Microsoft is to update the computers of New Orleans' City Hall and Police Department for free, according to a report last week in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, saving the city $100 million, claims CTO Greg Meffert. Work will begin in the next two weeks, and the city's only obligations are that it will be used as a model for marketing the systems to other government bodies, and that it will at some point in the future have to pay a "miniscule" amount of money for the software.
So where's the catch? Well, think browser market, and also think about cash-strapped public bodies' readiness to accept donations and subsidy from public-spirited IT vendors, and Microsoft's growing keenness to leverage this. Free to the extent that all of a sizeable body's systems are covered is perhaps a little more radical than what the company has done so far, but in the UK in particular there have been several instances of donation easing the acceptance of the Redmond shilling.
For New Orleans, Meffert helpfully explains how this works. Because the systems are a gift, the city does not have to put the contract out to tender. "The carrot for them is that they can work with an actual city to develop this system," Meffert told the Times-Picayune. "They were extremely excited." Well indeed, they would be, and the plan apparently is to jointly develop and market software for other municipalities. This bears some comparison to the UK Government Gateway project Microsoft announced last year - in that case the returns on UK government IP resold by Microsoft are likely to be small, and it's not clear what, if anything, New Orleans will be likely to make.
Nor is it clear what is being developed for New Orleans City Hall, but the Police Department system, ODIS (Offender Data Information System) is already in use in Oklahoma, is based on "Microsoft's Distributed interNetwork Architecture" (which is a term we hadn't heard in a while, and seems to have already cut off its first air supplies.
Maffert has cancelled a $1.5 million contract awarded to modernise the Police Department's systems last year, claiming that the job can now be done for under $100,000. We're not entirely clear how the numbers here stack up, but the project at least relates to the New Orleans Police Department's Mobile Data Project, which consisted of an Ericsson trunked radio system, 200 Panasonic laptops and software from SCC and Cerulean. Given that you can't get radio systems and 200 laptops for under $100,000 we figure Ericsson and Panasonic (for the moment - think Stinger) are safe, but that SCC and Cerulean have just been Netscaped.
So how did all this get started? According to a spokesmen for the mayor, Bill Gates got seriously interested at an "impromptu meeting" after a Xavier University ceremony last month. Bill, Microsoft's supersalesman, has been getting seriously into giving of late, also helping out Peru last month. Nice to see he's working out ways to combine his two major interests. ®