Google Sues The US Government For Only Considering Microsoft Solutions

from the hubris dept

Eric Goldman alerts us to the interesting bit of news that Google has sued the US government — specifically the Department of the Interior, for not seriously considering Google Apps when it put out a Request for Quotation (RFQ) to handle its messaging needs. Specifically, the DOI stated upfront in the RFQ that the solution had to be part of the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite. Google is making the argument that this is “unduly restrictive of competition,” and it seems like they’ve got a decent argument there.


Most of the lawsuit details the history of meetings and conversations between Google and the DOI, where Google sought to convince the DOI that its solution was acceptable. The DOI justified limiting its offerings to Microsoft, by saying that Microsoft had two things that other solution providers did not: unified/consolidated email and “enhanced security.” Google disputes this (not surprisingly) and notes various problems with Microsoft solutions — including well reported downtime issues. Google protested the RFQ when it was released, but the GAO dismissed Google’s protest saying that since Google does not have a GSA schedule contract (i.e., what you need to sell to the gov’t), it was “not an interested party.” Anyway, should make for an interesting lawsuit if it goes anywhere…

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Comments on “Google Sues The US Government For Only Considering Microsoft Solutions”

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89 Comments
Rich Kulawiec says:

Re: Re:

I must concur with my anonymous colleague: it is quite impossible to secure Windows systems for a satisfactory value of “secure”.

I’m sure that some people will claim this is not the case. I invite them to consider the 100-200 million operational examples of this problem, including the ones on Microsoft’s own network: see http://krebsonsecurity.com/2010/10/pill-gang-used-microsofts-network-to-attack-krebsonsecurity-com/ for one such instance.

IshmaelDS (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Just thought I would let you know when your going on about how you can’t secure Windows you might want to link to a story that actually has a compromised windows server. From the article “In just one of the many ironies in this story, the compromised server inside of Microsoft appears to have been running Linux, not one of Microsoft’s server technologies. ”
I also have to contend that you can secure Windows, it just isn’t done for the majority of consumers out there.

Free Capitalist (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Sure you can build a hardened kernel for Windows Servers. Only for desktop users getting to a reasonable expectation of security requires gimping the haberdasher way Windows handles services, DLLs and other resources. In a Unix system it’s easy to detect changes to services by checking init.d, which is not so easy to control in Windows.

However the security question relevant to the writeup concerns Microsoft business apps, especially the Exchange server (and client) nightmare.

Kiruashi says:

Re: Re: Re:link for attacks using microsofts network

Good job there. Pointing out how Windows systems fail security with an article that talks about attacks coming from a Microsoft network.

Oh wait… there is that important note about it being Unix and Linux based servers that caused the problems. Not a problem with a Windows based system. Good skimming.

Alan Lindsay says:

Re: Re: Re:

ummm – the Google bid is relying on Windows systems as well. This has nothing to do withe client hardware or OS.

Stunning that anyone would argue that Google Apps measures up to BPOS in any way at all. Missing about 50% of the actual applications. Missing 50% of the functionality in the applications it does have. Totally lacking in integration. Half the groups that go with Google go ONLY for email and half of them switch back. Google is good at a lot of things but office functionality at a real business level is not one of them. It is also one of Microsoft’s areas of complete expertise.

Maybe GOogle should offer to eat and repay the total cost of running a competitive bid if they lose? Otherwise I’m glad to see the government saving some tax dollars and just getting on with it.

F says:

Re: Re: Re: Missing the clue as usual

Microsoft fanboy overlooks the reality of the situation in order to blow the MS horn.

What does “office functionality” have to do with anything? This contract is for “messaging”. Any functionality that is not in the scope of the contract is “bloat” that just gets in the way. But again bloat is the Microsoft way.

Durrr? says:

Re: Re: Re:

@Rich Kulawiec, it seems quite impossible for you to make posts with a satisfactory value of “relevant”:
1. You cite an attack on a Linux system at Microsoft as an “operational example” of Windows security.

2. You’re making security claims about the Windows desktop OS in the comments for an article about a Microsoft cloud service.

Making dumb “EVIL M$!!!!” posts was played out in 1998, and it’s still played out in 2010.

mhenriday (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The most obvious conclusions to be drawn from the article to which you refer, Darren,

would seem to be that :
1) Microsoft chose to use a Linux server as one running Windows did not meet their needs, and
2) Those assigned to running it were incompetent.

Perhaps you would care to explain just how this invalidates Google’s objections to the manner in which the US DOI crafted the RFQ ?…

Henri

Alatar says:

Re: Re: Google's Conquest of the World Starts

Look who’s crying wolf.

Criticizing the “terrifying” massively opensource Google in a post from your locked-down windows computer (the ones who claim to have 95% market share in the OS market but don’t disturb you, and don’t even give you the choice when you buy a PC, even if you already have a win licence), before pausing your locked-down Ipod because you have a call on your locked-down Iphone.
All those newly-revealed grandstanders are pitiful to say the least.

The only person I could accept, or at least listen to such an argument from (“blah blah Google bad blah blah dominate world”), would be a person using some Gentoo Linux, compiling his own packages, not letting any closed-source package in, and not using any Web-based service (except his own, on his own server), plus a condition on the mobile phone he has (free software only, some OpenMoko or Cyanogen Android I guess).

But I guess you probably don’t match the description, you’ve been supporting dirty monopolies for years and suddenly selectively take on one (and only this one, no other) in order to… I don’t know what, but it does probably have to do with self sufficience.
There is room for critics, but you have to live up to your own standard and not just be another Lily Allen taking on “piracy”

vivaelamor (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Google's Conquest of the World Starts

“The only person I could accept, or at least listen to such an argument from (“blah blah Google bad blah blah dominate world”), would be a person using some Gentoo Linux, compiling his own packages, not letting any closed-source package in, and not using any Web-based service (except his own, on his own server), plus a condition on the mobile phone he has (free software only, some OpenMoko or Cyanogen Android I guess).”

I worry how close I come to that description! Currently using Arch Linux as my primary OS, but cut my teeth on Linux From Scratch and Gentoo. Currently using third party servers, but for the reason of I don’t own my internet connection rather than don’t want to run my own server. My mobile phone runs Maemo and I plan to upgrade to Meego next year if 1.2 is stable for handsets. By the way, using open source every day shouldn’t be a pretence for ‘I audit the code running on my PC’, because even when I did compile every single package on my system I rarely looked at a line of code myself.

All that and despite aspiring to run my own email I’m using Gmail in the meantime because while I have reservations about Google, I trust them more than my ISP or as much as some other random service provider.

Richard (profile) says:

Us Government deals

From my experience it is pretty standard for the US government to put out invitations to tender whilst having already sewn up the deal with a supplier. Typically the preferred supplier gets to more or less write the specification.

However the cases I am aware of were nothing like as blatant as this one. Actually naming the (underlying) preferred supplier in the spec. is going a bit far. The usual practice is to write in an obscure (and usually pointless) technical requirement that they know other bidders won’t be able to meet.

Chris Maresca (profile) says:

Re: Us Government deals

Too true. Even if the specific MSFT requirement is removed from the RFP, the favored vendor will still win.

Mind you, it might not be all that bad in this case as retraining thousands of workers to use Google Apps instead of what they have been using for years might be a bit of a cost. Nevermind all that data on Google servers rather than gov’t. desktops.

Chris.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Us Government deals

I used to work for the US Gov (mid level civilian engineer for one of the military branches). 75% of the contracts (that I had insight on) were decided before the RFP was drafted.

– The contracts always had requirements that were worded specifically with one vendor in mind (this MS case is a good example – maybe a bit too good)
– The RFPs that are “designated” for a specific vendor always had very short windows. (unless you already had a response ready there is no way you could even gather info in time to respond)
– Pricing was agreed to beforehand so that it could be used to justify the targeted contractor (if you bid too high or too low they could use that as a tie breaker in case you got close in the rest of your requirements)

As far as I know these shortcuts were taken in the interest of hurrying a project along… and largely because the intended contractor was a known entity. If an underachieving contractor won a bid it was a HUGE headache for both our schedule and budget.

What always made me the most angry was when hiring was done via the same process. Usually people got hired to the GS world only after their performance was vetted as a contractor. If management liked someone’s performance as a contractor they would steal them away by writing a vague job announcement that had ridiculous requirements for exact words/phrases in CVs (then the requirements would be handed over to the applicant).

It was always done in a manner where it would be your word against theirs if you wanted to turn someone in. Never in email, never over the phone, nothing incriminating on paper.

jc (profile) says:

classic government

Having worked for a government run institution I would say this is par for the course. RFQs are almost always written with assistance from the desired vendor and “requirements” are created out of thin air in order to ensure that only 1 vendor can possibly meet the spec.

Efforts to end corruption have done nothing but create a legal framework to justify corruption.

James (user link) says:

Re: classic government

“Efforts to end corruption have done nothing but create a legal framework to justify corruption.”

Exactly, but you and I know the vast majority of people would rather not think about it aslong as they are doing ok for themselves.

One prediction may turn out true which is “man destroying man”. At the end of the day by hurting the people they are going to hurt themselves.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Never said it was – the difference is that Governments have this pretence of a fair competition.

However I should also have mentioned that these tricks don’t always work. Our company did manage to actually secure one of the contracts that had been set up (by and) for someone else. We had a partner who knew how to get past these things.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I think I missed something

They can’t sue ANYONE. Just the US government, because there are supposedly mandates and policies preventing the governments from playing favourites with companies.

If it was simply “we don’t like your product”, I imagine there wouldn’t be an issue either. The only reason there’s a case seems to be because the DOI specifically stated that the solution needed to be MS.

Someone More Informed says:

Re: I think I missed something

… When the government issues an RFQ, they are planning on going out and looking for bidders for a specific something.
(Think of it like a reverse auction. Cheapest seller wins)

Namely, they go out and look for the cheapest, most efficient way to spend taxpayer money.

If the government refuses to view a cheaper alternative, simply because microsoft is paying off the people writing the RFQ, that’s anticompetitive, and likely illegal.

Chris Carpenter says:

Re: I think I missed something

It wouldn’t be for a company, but the government has a responsibility to the people to consider all options. It appears that they are not even considering any option but Microsoft, therefore they are being unethical (if not illegal) and should be forced to at least allow other vendors to propose their solutions. Not that they would be likely to consider them anyways, since our government is pretty much owned by Microsoft and other corporations.

Oliver Style says:

Re: I think I missed something

The article explains why it’s illegal. The federal government is obligated to obtain competing offers because they should be saving taxpayer funds and getting the best value for their money. Imagine if you were living in an apartment building and you paid expensive HOA dues and your HOA board decided to spend a ton of the building’s money to replace the roof but they only got a bid from one company, which happened to be a lousy roofing company charging way too much. Wouldn’t you pissed off?

YetAnotherBob says:

Re: I think I missed something

The US Federal Government has a rule that unless there is some reason to believe that only one Vendor can supply the requirements, there must be a minimum of three bidders.

This would be the basis of Google’s lawsuit. For Online documents, there are more than 3 possible bidders. Microsoft, Google and Oracle come to mind immediately.

There may yet be more lawsuits before this is over. Google’s bid should have been considered. Even if the contract was awarded prior to the tendering. If reported accurately in the article, then it was an illegal bid, and will have to be re-bid.

When the Judge looks at it, he will have enough real information to decide. Reported facts often differ from real facts.

Fallen Kell says:

Re: I think I missed something

Because the government is required by law to have an open bid process for items they purchase. But in this case, the product specifications which they opened for bidding required it to be a Microsoft product, in a sense, basically saying only Microsoft is allowed to win this contract, but we are following the law for bids by placing the contractor we want to win as being a requirement for the product being purchased, and it is still open to all bidders, as long as they are named Microsoft.

Jon (profile) says:

Re: I think I missed something

Chronno, The reason Google can sue is because the customer is the US Government. The Government is required by law to consider all bids from private companies. This has two purposes; first, it prevents the government from getting to cozy with a private company, and second, it is supposed to protect the tax payers.

Imagine that you are a mayor of a city, and you have a friend to works in construction. It would be unfair for you to higher your friend to install new roads in your city, without considering bids from other contractors. This type of system would eventually turn into a “who knows who” and bribery system.

So the US Government ‘may’ have actually broken the law since they are required to have an open bid and consider all possible contractors.

Google has no right to sue any private party for not considering their products (Walmart, Ford, etc.) But they do have a right to sue the US Government. Everyone is supposed to get an even shot when it comes to public bids.

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Re: Wow

All governments are corrupt–with the occasional (*rare) exception of newly formed ones, and even then they remain corruptionless for only a short while.

In fact, it comes down to a larger problem: In the absence of government corruption, anarchy will give way to organized crime–who practice standard corruption of shakedowns (taxes) and murder (penal code).

So really, the only question is do you prefer your organized crime to be in the form of a government or do you prefer your organized crime to be in the form of a mafia? Same sh*t, either way. But at least the governments attempt a little lip-service to the ideals of ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’ as it would do them no good service with the people do be seen for the despotic fascists they really are.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Wow

Not just India, Sandeep.

Everywhere.

I can point you to any number of federal contracts here in Canada that were rigged from day 1, often for the lamest of reasons.

Here in British Columbia all I need so is point you towards the sale of BC Rail, rigged from the start to go to Canadian National and, guess what?, it did!

Government corruption in letting contracts is as old as the concept of government. What’s different these days is the fiction of “open contract bids” which is just that.

Ken Hansen says:

Re: Google vs US Govt

That’s just silly – by Google’s own admission the Gov’t worked with them for months, so they can’t really say the Google option wasn’t considered – it was considered and rejected.

And I work in public education, there’s no problem specifying the product, the issue is the supplier – you need to price the item from several suppliers to find the lowest price.

fogbugzd (profile) says:

Competition is good

I worked in city government for a long time. I saw two good examples of the competitive bid process working.

We had always bought parking meters from the same company. The traffic department had all kinds of reasons for only using one company. Instead of ordering meters once a year they ordered a few every week in order to stay below bid requirements. They assured everyone that the we were getting a better-than-market price because the company knew we were loyal customers. A new City Manager came on board and insisted that they put out a competitive bid. We ended up buying the same meters from the same company, but the bid prices was 40% of the per-meter price we had been paying when they knew they did not have competition.

The other example was IT. The IT shop was hard-core HP. We needed a Unix box that was going to be located in the machine room, but would be independent of any other system. HP gave us a quote, and the IT Director assured us that for budgeting purposes we could count on their bid price matching the quote because that is what they always did. The specs that IT put together effectively locked us into the HP quote. My boss inserted a paragraph saying functional equivalents or better would be accepted. The HP rep was shocked when gave the contract to IBM. After the fact the IT director told us that he had not realized how much HP had taken his loyalty for granted. The next set of bids that they put in went to HP, but at much lower prices than he expected, and they were suddenly getting all kinds of offers for free services from HP. We also got a new sales rep.

Will Sizemore (profile) says:

@iamthekey,

I think you’re right, but it depends on the motive. Google seems to want to increase competition here, rather than just buy out the prime.

Government contract ethics is a difficult situation to navigate. The government and the companies bidding for contracts are always finding ethical dilemmas in the process and continually revising policies. Guess which costs more, between revising policies and going with what has been done for at least a year.

Personally, I would like to see the government use more Google services. I know that in some ways, they already do.

But to answer the question as to how its illegal to not consider some companies for certain contracts, the government does have some policies that exclude anyone but Microsoft, but also others that promise a fair look at all companies bidding. When it comes to certain jobs that the government has to contract out, much of the time, the government has to also know that the company and its employees are US Citizens who possess Security Clearances; especially with regard to the Department of Defense contacts for software and software maintenance.

That being said, when I was in the Army, it was almost impossible to use anything that wasn’t Microsoft, Adobe, or Symantec (or Norton) on a government computer. When I did get approval for Netscape or Firefox, it would only last until they pushed an update and removed my software using blanket policies.

Funny story; in 2003 my unit bought Macromedia (before Adobe acquired them) Dreamweaver for me to maintain the unit’s website and then told me I had to use FrontPage and my IT guys ‘acquired’ the copy of Dreamweaver from my desk while I was out to lunch.

iamtheky (profile) says:

I am the K-y.

Buying out the prime does increase competition. Nothing is preventing a partner facilitating services in the Microsoft Cloud, with what happens to be straight up google action? And what fun things would it do if it is the most successful. If this contract has tasks for enhancements seems a foot in the door is better than one in the pants.

And it is no more illegal to require the use of Microsoft’s cloud than it is to require the use of Microsoft’s O/s. I dont think it unreasonable to want to keep an environment as uniform as possible, so that those transferring positions within the environment do not have additional learning curves. Just so happens this environment is the entire GS land.

Anonymous Coward says:

Working with FARS

The problem is how the system is being used. Is it being used in Defense? There are DFARS requirements that need to be met. Is it non-defense? There are FARS requirements that need to be met.

Does Google meet FARS requirements?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Acquisition_Regulation

People love Google because they deliver software that simply works and has Easter eggs, but Microsoft got in a lot of trouble when they had “Easter eggs” in products in Microsoft Word because of FARS. As a result, they nixed the Easter Eggs.

Google should keep the model they have, including Easter Eggs for Consumer market (We love them) but when it comes to working with Government acquisitions, it’s a whole new ball of wax.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_eggs_in_Microsoft_products

“Microsoft formally stopped including Easter eggs in its programs as part of its Trustworthy Computing Initiative in 2002”

Phillip (profile) says:

Re: Working with FARS

this and the summary stated:
the GAO dismissed Google’s protest saying that since Google does not have a GSA schedule contract (i.e., what you need to sell to the gov’t), it was “not an interested party.”

Google isn’t even eligible to bid without a GSA schedule contract so it doesn’t matter. If they want to play the game they have to get the pieces to even compete.

It would be like me not registering to vote and showing up tomorrow then complaining that they won’t let me vote.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Working with FARS

Exactly. So what do you need to become an “interested party”? You need to segment your business along customers. Google right now is seen as a company that can deliver excellent solutions to end customers, but they are probably afraid that the same customer-grade solutions would be used in a FARS environment.

This is why I think the DoJ vs Microsoft antitrust case was important- Microsoft did such a good job focusing on the consumer market and it’s products didn’t properly document all the functionality of the software product. Flight simulators and pinball machine functionality weren’t in the RFQ. In lieu of a breakup, it’s possible that Microsoft responded by creating a group which cleansed the code and removed the Easter eggs prior to making it available for government consumption.

These days, Microsoft products are all sanitized, have no Easter eggs, and that brings us to today where Microsoft can’t figure out why people have a hard time liking their products.

Bruno Morency (user link) says:

Similar suit filed in Quebec in the past year

In a very similar fashion, Savoir Faire Linux, a Montreal-based open-source consulting shop, sued a Quebec government agency on very similar basis (mandating MS solution in a RFP) … and won.

If you can read French:
http://www.cyberpresse.ca/le-soleil/actualites/justice-et-faits-divers/201003/08/01-4258648-contrat-sans-appel-doffres-perdu-davance-dit-savoir-faire-linux.php
http://www.cyberpresse.ca/le-soleil/actualites/science-et-technologie/201006/03/01-4286630-le-logiciel-libre-remporte-une-victoire-en-cour.php

Steve R. (profile) says:

The Linux Solution

Considering that Linux and Open Office are free, one would expect more governments to use them. Especially with the budget problems most governments are now experiencing.

In fact, with Microsoft as the enterprise software vendor a lot of the expensive software provided is “useless” since the majority of government workers would seldom use it. Even MS Word, which is perhaps the most critical program, is seldom used to its full potential.

Horatio (user link) says:

Google sues government

There goes another distraction technique by Google. Google is in trouble. They are a one trick pony with their core business being eroded by Facebook, microsoft and other startups on the fringes.

To distract the media, they keep coming up with these stupid stunts to divert attention from them.

1. Few Months back they pulled some stunts with the Chinese government which backfired.

2. Few weeks ago we had some google cars driving themselves.

3. Few days ago they bought some big spectacular buildings for over 2 billion.

4. Today we are hearing that they are suing the US Government.

Google, cut the crap, innovate and stop stealing software from companies.

I shall prophesy that in the next 10 years Google will be dead. Don’t believe me and keep being buoyed by the android delusion.

You will wake up on the other side of midnight.

Anonymous Coward says:

office automation is not their job, this will be a tool to make that person more efficient. It is the exact same reason that RFQs for new systems specify exact requirements. So that people dont get shipped over to a department full of Macs and have to relearn how to use the tools to get their job done. It would be much more expensive to retrain everybody than it would to go with a higher bidder.

Patrick Olson says:

Is anyone really surprised here. Google doesn’t have a competitive product too boot. Most of their service have to go through their servers and the company was caught wardriving around the globe.

I think this was an easy decision for government…

Google has a long ways to go before they have a product which will compete against MS Office.

mhenriday (profile) says:

Allegations that it was for reasons of security

that the US Department of the Interior floated a request for quotation which only considers proposals involving the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite might want to consider reading, just as one example of many, Dan Goodin’s recent Reg article (goo.gl/AB3p0). Security problems, as we all know, are rife in IT, but to propose Microsoft as the solution shows either naked self-interest or a degree of naivet? which is hardly credible. Writing a specification to pass a given company’s product and only that product is not the way to run an organisation, whether government or private – although it may benefit the personal economies of certain officials….

Henri

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