The City of New Orleans, Louisiana has entered into a preliminary agreement with Microsoft to provide $100 million worth of computer software and services to City Hall and the Police free of charge. The massive gift comes with just one catch: New Orleans must allow Microsoft to use the city as a model for marketing its software and services to other municipalities once it's up and running. Greg Meffert, the city's technology officer, says that New Orleans will eventually have to purchase some software from the company as well, but that the cost is "miniscule."
Coming as it does during a period of heated exchange over the use of open source software solutions in governments in the US and worldwide, Microsoft's gift is somewhat controversial. However, New Orleans officials say that it will save the city enormous amounts of money and provide Microsoft will the real world experience it needs to sell similar plans to other cities. And because the software and services are a gift, New Orleans will not need to publicly bid the project.
To meet New Orleans' needs, Microsoft will port a system it originally developed for Oklahoma, the Offender Data Information System, which will link the city with dozens of law enforcement agencies, jails, and court systems. The system also provides online mug shots, warrants and other similar information. The current system in New Orleans is ancient, close to capacity and in danger of a "meltdown," according to city officials. A single system crash could forever destroy critical data, they say.