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Friday, 19 January 2018 08:00

NHS used Linux project to negotiate with Microsoft: claim Featured

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Britain's National Health Service appears to have used a project set up to create a Linux alternative for its employees' smartcards — and later, hopefully, a desktop alternative to Windows — to bargain with Microsoft and obtain an enterprise-wide desktop deal.

The project, called NHoS Linux, was supposed to produce a cut-down version of Ubuntu, first dubbed NHSbuntu, for use on the 750,000 smartcards used by NHS employees, according to the British tech website The Register.

According to one of the people behind the project, Rob Dyke, the NHS contemplated using paperless systems and getting rid of Windows 7 on the desktop by 2020. Dyke was a partner at Neova, an open-source health specialist.

One of the main reasons for thinking of a change to Linux was because of the licensing costs for Windows – £100 million a year.

The NHS was one of the organisations most affected by the WannaCry ransomware in May last year, because it was running older versions of Windows.

But now the whole Linux project has fallen apart. In a blog post, Marcus Baw, another member of the NHoS team, said that NHS staff Will Smart and Paul Rice had been "duplicitously negotiating with Microsoft about a new NHS Enterprise Wide Agreement".

"In fact, I now strongly suspect that the reason we were getting any engagement at all at these levels was in order to strengthen (the) NHSE negotiating position with Microsoft, by being able to say to M$ ‘there is a competitor, we are meeting with them next week’," Baw wrote.

He said the last straw had been the receipt of a legal notice from the NHS itself, asking that the project desist from using any NHS branding.

"The final straw is that despite having changed our name from NHSbuntu to NHoS and significantly changed our branding style in order to satisfy the Department of Health brand police’s first legal letter (fair enough I guess, we were definitely pushing it with NHSbuntu) we have now been served with a second letter for NHoS," Baw wrote.

He attached the legal notice from the NHS to his post. "We spent a significant amount of volunteer time just in changing all our tooling and branding from NHSbuntu to NHoS, and following a second takedown letter, the lack of any forthcoming material assistance or support, and in particular the duplicitous behaviour of NHSE CIO and team, we’ve decided simply to shelve the project. We can’t afford the personal time required to rebrand another time. We have other work to do," Baw said.

He was scathing about the NHS' claims to being open to innovation. "You hear a lot about innovation in the NHS, but if this is the way innovators are treated — with the full might of DH Legal against an unfunded volunteer organisation — then you can see why we have no actual innovation, just bullshitters retweeting each other about a vague fantasy blockchain and AI future, while the NHS burns for lack of basic functionality," he wrote.

Contacted for comment, an NHS England spokesman said the claims made in The Register and the blog were untrue.

"Discussions with Microsoft are being led by Department of Health, not NHS England," a spokesman said. "Any suggestion that this open source project has been used as some sort of bargaining chip in those negotiations is not true. The two projects are not connected in any way."

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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