Updated Bill Gates is due to swing through the UK next week, trailing clouds of Windows XP licences, and according to embittered Register sources, his good friend Tony Blair will be signing the UK government up for 500,000 of them at a Blair-Gates meeting on 6th December.
A Cabinet Office spokeswoman however categorically denied at least some of this to The Register. Tony Blair wil definitely not be meeting Bill Gates next Thursday. She confirmed that negotiations were taking place between Microsoft UK and the Office of Government Commerce, but was unable to comment on whether or not Microsoft would be in a position to announce a massive XP win on Thursday.
Which is fair enough - it's not her job to know that one. Gates is however in the UK on the 6th, and the Redmond marketing droids like to keep him well-stocked with favourable publicity as he trundles around the world. One of the things he'll be doing here is speaking to a conference of top British National Health Service executives on the 6th, where he will tell them how Microsoft will be helping to improve NHS IT. Health secretary Alan Milburn will be sharing the podium, and by a remarkable coincidence Alan Milburn is due to keynote the Healthcare Financial Management Association's conference at the Hotel Russell in London on 6th December. As Bill's definitely not meeting Mr Tony, our earlier suggestion that Bloomsbury would be a security disaster zone is now inoperative. Besides, as the spokeswoman told us sniffily, If Tony was meeting Bill he'd be meeting him at 10 Downing Street, not (sniff)in a hotel.
Bill may still be managing to slip in lunch with E-envoy Andrew Pinder and some of his staff, as we don't seem to have a categorical denial of that yet. Pinder himself has been closely involved with Microsoft in his campaign to wire the UK Government.
We've no idea how our sources got the idea that Bill and Tony would ever be likely to get together to discuss British institutions using Microsoft software, particularly as it has never happened before. No, of course it hasn't.
But a deal one way or the other is impending. As we reported recently, the UK's Office of Government Commerce has been threatening to dump 500,000 Windows desktops because of increases in Microsoft licence fees. The OGC's brief is to get the Government the best deal it can from suppliers, and it has been rattling its sabres accordingly. Microsoft frequently uses His Billness as the ultimate weapon in its negotiations (his speech to the NHS execs is quite possibly connected with a major MS-NHS deal in October), and Mr Tony's ongoing love affair with Gates is well-known.
Obviously, a deal has to be cut one way or the other soon. Microsoft isn't above using Bill as the super-salesman, Microsoft's friends in Whitehall are no doubt going to be batting for the company anyway, and Bill does like to have these prestige announcements assoicated with his travels (how does he find time to be chief software architect as well?).
But it's possibly getting a little dangerous. At least one very large computer company suspects a deal is afoot, and is said to be ballistic. Our sources tell us it intends to ask the National Audit Office to look into how the deal was arrived at. There are of course two very large computer companies you could suspect here, but as they're both likely to be causing as much trouble as they can behind the scenes while not going on the record, it doesn't really matter which one it is this time. As we've said before, it's a snake-pit in there. ®