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Army explores alternatives to Microsoft

Oct. 22, 2013 - 03:45AM   |  
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The Army’s dependance on Microsoft runs deep and costs a lot.

And that is prompting Army officials to explore alternatives to Microsoft’s Office software and Windows operating system.

It is looking at Google and Apple products, among others, as potential alternatives.

In an Oct. 17 justification and approval document to acquire a year’s worth of Microsoft consulting services, the Army said Microsoft’s strict control over its propriety source code shuts out competition from other companies, including companies authorized to resell Microsoft services. A portion of Microsoft consulting contracts awarded to a reseller includes pass-through fees, sometimes as high as 15 percent for federal customers, the Army said in the document.

The Army noted one case where an Air Force contractor said it could perform Microsoft consulting services but would need to subcontract the work requiring access to proprietary source code back to Microsoft.

“Continuing to have these services provided by companies that are not able to perform all required services, and charge an additional fee to get the services for the government is not cost effective, as we are paying for no added value from having done so,” according to the Army document.

As an alternative to Microsoft Office, the Army said it is testing Google Apps. Army Medical Command is conducting one pilot, but “one of the main concerns with Google Apps is the security of Army information,” the document noted. The application is being loaded from the Internet and there is no means for using a Common Access Card (CAC) to log onto the system or obtain authentication of the user’s identity.

The Army is also pursuing an enterprise agreement with Apple to provide alternatives to Microsoft’s operating system. “At this time, Apple is not authorized by [Army Network Enterprise Technology Command] on the Army network.” But a CAC solution is available for Apple that can validate a user’s identity on the Army network, the document notes.

Microsoft senior director Jamie Wylly, who oversees the company’s Army account, said Microsoft protects its source code just as any company does. “We want [products] to be fully interoperable and be secure.”

“Access to that source code is not the question we are looking at,” Wylly said, adding that Microsoft has made numerous product changes based on the Army’s needs. “How are those products best implemented is what we are looking at.”

The Army seems confident that “alternative solutions to meet the Army’s needs will be available in the next three to 10 years,” the document notes.

“We are always looking at what is the market capable of providing that meets DoD requirements,” said Brendan Burke, project director for the Army’s Computer Hardware, Enterprise Software and Solutions. ■


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