Telstra IT chief slams claims of 'Linux turf war'

Offers a lesson on manners to vendors

The head of Telstra's technology division opened up with both barrels last week over reports the Australian telco’s CIO, Jeff Smith, has been sidelined because of the failure of open source initiatives.

In 2002–03 Telstra looked at replacing most of its Microsoft desktop systems with Linux and Sun's StarOffice, but according to The Australian newspaper, the open source initiatives failed to get traction and Telstra has re-signed its desktop services with Microsoft.

New Zealand subsidiary TelstraClear was never part of the open source initiative.

Telstra group managing director for technology innovation and products, Ted Pretty vowed neither he nor Smith will be bullied by vendors — regardless of flavour or creed — into making decisions based on platform rather than business sense.

Pretty slammed reports over the last week in The Australian alleging Smith had been sidelined in favor of recently appointed deputy CIO Vish Padbranham over an operating system turf war as "factually incorrect in a number of respects".

Pretty also rejected as completely unfounded the assertion of a battle royale within Telstra IT between pro-Linux and StarOffice Smith and elements loyal to Microsoft.

"When we started to look at the deployment we said we would use an open source solution in some part of our environment; we do, we use it in storage. But on the desktop, we always said we would look at those productivity tools at the desktop level … and the reality is that Microsoft will be there and I’m happy with that decision," Pretty said.

Pretty then went on to validate Telstra’s — indeed Smith’s — repetitive and overt flirtations with open source on the desktop as a blunt instrument to hammer a better deal out of Microsoft.

"Do I think that the whole open source debate put pressure on Microsoft to rethink its approach to its customers, rethink its pricing and do all of those things? Absolutely. Have we benefited from that? Absolutely. I think it’s changed the nature of how they operated and I think that’s good," Pretty said.

Pretty said Telstra’s current IT operating cost reduction estimates, pegged at some $A750 million, were assessed "without any output from a Microsoft versus Linux fight" — thus making any discount obtained from Redmond icing on the cake for Telstra’s targets.

However, the Telstra group MD confirmed there had been an internal probity check on Jeff Smith — with no adverse finding — after HP "raised an issue" regarding the awarding of a hardware contract to Dell.

"They weren’t happy they weren’t awarded a particular bid. This is not uncommon … vendors suggesting [they] did not get a bid because someone doesn’t like [them] or some other element. There was no formal complaint, there was an issue raised by one of their sales people. We looked at the issue, fully investigated it with an internal audit and there was no case to answer," Pretty said.

Not content to stop there, Pretty went on to deliver a short lesson on manners to prospective IT hawkers knocking on Telstra’s door.

"The vendors should not be driving our activities. We shouldn’t be announcing vendors, that shouldn’t be our policy. I am very much against that. Vendors don’t drive the business, we drive the business. We select our vendors. If a vendor didn’t perform, I’m going to change that vendor."

Asked directly if StarOffice or Linux was ever really in the running for the most recent round of Telstra desktop operating system refreshes, Pretty said, "Not really".

"The IT industry whipped itself into a frenzy about StarOffice and Microsoft and [also] open source as a separate issue. Now we are seeing where the rubber hits the road. We have to push it, put it under load and see if the promise is there. There is no pressing need to accelerate," Pretty said.