Texas Senate severely limits Vista purchasing for gov computers

Austin (TX) – An uncontested rider was added yesterday to the Texas budget by Senator Juan Hinojosa. If passed, it would severely limit the ability of government officials to purchase Vista (or equipment with Vista) without express written authorization from the legislature. The budget passed the Senate on April 1 by a 26-5 vote. The State House is drafting its own version of the budget, which must then be reconciled with the Senate’s version. The rider must also still be approved by a joint conference committee of both Senate and House members.

The two-year Texas state budget is worth $182.2 billion, and requires any state organization, with the exception of schools, to have prior written authorization from the Legislative Budget Board before any copies of Vista or hardware with the OS installed are purchased.

Hinojosa is a Democrat Senator from McAllen, and Vice Chairman of the Finance Committee. While his rider passed the Senate, three senators objected the provision claiming that it was not wise to single out a specific vendor and that it was setting an extremely negative precedent. But Hinojosa claimed: “The reason we are so vendor-specific is because Microsoft has a monopoly on government PCs.”

A November 2008 survey conducted by the Texas state comptroller found that Windows was utilized in over 99% of the 137,500 desktop and laptop PCs being operated in state agencies. 1,500 Macs are also in use by the government. In schools however, Macs hold an 11% share, and schools are exempted from this rider.

Senator Hinojosa added the clause due to issues with the Vista program. “We have a lot of problems with the Vista program,” Senator Hinojosa told the San Antonio News. “It had a lot of bugs. It takes up a lot of memory. It’s not compatible with other equipment, and it’s supposed to be an upgrade from the XP program that is being used by state agencies, and it’s not.”

This is not the first time that Microsoft has been targeted by the state of Texas in a bill. In 2007 a bill was pushed which would have required state agencies which were compliant with open document standards, like the Open Document format used by OpenOffice. At that time, it was admitted by the representative who created the bill that he was interested in the concept following discussions with IBM lobbyists. The bill was defeated, but will be raised again by the same representative and Hinojosa in the future.

Microsoft is extremely unhappy with the newly proposed bill. “Microsoft has long demonstrated a sustained commitment to Texas, which is why this development is disappointing,” said Microsoft spokeswoman Tonya Klause in a statement.

Microsoft has a total of 1,500 employees in the state of Texas. Last year the company opened a $500 million data center in San Antonio. The Houston Chronicle in reporting (from the Department of Information Resources Data) that in the past few years, 44 state agencies have spent a total of $6.1 million to upgrade to Vista. The spending ranges from only $122 spent by the Texas Board of Professional Land Surveying, to $1.6 million spent by the Health and Human Services Commission.

Klause continued, “Given our daily work with government agencies and long-standing technology partnership, we are surprised that the Texas Senate Finance Committee adopted a rider which, in effect, singles out a specific corporation and product for unequal treatment. We hope that, as the budget continues to go through the process, this language will be removed.”

The Department of Information Resources spokesman, David Duncan claims that state agencies are allowed to make their own IT purchasing decisions. He also stated that he could not make any comments regarding the legislation. “As a state agency, we are prohibited from saying anything that is positive or negative towards legislation,” he told Computer World. “We will comply with the will of the legislature.”

Duncan also told Computer World that the Department of Information Resources utilizes Windows XP and Mac OS X. He said that individuals utilizing Windows will more than likely skip Vista and upgrade directly to Windows 7 OS when it comes out, due simply to the timing for the agency’s regularly scheduled upgrades. “We’re not holding off as a reaction to what Microsoft is producing,” he said.

Texas is facing a number of budget issues, just like other states, and even more importantly the state has had serious issues with technology contracts recently. In October, an $863 million data center outsourcing deal (led by IBM) was suspended after complaints came in from several agencies that data was lost due to poor backup procedures. And in December, Texas and Accenture ended an $899 million outsourcing contract after only two years and $243 million spent, due to IT problems.