply another example of 95% of people being disinterested in 95% of msoffice features.
        • by walt-sjc (145127) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @12:58PM (#5136052)
          Oh please. Anyone with a little ingenuity can solve this problem. First, you can configure office so that the default file format is RTF. RTF supports most of what people do with Word which is letter writting, memos, and other simplistic documents. RTF importing is actually quite good.

          A little procmail scripting coupled with a Windows machine (or 3) setup as automated document converter (a little VB scripting) solves external communication needs nicely.

          If this is too tough for you, you can also setup an autoresponder system telling people to resend their documents in a more open format such as PDF or RTF, etc.

          The argument that it's the de-facto industry standard so you can't change is a red-herring.

          Complex spreadsheets are a little more difficult, but only a small fraction of people use them anyway. You leave them on Windows (or run vmware, crossover office, etc.) If you can convert 90% + of your office to Linux / OO, you win. It's actually amazing how good gnumeric and OO are with excel sheets.

          • However, Microsoft "Embraced and Extended" RTF format, to the point where an RTF created in ClarisWorks, aka AppleWorks, is gibberish to MS Office and vice/versa. RTF was created by Apple as part of the original Macintosh effort.

            Alas, only .PDF works as a somewhat universal document format. And that's read-only unless you are either running Linux/MacOS X/*BSD or have Acrobat on the Windows/Classic MacOS side.
        • OpenOfficeMS Office export and import problems even with plain Word letters

          I'll do you one better. I've run into OpenOffice import problems with Word a plain text document exported to RTF! Not being able a simple Word import was bad, not being able to handle it in RTF; that's an open document format.

      • that's the spirit! lets be honest. . .

        the computarded of this world, have big dreams, and big mouths, but when it boils down to it, they could all be on PII 333 mhz machines and not know the difference. they just want to type emails or documents and surf the net.

        learning anything more would upset their days (learning bad, stupid good mentality) and perhaps make it possible for them to do more work at work. they say, I WANT THE STARS AND THE MOON, but would settle for a trip to the end of the hallway for some coffee in a heartbeat.

        ok, there is a point in the rant. X desktop + mozilla + OpenOffice is more than enough these days.

        anyhow, m$ is trying to convince the world of the one thing everyone knows is not true. that they could possibly compete on price, quality or up time.

    • I don't think that Microsoft will belly up any time soon, regardless of how wonderful that would be.

      Imagine if Microsoft did go tits up. After a year or two we'd have free/oss copies/emulations/whatever of all MS programs, then what? Who's features would we try to copy then? Sure, I'm over generalizing.

      As Obi-Wan would say, "You and the Naboo form a symbiotic relationship. What happens to them will surely affect you" (or something like that).
    • by TaoTeCheese (643669) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:30AM (#5135310)
      "He discusses Microsoft's changing attitude in competing with Linux -- no longer calling it a "cancer" but instead promoting the advantages of Windows."
      So you mean M$ will actually have to promote themselves instead of bashing the other guy? Imagine that! Now, if only politicians would start doing that...
    • Which MS users? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by siskbc (598067)
      I think you may be right in some domains, but only those for which Linux is competing with MS right now: webservers and large (usually governmental) institutions. So yes, they have been offering to open some of the source (sort of) to India, and supposedly they are trying to make IIS more secure (good luck!). But will this trickle down to desktop users? Doubt it. If anything, they are attempting to become more MacOS like (and doing a hideous job of it), because that's where their desktop competition is.

      You won't see Open Source make any difference to MS's desktop junk for some time, if ever. Remember, damn near all the people who use linux read this site regularly, so "we" are not a representative sample.

    • The assumption that OSS is necessarily more feature filled or higher quality is absurd. Some of it is, some isn't. I think in the OS arena the OSS offerings have a ways to go as far as features and usability. Quality is arguable either way though lately I've not had any terrible problems with windows or linux.

      I just need to keep saying that OSS isn't a silver bullet to having better software, but if there is a gem out there in the OSS world and it does a job I need done then I'm not beyond supporting it heavily.

      I think MS should have started promoting benifits of its software instead of trying to cut down other peoples software ages ago. Software should compete on features, quality and price and I think both OSS and MS and other closed houses have some really good pieces of software and may be the best ones win. The world has changed and MS will no longer be able to ride its monopoly to great profits, they are actually going to have to work for thier money again and that is the best thing that could ever happen for consumers in the software market.

  • Security of Simdesk (Score:5, Interesting)

    by squant0 (553256) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:15AM (#5135160)
    From simdesk.com:
    Security
    In the same way vendors use SSL (Secure Socket Layer) technology to receive sensitive credit card and banking information, SimDesk(TM) is able to offer secure transmissions of data and other communications. The Internet is eager for this type of communication and SimDesk Technologies has filed patents to ensure that the company's methodology and software remain proprietary.

    Isn't that a bad thing?

    They are also hyping their office suit as a Revolutionary Product. I thought word processors and office suits have been around for a while....?

  • by sql*kitten (1359) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:15AM (#5135164)

    a software development company incorporated in 1999, has created technology that represents the most significant and pioneering Internet innovation in the last 20 years. The essential component of the technology is an exclusive, first to market, proprietary web-enabled transport protocol. Its patented methodology is unrivaled and is the most groundbreaking and efficient way for applications to communicate data over the Internet.


    Phew! For a second there I was worried that they might actually be selling products and services! Houston had a narrow escape!
    • largoriffic (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mikeee (137160) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:21AM (#5135227)
      So, it's basically the same NC-model Largo, FL is using, but Houston has somehow managed to do it with 100% proprietary software.

      Any reduction in the MS-monopoly is good for alternatives, but this isn't exactly a ringing endorsement of free software.
  • I must say... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Mr Teddy Bear (540142) <[moc.raegiahab] [ta] [drofdarbm]> on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:16AM (#5135165) Homepage
    I am very happy to see some competition winning in this market. I know Linux is awesome, I use it all the time (although I am running XP at the moment.) This SimDesk thing though, I've personally never heard of it, and I consider myself to be quite knowledgable about these kinds of things.

    I wonder how long it will be before they have to switch due to lack of support? Switch to what? I don't know, don't care... and I hope for their sake I am wrong about the support... but good support comes from people knowing how to use it OUTSIDE of the company that created it. We all know MS support sucks... and if you use Linux then you better be on the mailing lists rather than calling RedHat or Suse or whoever.

    Should be interesting is all.
    • Re:I must say... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bilbobuggins (535860) <bilbobugginsNO@SPAMjuntjunt.com> on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:26AM (#5135270)
      I wonder how long it will be before they have to switch due to lack of support?

      You don't think the 4th largest city in the US represents a good business oppportunity to start offering support?
      If the money is there, the support will come - or rather if the need is there, our capitalist economy will strive to satisfy that need in an attempt to make money.

      Trust me, every computer company in Houston that's ever even _talked_ to the govt. is scrambling their butts off to try to learn SimDesk right now...

    • and I consider myself to be quite knowledgable about these kinds of things.

      Well that really sets you apart around here.

  • by LiftOp (637065) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:16AM (#5135175) Homepage
    "For us the key challenge in 2003 will be speaking to Unix users about why they ought to use Windows on Intel rather than Linux on Intel."

    Wow, pretty astute, Pete. How much they payin' this guy?


    • The key word in this sentence is "challenge". The Unix group in our company, for example, wouldn't touch Windows with a ten feet pole. Before he goes peddling his wares to them, he'd better practice selling refrigerators to the Inuit.
  • by simi-lost (639853) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:17AM (#5135183)
    "Sign up for a multiyear, $12 million software licensing plan or face an audit exposing the city's use of software it hadn't paid for" Will M$ ever learn, they can't keep giving ultimatums.. most people don't like that....and it's worth saying "get forked" just for the thrill of showing Microcrap they aren't the only show in town...
    • by broken_bones (307900) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:34AM (#5135334)
      I think that the willingness of Houston to resist the heavy handed techniques MS has been using for liscence enforcement is the real highlight of this story. Intimidation only works when everyone is intimidated. As soon as the ranks start breaking it becomes harder and harder to threaten and intimidate. If this works out and Houston demonstrates that MS replacement products can be used successfully it will cause a real shakeup in MS's office division and its OS division. Office is, in my not so humble opinion, one of the big reasons that people stay with Windows. It is also where I think MS is most vulnerable to competition on the desktop due to its, shall we say, very large price.
  • by IAmRenegadeX (627910) <(ten.sniktac) (ta) (sniktac)> on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:18AM (#5135194) Homepage
    Funny thing is, SimDesk works as a server-side application (think: thin-client). Similarly, Microsoft has been beating the drums of applications-on-the-server since Hydra, since it should be able to control licensing better than installed-on-the-desktop does. Problem is, everyone's resisted this paradigm...and for good reasons.
    • I would be curious to hear some of the good reasons. I can see a boatload of good reasons to use this model.

      1) Deployment
      2) Updates
      3) Security
      4) Lower system requirements on the workstation.

      I could be all wet here, but it seems like a good way to go.
      • Gladly. 1) Deployment was always the big reason, but ended up being the biggest headache. Admins found that using hard drive images for roll-out (and then pushing updates) worked better than anything else. 2) Updates are generally pushed or installed by users, unless they're major ones -- then see (1). 3) Since everyone shares the same binaries on the same server, the risk is that someone could corrupt/trojan one copy and "infect" everyone. 4) The price between a thin client and a regular PC was fairly large a while back, but economics of scale pushed desktop prices to within a few percentage points of the thin desktops. The biggest reason nobody stuck with thin clients (unless they had to, for industry-specific reasons) was performance. Transporting all the application binaries/information over a network just never caught up to the speed of using applications on a desktop PC. Any system admin will tell you -- not having to hear "why is this system so damn slow??!" all the time, all day, is worth a LOT.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:18AM (#5135196)
    I am an unemployed, broke, homeless, flea infested, transvestite midget. To raise myself out of the muck I need a productivity suite for my computer. Per your corporate philosopy:

    We strive to develop products that will bridge the digital divide and provide innovative technology to all, regardless of the end user's socioeconomic status.

    I'd like to receive a disk containing all of your products. I have no internet connection so it has to be on a disk. Look forward to seeing something from you and good luck with the business model. TTFN!

    - l33t j03

    • I am an unemployed, broke, homeless, flea infested, transvestite midget.

      I didn't realise that Prince had fallen on such hard times. Must be all those P2P pirates stealing the food from out of his mouth!

  • by suman28 (558822) <suman28&hotmail,com> on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:20AM (#5135220)
    The question is about privacy. Imagine the possibilities. If a company wants to store confidential data, they would first have to know that the data is safe from everyone, including the people running the servers. Then there is the issue of accessibility. I don't have to be on a network to open and print and read. This is not like that. I guess we just have to wait and see
  • Spokesman: We've done a market analysis and found that some people don't like microsoft. So, we decided not to use thier software.
    Interviewer: Were you concerned about platform stability or security issues?
    Spokesman: Well, not exactly, more like.... client base
    Interviewer: So, you're saying that you chose against microsoft due to public demand?
    Spokesman: Hey, 50 Million Elvis fans can't be wrong.
    Interviewer: What does Elvis have to do with anything?
    Spokesman: Have you even seen his movies? Talk about acting!

  • by Twister002 (537605) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:22AM (#5135236) Homepage
    SimDesk
    5450 Northwest Central, Suite 300
    Houston, Texas 77092
    Houston Area Phone: 713.690.6016
    Toll-free Phone: 866.746.3375 (866-SimDesk)

    Plus they've GOT to be using MS technology in the SimDesk applications themselves. At least they have Palm versions too.

    I'm trying to figure out what the big advantage of using SimDesk would be vs. just installing Office and using Windows? Other than giving MS the finger. I guess it must just be the price difference, they probably got a great deal from the Houston based company.

    • by jedidiah (1196) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:35AM (#5135341) Homepage
      The article addressed this directly: SimDesk allows Houston to turn their PC's into X terminals. Thus, they don't have to spend extra money on new hardware just to run this week's version of Office.

      The real advantage of SimDesk is that they don't have to worry about being shaken down by Microsoft.

      It never ceases to amaze me how Microsoft apologists will attempt to reduce any valid reason for not using a Microsoft product into some irrational "Anything But Microsoft" motivation.
  • by 4of12 (97621) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:22AM (#5135239) Homepage Journal

    I found the last comment in his interview interesting:

    Q: What's the potential risk for Microsoft in all of this?

    A: The challenge will come if customers start rejecting the proposition that there is value in integration.

    "Integration" is the lever that MS uses to generate revenue. Customers are becoming increasingly aware of this and are assessing its value as best they can (given that they've lived in the MS Matrix monoculture for so long.)

    Quoting from the Financial Times article that is another Slashdot story, too,

    For many users the software question simply comes down to money. To Paul Friday, head of IT for the West Yorkshire Police, using Linux is not a statement against Microsoft but a way to save money.
    ."No one has ever worked out what it really costs [to run Windows]. There was never a real alternative; you just did it."
  • by Noryungi (70322) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:22AM (#5135240) Homepage Journal
    First, they ignore you.
    Then, they laugh at you.
    Then, they fight you.
    Then you win.

    It's not as funny as:

    Step 1. Create Gcc.
    Step 2. Create Linux kernel.
    Step 3. ???
    Step 4. World Domination!!
    • First, they ignore you.
      Then, they laugh at you.
      Then, they fight you.
      Then you win.


      Every time I see this my immediate reaction is "So _that's_ why Microsoft is so successful." I'm not trolling; I just find it hilarious that so many Linux advocates consider crazed zealotry and endless flames about other operating systems to be passive resistance.
      • by mcgroarty (633843) <brian...mcgroarty@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @12:15PM (#5135677) Homepage
        Every time I see this my immediate reaction is "So _that's_ why Microsoft is so successful." I'm not trolling; I just find it hilarious that so many Linux advocates consider crazed zealotry and endless flames about other operating systems to be passive resistance.

        I don't know many actual developers who concern themselves with the above mentality. The most successful ones just seem interested in cobbling together interesting bits of code regardless of how big or little the perceived audience for the code is.

        I think the real importance of most of the zealots is about on par with the importance of the MS user groups. They're promotional mouthpieces, but their real-world effect is shadowed almost entirely by the effect of the actual software.

  • by jsse (254124)
    He discusses Microsoft's changing attitude in competing with Linux -- no longer calling it a "cancer" but instead promoting the advantages of Windows.

    3) then you win.
  • by ignatzMouse (447031) <ignatzmouse&pobox,com> on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:24AM (#5135251) Homepage
    It's starting to look like the US recession will be one of the best things to happen to the Open-Source movement.
    • Tight budgets will motivate people to find
      alternatives to expensive software.

      This is a good thing.

      Switching to something just because it's cheaper and
      not because it meets your need as well or better
      than what you're currently using is stupid and
      dangerous.

      The biggest challenge for OSS is to educate
      the masses so that the masses can make intelligent
      decisions with regards to the software they're
      using. Once we do that, we win. Use cost as an
      added bonus to already good software, not as the
      sole selling point.
  • If you look at the CEO's bio, he's some Houston good-ol boy who made a billion at BFI (trash collection), and now is dabbling in high tech.

    Since everything in Texas is controlled by good ol boys, I'm sure the decision to use this software was anything but objective.
  • I'm glad they told Microsoft to F??? off! But to choose Simdesk instead? Sounds like someone went with the local guy since Simdesk is out of Houston I believe I read. They would have been much better off going with Open Office or even Corel.
    • That may be true. However, the mere fact that there is such a "good-ole-boy" alternative available is actually a very positive thing. This kind of abuse can't even exist unless there is some sort of diversity in the marketplace.

      This situation is still an improvement over the old regime.
  • Good to see... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ErnieD (19277) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:29AM (#5135295)
    "I can't help but wonder if this will become a trend."

    I think it's safe to say this is already a trend, what with all the stories we've seen here in the last few months. Hopefully a trend that will become more and more widespread as the truth gets out there.

    "Microsoft's changing attitude in competing with Linux -- no longer calling it a "cancer" but instead promoting the advantages of Windows."

    Well it looks like Microsoft is finally catching onto the idea that it can't compete with Linux using their normal "FUD" tactics. Of course, touting the *cough*advantages*cough* of Windows may not be such a winning solution either. :) But maybe now we'll see how MS reacts to competition when it can't just stamp it out. My guess is they'll run around like decapitated chickens for another few months at least.
    • I think it's safe to say this is already a trend

      It will be a trend when MSFT will drop half of its current price at the period when both Nasdaq and Dow will keep the same or even grow.

      Now it's not a trend, it's just a subject to discuss on ./

    • Re:Good to see... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Winterblink (575267)
      Like it or not, there ARE advantages to running Microsoft OS's, depending on on the user, the environment, and the uses. Don't get me wrong, I'm fully supportive of non-MS OS's (innovation is good, yadda yadda), but my parents, for instance, love Windows XP's ease of use and stability. (Yes, stability, when you boot it, read some email, browse the net for recipes and shut it down it's pretty stable)

      Just my 2c.

  • by daniel_howell (457947) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:30AM (#5135304)
    The actual meat of the story is interesting, an a hopeful sign, but so is the lead paragraph. It presents Microsoft as bullying it's clients into agreeing to it's terms.

    Nothing new there, but when this is the tone taken by mainstream media, and seen as so non-controversial that it's mentioned and then passed over, then Microsoft have already lost their key battle. Their marketing depends on them being seen as the safe option. If they are seen as the problem, then (as here) people will go looking for solutions.

  • Interesting... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheRealFixer (552803) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:34AM (#5135331)
    From the interview with Peter Houston:
    I still believe Linux is an extension of the Unix paradigm. It's a command-line-focused approach that's not particularly designed to be user friendly. The Windows approach is very different.

    This kind of shows how clueless Microsoft really is about competing with Linux. Lest anyone forget that Windows was nothing more than a extension of a command-line-focused operating system called MS-DOS that wasn't particularly use friendly? Microsoft just started to hide the command-line with Windows 95. The same is happening with Linux, as it gains more acceptance. More and more tools are being developed that eliminate the need for command-line work.

    True, any distro of Linux isn't quite at the XP level not needing to use the command-line, but it's starting to head in that direction. And if more and more companies and, more importantly, governments start to actively look at switching, there will be a big boom in eliminating the command-lind dependence.
    • by jdreed1024 (443938) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @12:18PM (#5135698)
      I still believe Linux is an extension of the Unix paradigm.

      He just kept repeating this over and, over, didn't he? Regardless of what the interviewer said. Now, I understand he has to watch what he says when he's on the record, but he came off as totally clueless when he kept saying this over and over. I read the interview like this:

      These folks are claiming that the earth is round.
      See, the problem is, these people are embracing a circular model, which is ill suited to every day life. Think about it - if you walk outside, you'll have to take into account the curvature of the earth, and really, you're not walking on a flat surface. Imagine the confusion that would cause your brain - your eyes tell you the ground is flat, but your mind knows it isn't.

      But, we have people who have sailed and flown around the earth - there's no edge to fall off
      I admit, their round view is interesting, but eventually you'll encounter that edge, and you'll fall off. It's far safer to subscribe to our view that earth is flat.

      How do you account for the celestial movements observed - they could not exist if the earth was flat.
      These observations are flawed - these astronomers are not looking at the whole picture. Sure, they portion they observe is round, but in the big picture, it's flat. We find that users are comfortable with a flat view of the earth, and it's only a matter of time before those astronomers are burned at the stake.

      How do you respond to the National Science Foundation's findings that the earth is in fact round?
      Those findings are biased. The earth is flat - there's no further discussion on the issue.

  • if the "thin-client" is cross-browser complient. If Houston would move from Windows based clients to Linux-based clients or, Doug forbid, dumb-terminals with browsers.

  • by esarjeant (100503) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:43AM (#5135421) Homepage
    After reading all this, it sounds like Houstin opted for SimDesk only because they felt trapped by Microsoft licensing issues.

    It's not clear to me they will save money, although it does seem clear that by doing this they can at least quantify the amount of money they need to spend. I wonder if these kinds of MS sales tactics can be argued as entrapment or bait & switch? Customers shouldn't need to feel like they must pay millions to get MS off their back, especially when the amount involved is in dispute.

    A greater concern for Houstin is where the data will be stored. It's not clear from the website or the marketing blurbs if the SimDesk apps drop documents locally or remotely to the SimDesk server. At a minimum, the patent-pending Trashbin is purported to be remote - which would give you access to this content from anywhere. I sure hope this system is secure!

    Of course, the fact that they are looking to partner with Unisys is reason enough to be concerned. Remember GIF [burnallgifs.org]? TBPH, Microsoft doesn't look like a bad alternative here -- if anything this should be a wakeup call for MS that license audits need to be approached with extreme caution.
  • Civic motivators (Score:5, Insightful)

    by watchful.babbler (621535) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:49AM (#5135458) Homepage Journal
    Sad to say, but this has nothing to do with Linux, little to do with Microsoft (except for their enterprise licensing scheme), and everything to do with getting workstations off desks.

    Given the small budgets, byzantine approval processes, and both political and bureaucratic stumbling blocks that affect civic IT departments (and I sadly speak from experience), the most effective place to get cost savings is at the client side.

    Only a very few people at the civic level need independent workstations, and the cost of support per user is higher than that of private-sector firms of comparable size. Ripping out the PCs and replacing them with Sun Rays or Wyse terms is a bright solution for cash-strapped cities. However, don't confuse this with a move to open source: as has been pointed out above, it's a fallacy to think that "proprietary" is synonymous with "Microsoft."

  • Why not Open Source? (Score:4, Informative)

    by terrencefw (605681) <slashdotNO@SPAMjamesholden.net> on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:50AM (#5135469) Homepage
    Okay... so these guys got p*ssed off with Microsoft. Lots of people get p*ssed off with Microsoft and they fall into two camps:

    1. They don't know about OSS and Free Software
    2. The do know about OSS and Free Software

    Now, the people in group 1 tend to do nothing about it, and carry on getting shafted by MS. The people in group 2 tend to think "Yeah, all this new licensing is gonna cripple us. Time to look elsewhere". And end up going down the OSS/Free route. The West Yorkshire Police [police.uk] did it [theregister.co.uk].

    So, what made these guys go down this odd, obscure, proprietary route with a company which seems to saddle all their technology with proprietaryness and software patentyness?

  • by T.E.D. (34228) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:58AM (#5135536)
    What folks seem to be missing here is that SimDesk is proprietary software, just like Office. What it has over office apparently is that:
    1. Its cheaper (to Houston anyway)
    2. Its (apparently) client-server based, with the servers being run by SimDesk.


    This is the "Hailstorm" issue all over again. But it does have certian advantanges for poor folk who don't own their own systems, which was one of the reasons Houston starting looking at it. An out of work homeless person can put his resume on it, and then access his resume later from any other system he manages to get access too. He doesn't have to haul a floppy around with him out in the elements where he lives. If you read the article, it was tried out in public libraries as a way to "bridge the digital divide", and apparently was wildly successful.

    Due to the fact that SimDesk holds your data hostage, they can probably offer a very different pricing structure than traditional software vendors. They can charge peanuts for the clients, and then keep charging you access fees for the server. Think of it as the first MMOS (Massively-Multiplayer Office Suite) :-)
  • by photon317 (208409) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:59AM (#5135543)

    There was local news coverage here in Houston on the SimDesk issue a while back, that went into some more interesting details. Of course first off, it was primarily chosen as a user interface for public-access computer in public libraries and whatnot. I don't think it was chosen for actual city computers, but for the computers they let the technology-less use at the libraries so they can surf and have email and type resumes, basically.

    More importantly, there was a big uproar in Houston over how SimDesk got the contract. Apparently whoever owns SimDesk has some insider relations of some sort to the people making the decisions, and there was absolutely no bid process at all (no other local competition, no Microsoft, etc... ). Basically somebody's brother got the contract, and because it flies in MS face it made the news here as a big MS letdown. MS didn't stand a chance no matter who they are.
  • Great Article (Score:3, Informative)

    by LittleLebowskiUrbanA (619114) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @11:59AM (#5135545) Homepage Journal
    I hate to say it but that was a much better written article than I expected. City politics, threats by Microsoft, that article had everything!
    I was disappointed about the lack of OSS but hell at least people are out there proving there's a choice in software. System and network administrator's jobs are going to be FUN in the years ahead. People will have to know more than Wintel to get a job.
  • What a deal! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by NineNine (235196) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @12:02PM (#5135563)
    They save a whopping $1.6 million, and in return they get software that doesn't do spreadsheets, presentations, or small databases. On top of that, all they need is a 100% broadband connection on every machine! Wow! What a deal! Where do I sign up?? I mean, this thing has all of the functionality of WordPad, with the added requirement of a broadband connection! Woo hoo! Who thought of such a great product?

    SimDesk isn't perfect. It lacks many sophisticated features of Office, such as the ability to customize spreadsheets, do slide presentations or work databases. The glaring shortfall: It has no track record, making it risky for companies hesitant to bet on unproven technology.


    USA Today. Yeah, that's a great place to get good quality tech news. I think that the Enquirer has a good story about Steve Ballmer being Bill Gate's alien baby. Maybe /. should post that, huh?
  • Contract Scandal (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dpille (547949) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @12:09PM (#5135625)
    The USA Today article really glosses over the political battle on this issue and the good reasons for that battle. Many people in Houston are actually quite angry about the adoption of SimDesk, and it has nothing to do with pro-Microsoft bias or SimDesk's "unproven track record" thing.

    This timeline [viahouston.com] would claim Houston spent $42,000 marketing a possible SimDesk contract before the proposal was even requested. This article [nctimes.net] suggests the City's CIO "had decided on that vendor before the city's mandatory bidding process had even started." I'll leave it as an excercise to the reader to google for more information, but my point is that this is a much more significant issue than USA Today suggests in the article.

    I'm as happy about my city using non-monopoly software as the next guy, but I think in this instance there's a strong likelihood that the SimDesk contract was awarded in a non-competitive environment anyway. Surely this is not the way any of us want alternatives to MSFT to be chosen.
    • Re:Contract Scandal (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Cheeze (12756) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @12:27PM (#5135781) Homepage
      the article also states SimDesk was the ONLY company to enter a bid. 20 companies looked at the offer, and decided they could not do it. What kind of rigging is possible when there is only one bid?

      When a company says they will deliver a product for a certain price, why would the city of Houston want to pay more for the same product?
      • Re:Contract Scandal (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Cerlyn (202990)

        It is very easy to rig a bid, and it happens all the time. You cannot do government work and not know how to phrase a quote to get what you want; otherwise, purchasing (and/or the bidders) may do some rather amusing things.

        Consider the following contract proposal: "I want a spreadsheet program that has X number of wizards to assist me, support for importing the exact format list shown in attachment A, and a hologram on the CD as well as the 'Certificate of Authenticity'." Staroffice/Openoffice would not match this. Very few (if not only one) programs would match this bid spec. Hence, if my buddy wrote program Y that matched this spec, he likely would win.

        One word in a quote can make all the difference. My High School once put out a bid spec for "cabinets"; the winning bidder used fiberboard (wood shavings glued together) to make them. For some strange reason, all future cabinet quotes asked for "solid wood". If you know anything about fiberboard, you can guess why.

        Ideally, purchasing should catch the super ludicrous specs (i.e. "The product's name must start with 'O', end with 'E', and have six letters"), but unless purchasing is savvy in your area, strange things get through and other things get mangled.

        Of course, I once was on a team that came up with a server that cost less than what our primary contractor required, got three quotes to prove it was true, and still had purchasing ask the primary contractor to price match the spec, which they did (although not with the proper configuration -- we sent it back). So I am a bit biased.

      • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:09PM (#5136577) Homepage Journal

        What kind of rigging is possible when there is only one bid?

        The absolute best way of rigging a bid process is to ensure that there is only one qualified bidder. I've seen several techniques used to arrange this:

        • Tailored requirements. I can usually see right off the bat when I read an RFP (request for proposals) that the buyer has a supplier in mind. Some of them are very ham-handed about it, but the really good ones will carefully research all of the potential bidders and then include one or two innocuous-looking requirements that disqualify all but the preferred bidder. It's actually not even necessary that all of the requirements be real. You can put in some requirements that *no one* can meet, knowing that your pre-selected vendor won't sweat it.
        • Vague requirements. Leave out lots of details that are essential to formulating a bid, but be careful to make sure that the omissions are obviously "oversights". Your pre-selected vendor, of course, has typically been working with you for a while and fully understands these details. This is especially effective when coupled with:
        • Egregious terms and conditions (Ts&Cs). For example, you can specify that the bidder must provide a fixed price estimate for development, deployment, technical support, call center support, upgrades and bug fixes for, say, five years, and they must provide this estimate at the outset, even though it's impossible to accurately predict all of it prior to detailed requirements analysis (which should always be the first phase of such a project -- included in the fixed bid). Another really good one is to specify hard and fast delivery dates for as-yet-undefined functionality, and impose massive penalties for late delivery. I saw one RFP where being a week late would require that we do the work for free, any further delays would result in us *paying* them. Your pre-selected vendor, of course, can bid secure in the knowledge that they won't actually be *held* to these Ts&Cs. They may even submit a proposal that doesn't meet them, but if it's the only proposal you get, you have ample justification for accepting it anyway.
        • Short lead times. I worked on one proposal for the government of a U.S. Territory that gave us two weeks to respond for an ~$100 million contract that would last ten years. We were notified on Friday of the opportunity and the bidder's conference was the next Tuesday. Since my company had local people, we were able to attend (though we couldn't get the technical people there), but many potential vendors who had to make travel arrangements just couldn't make it. Only attendees were permitted to bid, of course. (Actually, they screwed up on that one, there are Federal statutes that govern the bid processes of U.S. Territories, and they violated a bunch of them, so the whole thing got shut down -- I understand they just went back to doing little nickel and dime contracts with their preferred vendor. I suppose they'll go back for a full bid when the vendor has built all of the custom technology to ensure that no one else has a prayer).

        And, if all of that doesn't scare away all of your potential bidders, you can still tell your preferred vendor to lowball their estimate to make sure they're the lowest bid, planning for "cost overruns". If you want to be really dirty, you can even leak the other bidders' proposals and prices to your preferred vendor so that they can be sure to be the cheapest. Doing that is a good way to end up in jail, though.

        There are *many* ways to rig a bid, and I'm sure I haven't seen them all.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @12:17PM (#5135695)
    Working for the houston civic authority doing IT support, I can tell you that many of us are severly displeased with this decision. It boiled down to the 'old boy' network whent he choice was made for SimDesk, and many of us openly suspect a rash of kickbacks in this lowball bid win.

    Almost all of us are MS certified types (I have my MCSE), and a few of us use linux at home or as web servers for some of our intranet infrastructure. The running gag is that the change over in hardware in terms of on site servers and bandwith enhancements will cost us more than three times our current agreement with MS for our existing systems. MS had lowballed too, offering us a very attractive licensing and support package that was not only reasonable (by MS standards), but significantly less than their 'going rate' packages.

    Alternatives in using pure *nix were also presented, some rather attractive on the face of it, but ultimately they were rejected for training and hardware costs, as well as for the fact that they are not very well known or supported in the kind of environment we have going on here in Houston. Over half of our PCs would have had some kind of driver problem, more than 2/3rds of our existing software and DB systems would have been rendered incompatible, an worse still there were no alternatives for some of our vital statistics and infrastructure support apps. A wash.

    This whole thing has us more than a little upset, and some of us laughing as we learn more about SimDesk. It's bandwith intensive, and many of our outlying and important network nodes are on less than a typical home broadband connection (with up to 50 user machines and servers!).

    Don't believe everything you read... it wasn't a rejection of MS because it is MS, but rather an old boy deal done by friends and mutal friends.
  • by themaddone (180841) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @12:28PM (#5135791)
    Yeah, it's big, monolithic, and evil, but what gives Microsoft the right to threaten an "audit and penalties?"

    I mean, if Microsoft showed up at my door (if I were a corporation) and said "We're coming in to inspect your computers," why not just say "Go to hell!"

    Does anyone know what the Microsoft audit process is, and how they enforce these penalties?
    • the license agreement big busiensses and governments sign to get the "special" price on M$ bloatware gives
      M$ the "right" to show up anytime they want. Basically in signing the contract, the business signs away its rights, which is another reason why i encourage all my clients to go OSS.
  • by Traicovn (226034) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @12:28PM (#5135793) Homepage
    I guess that this makes Houston the first official SimCity [simcity.com] now othat they have chosen to use the SimDesk software? Soon we will see aliens invading, fires, floods, and earthquakes all happening in the city of Houston as stressed city workers press the 'Disaster' button over and over...
  • by DeepRedux (601768) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @12:49PM (#5135973)

    The Chairman and CEO of SimDesk [simdesk.com], Mr. Waters, is "responsible for the strategic direction and management of SimDesk".

    Mr Waters was founding chairman and CEO of Browning-Ferris Industries, Inc. (BFI) and served BFI from 1969 until 1997, when BFI was sold to Allied Waste for $9 billion in cash. During the 1980s, BFI pleaded guilty to charges of price fixing [excite.com]. More details [multinationalmonitor.org]:

    In 1987, a group of commercial business customers filed a national class action lawsuit against Houston, Texas-based BFI and Oak Brook, Illinois-based WMI, alleging the highest echelons of both companies had orchestrated a nationwide price-fixing conspiracy. In one important document, the business customers detailed a number of antitrust cases across the nation and the involvement of key corporate officers from both firms. In 1990, both firms agreed to settle the case for a total of $50 million plus $13 million in attorneys fees, while denying any wrongdoing. All evidence in the case, including some "4 million pages of documents," was sealed.

    They would seem to have the makings of a worthy successor to Microsoft.

  • by adb (31105) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @01:32PM (#5136328)

    If they did, they'd be selling it here [simdesk.com]. Instead, the just have information about their products and some contact info, which means they're selling an abstract cluster of services that may incidentally involve software, something like IBM and its mainframe business.

    That's an unusual business model for the office-software world, but it's a hell of a lot better than Microsoft's. In fact, they don't really need copyright law at all: just put the licensing restrictions in the contract with each company, and be on a much more solid and honest foundation. I'm starting to like them.

  • by pizza_milkshake (580452) on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @02:01PM (#5136511)
    this serves as an example. regular folks reading USA Today will realize that Microsoft isn't the only option -- that at least one city government is willing to bet $5 million (less than half of M$'s "offer") that a small alternative can do better.

    That's it. This isn't a win for OSS or for Linux, it's a win for everyone that doesn't rely on M$ day in and day out. It legitimizes what we do to people that don't understand.

  • by Black Copter Control (464012) <samuel-local @ b c g reen.com> on Wednesday January 22, 2003 @03:07PM (#5137095) Homepage Journal
    In the article, Microsoft's Peter Houston says:
    ... and then there is the Unix approach, which is a piece-parts approach where the customer integrates those parts into the ultimate solution.

    I think he shot himself in the foot on that one.

    This wonderfully brings out the difference between Microsoft and the unix/linux philosophy of "there's more than one way to cat a file". For a long time, I've been of the opinion that Microsoft's attitude toward their customers was pretty much the same as IBM's was in their (pre '80s) monopoly days.

    "
    Do exactly as we say, and nobody will get hurt."
    The Linux solution, on the other hand starts with the premise of user freedom.

    (-: Two different Houstons -- both of whom think that Linux provides the necessary pieces for "the ultimate solution". :-)

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