The National Programme for IT (NPfIT) has concluded an evaluation project with Sun Microsystems over the potential use of Sun’s open-source Java Desktop System within the NHS as an alternative to Microsoft.

E-Health Insider can exclusively reveal that NPfIT “has concluded that the Java Desktop System, which runs on the Linux operating system, represents a viable desktop alternative for certain types of user communities.”  The National Programme has “purchased 5,000 licences for some tactical deployments".

Charles Andrews, director of public sector with Sun Microsystems UK told EHI “We’re very pleased and excited to be part of desktop systems in the NHS.” He confirmed that the deal was the first major sale of the system to the NHS. “We’re pleased to see the national programme talking about using open source to ensure interoperability in the future."

Describing the Sun Java Desktop sstem, Andrews said: “It’s an open systems desktop environment that makes use of a lot of open source products.  Sun then indemnifies the system and provides support."  The desktop system is sold on a subscription basis, providing predictability of costs.

Sun’s Java Desktop System comprises a suite of open source software, which runs on Linux with the Gnome desktop and the Sun Office Suite (previously known as the Star Office Suite). “It has a very standard and familiar feel," says Andrews.

Duncan McNeil, chief technology officer for the NPfIT commented, “The national programme continues to view the use of open source software and open systems architecture as a key way of achieving best value and systems interoperability into the future.” He added that Sun’s Java System software “is the enterprise infrastructure software underpinning the NHS CRS". 

In December 2003 Richard Granger, NHS IT director general, said of the Sun’s open source desktop system.  “If this solution were to prove effective we could save the NHS and the taxpayer many millions of pounds whilst at the same time using rich and innovative software technology."

The NPfIT contract win may though represent something of a wooden spoon for Sun should the NHS re-award the vastly bigger desktop corporate licensing deal for 1.2 million NHS desktops to Microsoft again.  Microsoft was awarded a three-year corporate licensing deal to the NHS in October 2001.

An NPfIT spokesperson confirmed to EHI that a recommendation for the NHS desktop corporate licensing deal was “currently with Treasury for approval".

Microsoft is heavily involved in the NPfIT.  It counts iSOFT as a strategic partner, with which it has global development agreement.  Microsoft’s .Net technology underpins iSOFT’s Lorenzo product, the core application being offered by Accenture in the North East and Eastern, and CSC in the North West and West Midlands.  Lorenzo is understood to be specifically designed to fully integrate with Microsoft’s core Office and database products.

Negotiations between Microsoft and NPfIT on a new corporate licensing deal for desktop have been running for most of 2004.  On 21 February 2003, NHS IT Director General Richard Granger was reported in the Times as saying that discussions were underway for a product tailored for the NHS: “They (Microsoft) are talking about making specific products for the health sector… taking Office and converting it into a look and feel that would be appropriate for clinicians. It will be the first of its kind… a generic platform specified for use by medical professionals."

The purchase of 5,000 licenses from Sun is separate to the six enterprise agreements announced by NPfIT on 16 August covering Cisco, EMC Computer Systems, Hewlett Packard, SeeBeyond and Sun. The enterprise agreement with Sun covered infrastructure, server and storage hardware in relation to the NHS Care Records Service (CRS).