City in rush to throw money at Microsoft
Evanston city staff will ask aldermen Monday to approve spending nearly $200,000 over the next three years for Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office computer software.
The memo from Business Performance & Technology Division Manager Bruce Slown recommending the purchase calls the software tools from Microsoft "an essential part of almost every function performed by City staff."
But the memo fails to address the growing viability of the open source software movement, which allows governments, businesses and individuals to break free from the monopolistic grip of Microsoft and get the same software functionality for free.
Just last month the European Union's competition commissioner, Neelie Kroes, recommended that businesses and governments use software based on open standards.
In a New York Times article, Kroes was quoted as saying, "I know a smart business decision when I see one -- choosing open standards is a very smart business decision indeed."
As someone who has used the free Open Office software suite alternative to Microsoft Office for a couple of years now, I'm convinced that it is a fully viable alternative for everyday users of desktop software.
When it comes to using Linux, the open source alternative to the Microsoft Windows operating system on a desktop machine, I have no personal experience, and I'm inclined to accept the view of Wall Street Journal technology columnist Walt Mossberg, who wrote nearly a year ago that while Linux is getting easier to use, its still "not for everyone."
So perhaps the answer is for the city staff to find out what it would cost to just license Windows, and skip the Office applications.
And if Open Office doesn't seem to fill the bill, the city should take a close look at cloud computing -- as represented by Google Docs, which lets users access word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software through their web browser -- again, for free.
As has been the case far too often recently, the council is receiving this Microsoft contract proposal after the old license expired, and with a 30-day extension just days away from running out.
But that's no reason to rush through an expenditure that could be reduced in a time of fiscal austerity.