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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

IT Majors Slam Ministry Tender

The federal government's 50 billion ruble ($1.7 billion) plan to wire its public school system is being contested by international computer majors left out of the project.

At least three IT companies — Sun Microsystems, Apple Computer and Russian company Arsenal — say the Education Ministry, which is overseeing the project, chose Microsoft as the software supplier without considering similar products of their own.

The Cabinet is slated to consider "the creation of a singular educational informational environment, 2001 to 2006" on Thursday. The first stage, which the government expects to complete by the end of the year, calls for providing Internet access and 50,000 computers to 3,000 rural schools.

Sun, Apple and Arsenal all claim the government did not hold a proper tender for software suppliers. They say their proposals to the Education Ministry went unheeded because Microsoft was chosen before the competition was announced in March.

"Microsoft is doing the same [as] what Microsoft is doing worldwide — it's absolutely clear monopoly behavior," said Yevgeny Butman, head of DPI, Apple's representative in Russia.

"From nonofficial conversations with Microsoft people, I can conclude that they made a lot of efforts to have in that tender only their platform and software," Butman said.

Olga Dergunova, managing director of Microsoft Russia and CIS, said the ministry ran an open review of different technologies before the tender announcement and that Microsoft took part with other vendors.

But the feud is aimed not so much at Microsoft as at the ministry for not doing its homework in full, the companies said.

Education Ministry documents obtained by The Moscow Times show Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office were technical requirements for the competition announced in March. That requirement still did not completely close the door to others, however, since Microsoft software can be run on an Apple platform.

The Education Ministry said the Economic Development and Trade Ministry gave it permission to do so.

Microsoft was chosen because it is already used in the country's schools, said Yevgeny Vishtinetsky, head of the Education Ministry's computerization department.

"Microsoft is everywhere," he said.

It is still unclear when Microsoft closed its contract with the ministry to provide software.

Competitors said that is no reason to choose the product, and touted their own experience in computerizing education. Sun's country manager, Sergei Tarasov, said the government, which according to sources is paying Microsoft almost $5 million to install its products, is wasting its money. He said Sun offers a comparable product, Star Office, for free and that Sun was prepared to offer to schools for free CD-ROMs to install the program.

Their complaints followed the publication of an "open letter" last week on the Internet signed by the country's most powerful players in the IT sector, including Anatoly Karachinsky of Information Business Systems and Dmitry Mendrelyuk of Computerra.

The letter called for fair tender procedures and equal treatment of Russian and foreign producers and had a slight nationalist tone.

However, right after it went on the RuNet, Karachinsky said he was taking his name off the list. He complained that the words had been changed and that he had visited the Education Ministry and was convinced the process was fair. He said the letter was a throwback to Soviet times and anti-foreigner propaganda.

Karachinsky was put off by the tactics of one company, Arsenal, which he claims sent letters to the Security Council complaining about the selection of Microsoft. According to Karachinsky, one letter said, "Let's not teach our children on foreign products." The initiator of the "open letter," Mikhail Donskoi, works at DISCo, whose programs make up a small portion of Russian Office, a competitor to Microsoft Office that is run by Arsenal.

For all the fuss, there is a consensus that many rural schools are in desperate need of computers and Internet access. "It's one of the few government programs that is concerned with the future," Karachinsky said.

President Vladimir Putin put his stamp of approval on the proposal in December, calling it "necessary to support" in a memo to the Cabinet.

The federal government, regional governments and sponsors will foot the 50 billion ruble bill evenly, Vishtinetsky said.