8 December 2003 The National Health Service (NHS) is to trial Sun Microsystems’ Linux-based Java Desktop System as an alternative to Microsoft Windows and Office, in a move that could set a precedent for the use of open source software in the UK public sector.
If the NHS were to defect, it would represent the biggest crack yet in Microsoft’s control over the corporate PC desktop and would set a precedent for the use of open source software in the UK public sector. The NHS is the world’s second largest non-military employer, running approximately 800,000 desktop PCs.
Richard Granger, NHS director general of IT, said a switch from Microsoft could save taxpayers “many millions of pounds”, allowing more funding to be spent on patient care. He added: “Sun’s innovation and flexible approach to addressing the business challenges of the NHS are an example which we would encourage all IT vendors to note”.
Granger is currently spearheading the ambitious £2.3 billion IT modernisation programme in the NHS. The former Deloitte Consulting partner was brought in from the private sector to run the programme because of his reputation as a tough, no-nonsense manager.
Negotiations with Microsoft over an NHS-wide desktop software licensing deal are reported to have stumbled over the cost, making Sun’s claim of a possible 80% saving over Microsoft all the more appealing.
Equally, the NHS’s admission that it is actively pursuing alternatives to Microsoft may be little more than a negotiating ploy intended to extract a bigger discount from Microsoft.
Sun’s Java Desktop is built on the open source operating system Linux and includes the Gnome graphical desktop interface, StarOffice office applications suite, Mozilla web browser and the Ximian Evolution email client.
However, the Java moniker is largely for marketing purposes. The actual use of Java is limited solely to the integration of a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) and the ability of Mozilla to play Java ‘applets’ or downloads.