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Labour Government has No Standards

I was just reading an interesting story in MacFormat magazine about the NHS. They’ve spent a load of dosh (they can’t do anything without spending a load of dosh, apparently) on bringing themselves into the online age with a couple of applications – Choose and Book, and the even more expensive Electronic Patient Record system.

Anyway, they’ve spent £5,600,000,000 to be exact. That’s £5.6 billion. Plus £64.5 million on top. Like a kind of tip…

The story unfolds on Page 8 of the April issue of the mag “Safari users failed by NHS” and describes how NHS online schemes are unavailable to thousands of Mac users because the NHS systems only support Microsoft Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers.

Health Minister Ben Bradshaw was queried in the House of Commons by the Conservative’s Stephen O’Brien about the £64.5 million Choose and Book appointments system and replied in a written answer using what can only be called Microsoft-speak:

Because of the number of browser versions available to internet users, priority has been given to certification of the application against the most popular browsers in the first instance.

Well, that is strange. I thought there was such a thing as Internet Standards? You know, rules like we have for driving – drive on the left, steering wheel on the right, accelerator on the right, clutch on the left and brake in the middle. Standards that when used mean that any manufacturer can build a car that works on the road, and that any driver can use without having to learn a new system.

On the internet there is a set standard, even a set of standards, and the best websites use what is known as “Standards compliant coding” which basically means they only have to design and code for one International Standard. It is then up to the browser writers to comply with those agreed standards. This saves a lot of money for developers.

I mean, why develop for many different systems when you could develop for just one global standard?

Ah, but that doesn’t help Microsoft sell their software does it, because when there are standards that anyone can use, there is no way to lock them in to having to buy Microsoft. Microsoft have a long history of sabotaging international standards, as we have just seen with the ISO voting process for Microsoft’s OOXML file format when there was already a perfectly adequate ISO standard with far wider acceptance in the Open Document Format (ODF).

That’s exactly what they have done with the internet. In order to force users to buy their Operating Systems they incorporated features into their browser that were sufficiently different to the agreed standards to make life difficult for those with different browsers. In fact, in many ways Internet Explorer does not read standards compliant websites awfully well at all – it’s a flawed browser on many levels, not least of which being security, something of a concern where our health records are concerned.

It’s the waste that gets me though. How on earth could the government spend £5.6 billion on any computer system at all? And then not have it fully working? That’s a lot of tax money. It’s a lot of free prescriptions. It’s a lot of patient beds, a lot of life-saving equipment. Oh, I forgot, it’s also a lot of profit for Microsoft and its supporters.

Well, at least we know what the NHS considers most important then.


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