A group advocating open source has sued the Quebec government for procuring Microsoft software without open tender. It claims the government has gone against its own stipulated procedures for buying software.
The group in question, FACIL or pour l’appropriation collective de l’informatique libre, is a non-profit that promotes Free Software in Quebec. Canadian paper The Gazette reported FACIL has filed a motion in the Quebec Superior Court, claiming the government has gone against its own guidelines on procurement by not inviting tenders from local software providers. Instead, the Quebec government chose to procure software from Microsoft.
It stated that the Centre des services partagés, which buys technology for the government, spent more than $25 million this year on proprietary software without having open tenders.
In a statement, FACIL said, "These purchases hurt the free software suppliers throughout Quebec and are an obstacle to the development of Quebec IT enterprises."
There might be one small loophole that might explain away the $25 million purchases – Microsoft holding the current software copyrights. System upgrades could be exempted unless FACIL can prove its claim that said upgrades were significantly different from previous versions. That might be provable in the case of Windows Vista. FACIL insists the government could have looked harder for alternatives to the costly upgrades.
"Going from Microsoft Office 2003 to Office 2007 is more complicated than going from Office 2003 to OpenOffice," said Cyrille Béraud, president of Savoir-faire Linux, an open-source consultancy and member of FACIL.
"Are we sure Microsoft will exist in 30 years? Will the government be able to read its own documents?" Béraud asked.
Despite vocal champions for open source, the software procurers could possibly have been persuaded by what was easy and familiar – Microsoft products. Unless the Quebec government can properly justify the upgrades, this just might be a legal and symbolic victory for open source advocates in Quebec.