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A message from Bill Gates: thank you Mr Cameron

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Thumbnail image for David Cameron Big Issue Front Cover.pngA message of thanks from Bill Gates*.

People often ask me what its like being the richest man in the world.

Let me tell you, I always say, It's tough.

You have to spend a lot of time feeding starving children to stop people asking questions about how much money you have. And then you have to put up with dupes like Gordon Brown and David Cameron, our Microsoft sales representatives in Little Old England.

To be fair to Gordon, he turned into one of our best sales people. But Cameron got off to a really bad start. That imbecile made open source software an election promise. And now he can't think of a way to make up for it.

Gordon already gave me a Knighthood and a protectorate for my software monopoly. That's what Cameron said to me. He said, "But Bill, what do you give a man who's already got everything you can give?"

I said he could patch up my PR. So he gave me this spread in The Big Issue, a magazine for bums.

It was genius. You see its not just about PR nowadays. It's about information supremacy. That means you've gotta keep the bums happy.

Now that reminds me of something that happened recently when my motorcade got stuck in a road block. I hate it when that happens. You always get some schmo hassling you. This time it was some stinking squeegee. My security guards were a bit slow getting to him and he got his squeegee in my window before I had a chance to wind it up.

I was terrified. But he said something to me that got me to thinking.

He said, "Bill, we aint all that different you and me. I was born just like you. I worked sweat, blood and tears all my life. Hell, I made some mistakes. But I did some good things. And I gave it all I had, Bill, just like you. And now I'm gonna die, just like you'll die too one day.

"And you know what?," he said.

He said, "I aint got a pot to piss in."

He said, "I aint even got me enough money to get a cab ride. Now why is that Bill? You should give me a ride in your car, Bill. It's just as much my car as yours. I own a little bit of that car, Bill. You didn't know that, did you, Bill?"

And then he hit me with this line. He said, "You didn't know that I used to be a window cleaner, did you Bill? And I bet you didn't know that I used to wash your windows, Bill. Up at your fancy mansion in Seattle? Did you know that, Bill? Did you know that I used to wash your freekin' windows, Bill?

As my security guards were taking him down, he shouted: "I hope you enjoyed the view, man! I hope you enjoyed the view outta your freakin' windows!"

I was shaken, as you can imagine. But it got me to thinking. I thought, for crying out loud - this moron doesn't even know that Windows is a proper noun.

But it got me to thinking something else too. It got me to thinking that perhaps there was something I could do to make the world a better place.

You see, I do remember this bum cleaning my Windows. I remember taking in the view from my counting room across Lake Washington, as I often do. And I remember being interrupted by this stinking squeegee who was cleaning my Windows. And I remember thinking maybe I could make some automatic cleaning device so you didn't have to pay some stinking squeegee who spoiled your view and probably thought it gave him some sort of rights or something just because he cleaned your freaking Windows.

But even if you get rid of the bums, you've still got to patronize them. And nobody does that better than David Cameron.

"We'll give you hand up, not a hand out", Cameron told the bum's at The Big Issue. And that's genius because it makes them feel guilty for being losers and takes the heat off us for hogging all the money. Because we can't help being so clever that we get to keep all the money. And its not fair when stinking squeegee loser bums think they've got some right over it.

But as my good wife Melinda always says, just because some moron refuses to accept they're inferior, you shouldn't let them get you down. You've got to keep them in their place - but be nice about it. And she's right. Because they don't know how lucky they are that I'm not, like, one of those Nazi master race types.

I'm like one of those benevolent master race types. I won't exterminate someone if they're irritating me. I'll give them a few dollars to get off my back.

Because as long as they've got a few more dollars today and the promise of a few more dollars tomorrow, they're less likely to get jealous and start throwing stones at people like me, sitting on top of the tree.

That's what happens when you're Bill Gates. People get jealous. But I can't help being great. Just like they can't help being losers.

And that's why I want to thank Cameron for doing a good PR job for me. Because he made me feel better about myself even while he made me feel better than everyone else.

Bill Big Issue 1.pngBill Big Issue 2.png

* As imagined by Mark Ballard

UK shakes dust off open source policy

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Liam Maxwell jazz hands.pngIf it looked like UK open source policy, just recently exhumed, had already been swept back under the same carpet it has been kept under since it was first launched two and a half years ago, the announcement yesterday that Liam Maxwell had acquired responsibility for it with a Cabinet Office portfolio did surprisingly little to improve its mien.

It is then just as well Cabinet Office is about to announce long-overdue progress in its cause of creating a level-playing field for open source software. Because the new appointment will need all the help he can get.

No matter that Maxwell is head of IT and has taught at Eton, the toff school that groomed Prime Minister David Cameron for power. Whoopee-do that he wrote Tory Tech Policy and the open source strategy now being executed by the Cabinet Office. Yawn, 'scuse me, but it is of little significance that he did all this simultaneously and even as he held the ICT portfolio at Windsor & Maidenhead Borough Council, where he waved a shitty stick at Microsoft and championed open standards. He might appear like superman. But you'd have to think twice about it since he agreed to take this Cabinet Office job.

Because Maxwell's only going to be Cabinet Office Director of ICT Futures for 11 months. It was a full time job. Yet he's taken it on secondment with no explanation. As one interested observer put it, that gives him about a 0.00001 per cent chance of getting anything done.

Think about it, said this observer. He turns up at his allotted desk on 1 September. He learns where the toilets are and that sort of thing. That will take him till December. He'll then produce a report and call some meetings. But what will Sir Humphrey and all the other old goats in the civil service make of him?

"These are hardened civil servants who wait for ministers to go by, and for governments to change," said said observer. If they know he's only going to be there for 11 months, will they deign to jump when he says so?

Then Maxwell is said to be in possession of intelligence that the same attitude has been adopted by the Boo Hissstems Integrators who control the public sector ICT oligopoly.

Maxwell's assigned team have already been asking nicely would the integrators please do more open source software, on which they could less likely fleece government with oligopoly rents. Maxwell is said to be in possession of a report in which a Boo Hissstems integrator says, don't worry about all this open source lark, it'll blow over: just hang tight till this lot get voted out of government.

Some fringe elements in the civil service may have acquired outlandish ideas about getting things done since they started entertaining members of the Agile systems development cult, but they've got to be wearing some pretty loud disco trousers if they think Maxwell will get their agenda pushed through in just 11 months.

On top of open source he's been charged with making government the sort of place that gets things done. He might do that first. Then he's been asked to implement open standards policy, which was recently cut back, reform procurement for the sake of SMEs, and advise on using new technology.

A catty observer might ask why a man of Maxwell's talents wasn't given a permanent job. But the clue might be in the title. A "director of ICT futures", is like any futurologist, the sort of chap you put in a dicky bow and roll out to do slots on the radio about kerrazy ideas like floating cars and open source software. Mickey Mouse likes to wear a dicky bow. Maxwell, who's been seconded by Eton, might want to get back to some proper work when he's finished doing jazz hands for open source.


The appointment took a vaudeville turn when Cabinet Office announced it yesterday. It had been talking to Maxwell about taking the "director of ICT futures" post since January. Ian Watmore was said to be keen on him. Tory Tech command was practically his brain child anyway. But there was some debate about whether he "could or should take the job", said someone close to the negotiations. It was a matter of some "delicacy" which remains unexplained.

Cabinet Office initially announced he had been appointed "Director of ICT Futures". Then said he wasn't actually going in at director level after all. He was going to be a non-permanent advisor though the job description was precisely the same as the one it had advertised for "Director of ICT Futures".

Whatever his title, many of those SMEs now in his care will be wondering if the Eton boy wonder's temp contract will be handled by Boo-Hissstems integrator Capita like all the other temp contracts it recently took from SMEs with Cabinet Office permission.

Chin job

The Cabinet Office has meanwhile managed after six months of work behind the scenes to establish another talking shop for its ICT policy. The long-promised open source advisory panel will have its articles of incorporation signed off Wednesday.

Computer Weekly was told the wet-ink proposal involves the production of a web site in which government departments can seek advice from "the community" on the acquisition of open source software.

The arrangements were made by the Public Sector Group of industry lobby Open Forum Europe, which in December (some two years after it formed) scored its first significant success by recruiting Cabinet Office operator Qamar Yunus as joint chair. It's membership is notable for its absence of big hitters from the heffing departments of state DWP, HMRC and MOD.

There are also unconfirmed reports Cabinet Office is about to produce the final open source reference stack (a list of approved open source software) on which it first sought advice from "the community" back in February. Verily, at this pace of change old Liam Maxwell could be in and out the Cabinet Office with such agility no one even notices he was there.

Free software guru sanctifies Brussels bruiser

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Neelie Kroes sanctified.jpgFree software guru Richard Stallman took time out of his European speaking tour this week to deliver a private sermon to Neelie Kroes, the official who imposed 2004 anti-competition fines on Microsoft before going on to champion open standards as Europe's Digital Commissioner.

Stallman gave Kroes the benefit of his wisdom in an hour-long meeting on Tuesday afternoon in which no-one else got much of a word in. He effectively gave one of his talks, said someone who was in on the confab.

Kroes was nevertheless welcomed being given the talking to. Stallman requested time with Kroes because she has achieved more than any other European official of what is dear to the free software movement, the guru told CW afterwards. Kroes wanted to meet Stallman because she was pleased for the opportunity to hear the doctrine straight from its source, said someone close to her now sanctified office.

"I said, 'I don't know how much you know about free software'," Stallman told CW after the meeting. "She said, 'Assume I know nothing'. So I talked...".

Stallman advised Kroes to stop the European Patent Office getting power to impose software patents when Europe finally unifies its patent system. He advised her that hardware manufacturers like Nvidia should be forced to release specifications so that anyone could interoperate with their products. He gave a précis of the spiel he delivered on the evils of e-books at a UNESCO conference last week. And he tried to persuade the Commissioner that file sharing - an item that is on the persecutory end of her policy agenda - ought to be permitted.

It sounded like the guru was pissing in the wind on that last matter. Not that his ideas fell on deaf ears (if you'll forgive that particular combination of metaphors).

Stallman is trying to find a way for artists to earn a living in a world in which people can easily copy their work that doesn't involve setting the dogs on file-sharers or putting internet service providers in the screws till they grass on their users. Despite giving appearances to the contrary, the man talks sense. But Kroes, being nothing if not fair herself at least within convention, has also granted meetings to rights collecting societies, internet content providers, ISPs, hardware manufacturers, telecoms giants and any number of money-grabbing nuts.

It has since Tuesday been said in Brussels in an orbit that passes not too distant from Ms Kroes' ear that Stallman's ideas are not easy, but not impossible.

Richard Stallman blesses Neelie Kroes.jpgWhat U want 2 hear

Not that either party went into the meeting with any particular deal to clinch.

The reason anyone listens to Stallman is for the same reasons they listen to any priest: to learn what our conscience should be telling us when we are selling it down river.

As Stallman said when CW tried to get to the bottom of what material disadvantage society suffered when hardware manufacturers release proprietary software drivers...

"How would I know? It's a minor detail. A non-free programme is ethically wrong. It attacks your freedom and if you are wise you won't even consider using it.

"Compared with an attack on my freedom, I'm not really going to care much if it has some other drawback."

Truly, Richard Stallman is a priest of the Usonian order: Freedom and extra helpings of Apple Pie.

But did the Stallman's hectoring Kroes do any good? Perhaps, if he elaborated the why of free software better than he usually does.

The guru gives the impression he thinks free software is more intuitive than it actually is to people breathing a Microsoft atmosphere, while it's tempting to assume Kroes advocates free software more than she actually does.

Computacenter row threatens blockhead end for open source in Bristol

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IT giant Computacenter has raised the prospect of legal action against a small open source supplier for complaining to Parliament about its "Microsoft bias".

The veiled threat followed a letter sent to MPs on the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC), in which Mark Taylor, chief executive officer of Sirius, described a project involving Computacenter he said exemplified the the government's declamation of large IT suppliers: that they dominated the market and crowded out competiton.

Computacenter stated on learning of the letter it was seeking "advice" because it was "potentially libellous". It now says making such a statement did not in itself constitute a threat.

That depends on your perspective. Mark Taylor, chief executive of Sirius, which with a £2.3m turnover is about one-thousandth Computacenter's size, was scared stiff when he heard about this. Yet if Computacenter did sue him for being a whistle-blower, it may prove his point.

The Parliamentary committee to which Taylor sent his letter is exploring allegations that companies like Computacenter abuse their market power by punishing small suppliers when they don't keep in line.

The big IT suppliers are so powerful, it is said, they control the vast majority of public sector IT, which is done in their commercial interest. That may count as quid pro quo from supplier's perspective. But when that supplier is part of an oligopoly servicing a monopoly, it is a little unfortunate for anything trying to breathe outside that comfortable little world that has become known as government IT.

This must be most upsetting from Computacenter's point of view too. It has a certain Blue-chip reputation it must present to its customers. Anyone trying to daub the façade with graffiti must be firmly stamped on.

Computacenter has declined to say what offence it has taken with Taylor's letter. It is seriously perturbed, however, at being identified as one of the boo-hissstems integrators that are said to treat SMEs so poorly.

The multitude of winds that have whipped up the current bout of government IT reviews and inquiries (in the name of SMEs, agile, procurement reform, open software, open standards and open markets) threaten an existential crisis for the large suppliers.

Microsoft bias?

Wintel laptop.jpegTake for example the question of whether Computacenter has a Microsoft bias. It's like asking if the Pope is a Catholic.

Computacenter built its business selling "Wintel" computers and infrastructure. When it made 30 employees millionaires overnight on the occasion of its 1998 flotation (link: sic), it was thanks to the Wintel computing boom. It has branched out a little over the years: it now does services too: though mostly on farms of Wintel computers for big corporations. And while it has its customers' interests at heart, it is essentially like a great, huffing bull with Microsoft branded on its balls.

Computacenter's boom years were the late 90s when the corporate mantra was economies of scale. Customers got the economies of its scale by buying thousands of Microsoft computers. Now the market has gone sour and the typical contract has become so large that only Microsoft suppliers can satisfy them because only they are large enough.

Sirius discovered this after writing Bristol City Council's ICT strategy this time last year. Bristol was down with its open source angle and adopted its recommendations. Sirius then couldn't pitch for the work because it wasn't on the official procurement lists. It went in with Computacenter but was shown the door, said Taylor's letter to MPs, when he protested over the Microsoft bias CC had put in Bristol's proof-of-concept open source pilot.

It would be a terrible irony if the project failed because Bristol had no choice but to ask a Microsoft reseller to demonstrate how an alternative to a proprietary infrastructure might be feasible. It would also be shameful for Bristol, a City that that has made the Zeitgeist its identity: multicultural, ecological, collaborative, egalitarian, open. That's what people from Bristol say about their own City. So if not Bristol then where?

If Computacenter's pilot finds against open source, more than seven years of work at Bristol would have been for nothing. Bristol's entire infrastructure would be based on infantilising proprietary technology and its vision of being a Digital City regenerated by a small army of creatives up to their arms in collaborative computer code would be somewhat obscured.

To understand how awful that would be, imagine Bristol's vision being one of municipal authority as bountiful Big Society fount, its computer systems built open and spread like nourishing tributaries throughout the City. Or imagine, conversely, great multinational corporations sat atop the globe like gluttonous octopuses, their proprietary software systems sucking the life and inspiration from the computing generation.

You might detect a little bias there. It's merely one point of view, though one Computacenter is unlikely to plaster over mail outs funded by its next injection of Microsoft marketing development money.

Corporate image

That doesn't mean Computacenter can't get with the programme. But Microsoft and its reseller Computacenter, the model of the noughties corporation, represent the antithesis of the Bristol zeitgeist: monocultural, rapacious, tight-lipped, dog-eat-dog, proprietary.

Granted, Computacenter looks fairly enlightened when viewed from within the retarded world of the City of London. In its last financial results, Computacenter chairman Greg Lock proudly declaimed how the corporation had achieved enlightenment: it had adopted the UK Corpote Governance Code, "not simply because we must do so, but rather because it is the right thing to do."

And bravo. Don't worry that the Code's key principles read like the listing for the soundtrack of Thatcher's Britain: "Leadership, Effectiveness, Accountability, Remuneration, Relations with Shareholders".

If a corporation is an organism and the board of directors its brains, the Code is comparable to one of the first great periods of human enlightenment, when prehistoric man first started organising into paternalistic clans governed by power tempered with honour.

It is progress a little in advance of that earlier enlightenment when pre-prehistoric man learned to adulate the heavens. Ug. Heavens: glorious. Me: glorious. You: cower, worm, before my competitive mastery. Though its morality is essentially tribal.

This may explain why Taylor this week accepted a post on an SME board being established by the Cabinet Office to help them tackle the problems they are too scared to air in public. There might be safety under the shadow of reforming minister Francis Maude.

Since Taylor was one of the key players behind both the coalition government's and Bristol's ICT strategies, you would imagine him wily enough to deal with a lumbering corporation like Computacenter on his own. That is assuming Computacenter's Microsoft bias has indeed scuppered Bristol's open source pilot. Both Bristol and Computacenter say the game's not over. Taylor says Computacenter elbowed him out and submitted assessments that had been fixed to favour Microsoft.

After slogging away for 30 years by the rule of Mammon, Computacenter may have just lumbered innocently into the midst of a political thorn bush. It might now look up and see how much is riding on Bristol's pilot. It's failure will mark the failure not just of Bristol's ICT strategy but of Maude's and Taylors.

Computacenter would do well to back up and consider while licking its wounds how the idea of software freedom has taken hold in mainstream politics. If it does anything else it will end up looking like the ignorant box shifter it has long tried so hard not to be. Why not give Bristol what it wants?

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