The European Commission has agreed to upgrade its internal IT systems to Microsoft Windows 7 without putting the contract out to tender - ignoring its own policy and locking out vendors of alternative, open-source operating systems such as Linux.
According to a report on business IT news site PC World, Commission civil servants agreed in a behind-closed-doors meeting on 15th December to migrate more than 36,000 desktop PCs in European institutions to Windows 7, without opening the contract up to bids from rival suppliers.
The proposal could see the Commission tied to Windows for the next four to five years - a move that runs counter to the Commission's own policy of not locking public procurement in to a specific platform.
Unsurprisingly, rival vendors are upset. Jan Wildeboer of Linux distributor Red Hat told an open-source gathering in Brussels: "The Commission's supposed deal with Microsoft is not really strengthening its own message of avoiding lock-in. We are hopeful that the Commission will practice what it preaches. In the interests of a fair and free market we must have vendor-neutral tendering."
Other advocates of open source were less muted in their criticism. Paul Meller, spokesman for Open Forum Europe, said:
"Europe is in danger of rapidly becoming a laggard in this march towards open and fully interoperable computer systems. While some national and regional governments from around Europe have made impressive moves in the right direction, the European Commission remains wedded to a single, closed operating system and shows no signs of even considering an open alternative."
Even within the task force that met in December, there was disagreement over the decision. Although Commission rules permitted the proposal from the Directorate General for Informatics (DIGIT) to make the upgrades using a "negotiated procedure", which allows the Commission to acquire software from a single vendor, representatives from the budget department asked why the contract was not being put out to tender - and demanded that a more competitive procedure should be used next time.
It appears from the minutes of the meeting that the decision was approved in principle due to "contractual time constraints". It is yet to be approved by the Commission's lawyers, but looks set to go ahead.
The upgrade deal could have huge knock-on effects across the European Union, where the governments of member states make up 19 per cent of all software purchases, according to analysts IDC.