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U.S. Army Warns Microsoft To Back Off 635

Posted by simoniker
from the or-else dept.
declan writes "My CNET News colleague Ina Fried has written an interesting article today about how the U.S. Army has told Microsoft to stop sending free CD-ROMs of Office 2003 to government employees. In what's effectively a cease and desist order, the Army said: 'Your offer of free software places our employees and soldiers in jeopardy of unknowingly committing a violation of the ethics rules and regulations to which they have taken an oath to uphold.' Whoops! Perhaps this is Microsoft's latest way to fight free software at the Pentagon. Remember that just 8 months ago, the Army paid $471 million for Microsoft licenses."
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U.S. Army Warns Microsoft To Back Off

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  • by andy55 (743992) * on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:23PM (#8527624) Homepage

    Yep... I'm in the navy and this new item hit the streets last week (I considered submitting it as a story--oh well). We had guys and civilian contractors in our building getting free copies of office. My hate for ms reached a new high--talking about caught red-handed trying to plant seeds that will secure them--argh.

    Separately, as a member of the military and despiser of the pitiful quality of ms products, I've always been strongly concerned about the military's use of ms products. The military, like many parts of the government, subcontract-out most tech work and implementation. The contractors, with sealed pay rates and support plans, have no problem deploying huge ms flagships at given branch or sub branch of the military (and then forwarding all the licensing bill to uncle sam). In other words, the root concern is that senior military folks that make the money decisions, need to get the job done but don't have a technical background (ie, to them, linux, microsoft, a server, source code, hacking, and TCP/IP are all one and the same). The contractors drum up offers, the military takes one, and--wham--the US gov't is now shelling out to ms in huge numbers and there's no one who looks at and says, 'is this the best way we could be doing it?'

    If you've been around the government, you know what I mean about how scary the contractors are in terms of quality and knowledge when it comes to industrial back-end technologies. I'm on shore tour now, but when I was on my sub, you'd see these people doing a software install by blindly reading out of a SPAWAR procedure. I'd ask them stuff as they went along to gain knowledge and tips, but I usually got back a sheepish "I'm not sure". Grr...

    Andy
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:55PM (#8527897)
      Funny you should mention SPAWAR.... :)

      I work at a SPAWAR Systems Center and it was my understanding that the Navy bought a 'Select' license from Microsoft. So we have been passing around Windows 2000/Office/Visual Studio CDs and just calling up Microsoft licensing to get keys.
      So Im not sure why its a big deal if MS is sending free CDs to the army, I imagine that they have a similar licensing arrangement as we (navy) do.

      As for contractors, my experience has been that they might use windows platforms, but they roll out their own proprietary solutions (like web services, etc.) to lock the navy into hiring them for maintenance contracts. Things that MS has a solution for (dot net for example) may do the job but contractors won't touch it, they offer their own homegrown solutions. Not to say that dot net is great (it isnt) but I think contractors are even worse than Microsoft.

      Unfortunately their is a huge bias towards outsourcing everything to contractors and not trust government workers (I'm a civilian federal employee) to do the job. Most of the money that goes through the center just goes out to the contractors, which I think is a huge mistake. The contractors keep all the technology closed, don't tell us anything useful on how to modify their systems, and expect just fat checks.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @10:54PM (#8528275)
        I also work for SPAWAR in an aquisitions branch, but evidently not under the same center as you, since we pay out the nose for each and every MS product (and everything else) we buy. GSA pricing is usually a joke - we end up paying retail for virtually anything IT related. The problem with alternatives is not one of user ability, because as one of the above posters mentioned, the right linux distro would work just as easily as Windows for most navy users. The problem is change (of any kind).

        With very few exceptions, we buy nothing but Windows and Intel for PC aquisitons, since woefully few of the senior engineers and scientists (who really dont deserve those titles anymore) know any different. Since it is so hard to fire a govie, the govt. is bloated with people who haven't meaningfully increased their techincal skillset since they graduated from college in the 70s.

        SPAWAR, at least, recognizes their problem and a few people with a clue are trying to change things. They are trying to clear out some of the good-old-boy cruft and the stagnant dead weight. Some of the fresh-outta-school new professionals (myself included) are trying to exert what little influence we have to push for some alternative platforms and architectures in the work place. I have a few linux boxes up for internal uses and am working on a mosix cluster, among other things. Not much, but I guess its a start, and the bigwigs are starting to take notice.

        We joke that if some monster new windows worm went tearing through the network we would be the only ones with functioning computers. Unfortunately, its probably not so far from the truth.
    • by EvilTwinSkippy (112490) <yoda@@@etoyoc...com> on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @10:01PM (#8527943) Homepage Journal
      Hey, I work in a science museum. 4 years ago I took over, and we went from no network to speak of to email and internet for everyone in the building.

      At the time the VPs insisted on bringing in hired guns to sanity check what I was doing. Heck, I didn't mind. Besides, all they knew was Cisco and exchange. I pretty much had to write their report on how linux operates as an email server, a firewall, and a web server. (Not that organizations hadn't been using Linux for years at that point.) Heck, I even ended up doing most of the legwork for the audits.

      Needless to say, after that experience I have found that contractors are at best a sounding board. You sure as hell better have an idea of what you want before you call them.

      Unfortunately most people don't have a clue.

    • by Camel Pilot (78781) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @10:03PM (#8527963) Homepage Journal
      Well the Navy has sold its IT soul to the NMCI contract [eweek.com] that stipulates that all desktops and servers and office productivity tools will be MS products. All others will be classified as "legacy" applications and will be schedules for rehosting. This includes all things that touch the network - databases, webservers, etc.

      As the deployment is progress they are finding that people do more then send email and write word documents and they have to leave some of the existing infrastructure intact and many have two desktop machines - the nmci email kiosk and the other machine where work gets done. This neither lower costs or inceases security - both goals of the contract.

      Also if they are successful the Navy will be a sitting duck with a monoculture IT infrastructure and a successful exploit will be able to cripple it in short order.

      The NMCI contract is the largest IT contract ever and you hear scant little about it in the press. I sure hope some watchdog group or even the GAO start monitoring the progress of this contract.

      • by rot26 (240034) * on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @10:40PM (#8528198) Homepage Journal
        My productivity will fall to zero when they take my legacy machine away, but it WILL happen. They have determined that nobody is using the NMCI machines BECAUSE the legacy machines are still available. They are fully aware that the NMCI network is pure shit, but the only way it will be fixed is when people actually USE it and start opening trouble tickets to address problems, and the only way people will use them to find these problems is when they no longer have legacy machines. I expect to walk into my office and find it gone any day now.
      • by DataPath (1111) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @11:12PM (#8528437)
        Yep, and EDS has royally screwed up that contract, too. Late deployments, deployments costing much more than forecast (but I think EDS has to eat up the difference), reduced productivity.

        It has also killed a lot of small businesses that used to supply technology and office materials to Navy bases. For office supply and technology purchases, there are strong incentives to buy locally, even if it costs more (which sounds bad, but has a VERY good reason). With EDS doing it all, (some) local economies around these bases have been tanking.
      • by Geoffreyerffoeg (729040) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @11:27PM (#8528563)
        If the US Armed Forces are ever defeated (as in we tried hard but they thoroughly pwned us, not as in we pulled out or didn't have the soldiers) it will not be for technological inferiority. It will not be for a strategic failure. The US has spent many, many resources ensuring this is unlikely to happen. It will be for something unexpected and completely unrelated to actual battle.

        If any of the Armed Forces are locked into one platform (be it Microsoft or Linux or...) it will open a wide hole for any cracker employed by the opposing governments. The homogeneity will ensure that something that takes one computer will take them all.
    • by UberGeeb (574309) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @10:41PM (#8528205)
      More likely, the problem here is that these can be taken to be bribes. There are very strict rules in place for US federal and state employees of all types regarding accepting gifts in an official capacity.
    • by kir (583) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @11:28PM (#8528569) Homepage
      I'm one of those "scary" DoD contractors and I have to agree with much of what you've said. But, much of the blame for M$ M$ M$ does not fall on the contractors. The military WANTS M$. PERIOD.

      I advocate Linux every chance I get. I recently convinced the command I work for to purchase several copies of Redhat Enterprise Linux for our perimeter services (proxy, web, etc.). It was a fight though. They just could not get M$ out of their heads. They simply could not understand that there are alternatives out there. In their world, all web servers are IIS, all email servers are Exchange, all PCs are Windows.

      It wasn't until I told them that our perimeter services have been running on Linux for two years (regular Redhat) that they began to come around. I explained the EOL situation with Redhat Linux and that the most logical choice would be to move to RHEL since our AOSAs (Another OS Administrators) are already familiar with Redhat (ok... that's a stretch).

      They still weren't completely convinced until I detailed the security track records of IIS and Apache. They understood the significance, but weren't completely sold until I showed them a message detailing a group of recent defacements of Navy and Air Force IIS servers in our region (overseas). Then I showed them the Linux/Apache front-end proxy for our beloved Outlook Web Access server and how it would be nearly impossible to exploit many of the IIS vuls through it. Done and done.

      Sad.
  • by rootofevil (188401) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:24PM (#8527628) Homepage Journal
    but can they stop AOL cds as well? stemming that tide is well-nigh impossible.
  • I got one! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by weave (48069) * on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:24PM (#8527631) Journal
    I got two of those, as a matter of fact. They are full copies of Office 2003 and One Note. Not an evaluation, no time bomb, full featured.

    And you know what, there's a reason for it. Others where I work got copies as well, and they are already pushing for us to get an Exchange server. There are many features in the new "Office System" that require server support. When you try to use a feature that requires support on the server, a message pops up about how you need to contact your systems administrator to find out how to enable this great new feature.

    • Re:I got one! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by g4sy (694060) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:28PM (#8527666) Homepage

      Totally agree.. it's all just a conspiracy to get Outlook into as many computers as possible. They know that the main battle is being fought over the groupware. Whoever controls the groupware of an organization will have a big influence on the rest of the software installed.

      For anyone who doesn't beleive me, just try migrating Exchange server / Outlook to anything else, and you'll realize the depth of the insidiousness of microsoft mailing out copies of Outlook. They are miring IT department with otherwise good intentions.

      • Also insidious... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:43PM (#8527798)
        A while back when I was an IT monkey, I seem to remember Office2000 would install Outlook even if you specified not to, in the custom install. And don't get me started on trying to uninstall internet explorer...

        This is why I turned to *nux and never looked back.
  • by glen604 (750214) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:26PM (#8527642)
    Now we just need the Army to go after spammers, SCO, and the like.... and back it up with tanks! lots of tanks!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:26PM (#8527646)
    Could you please send me a copy of Windows XP,
    Office XP, Visual Studio .Net, and any other programs
    you sell? I would like a copy of all of them. You
    know my address.


    Thank you,


    Anonymous Coward

  • This is great.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 222 (551054) * <stormseeker@gmai ... om minus painter> on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:26PM (#8527650) Homepage
    Microsoft: Hey, looks like you dropped a 50 dollar bill... /wink
    Army: Were you just trying to bribe an army official?
    Microsoft: Uhh, no..that must have been mine!
    lol, thanks slashdot. I needed a chuckle.
    Its actually interesting to read this, I just assumed that things like these happen all the time. Its nice to see safegaurds such as this in place AND functioning.

    ["The department, which oversees national parks and other federal lands, concluded last month that the software constituted an unacceptable gift--one valued at more than $20 and from a party with whom the department does business or whom it regulates."]
    The article goes on to mention how many govt are looking into open source ;)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:26PM (#8527651)
    ...they had absolutely no interest in AOL's high-speed technology and were threatening unilateral action.
  • Army: Stop sending us your products.
    Microsoft: What if we don't?
    Army: We'll make you
    Microsoft: You and what army?
    Army: . . .
    Microsoft: Oh.
  • by Realistic_Dragon (655151) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:27PM (#8527661) Homepage
    If I were to mail unchecked binary files to senior officers and ask them to run them without verifying the contents for trojans, worms or viruses the Department of Homeland Insecurity would likley have me shot in their Happy Fun Camp at Guantanamo.

    And unlike a certain company *I* don't have a criminal conviction, a record of giving things that could hurt national security to the Chinese (Windows source code) or a past history of underhand payments to subvert the political process!

    Where is the justice in that?
  • donate to schools (Score:3, Informative)

    by tedshultz (596089) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:29PM (#8527672)
    I remember there was a commotion about gifts being given to employees at a VA hospital near me a few years ago. Basically the result was the management said any gift worth more than ~$20 must be given to a charity. I bet a lot of schools and charities would love that software.
    • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:49PM (#8527846) Journal
      I bet a lot of schools and charities would love that software.

      I bet the kiddies would love a free bag of herion or crack, too. But does that mean you should donate one?

      Let's not get another generation hooked on Windows.
    • by macdaddy (38372) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @10:04PM (#8527971) Homepage Journal
      But that's just spreading the monopoly even further. I don't want my local school district to get Office for free. I want them to have to caugh up $25k out of thei extremely small budget for licenses. I want it to cost them a much as it can. Hopefully someone will eventually realize that they can do it for a whole lot cheaper with Macs or Linux boxes. Also you can bet that every single free copy of Office or Windows they give away is one they automatically count as a new user, even if the user uses the CD as a coaster. That's not fair either.
  • Military Computers (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Sir Homer (549339) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:29PM (#8527674)
    I was on the carrier USS Kennedy the other day I remember seeing virtually every computer terminal onboard running MS Windows in some form or another. I didn't see the nuclear portions of the ship, but you never know...
  • by Baddsectorr (709324) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:30PM (#8527682) Homepage
    I'm still trying to figure out why people still use or pay for a word processor?! Seems silly to actually buy a suite for over 400 bucks USD. I love OpenOffice on the Windows side, and it runs on Windows 95 machines flawlessly.
  • HUGE NO-NO (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FatRatBastard (7583) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:32PM (#8527699) Homepage
    My dad used to work in the contracts office in the Air Force and you couldn't accept anything that could be considered a gift. (IIRC there may have been a monetary cap on what you could accept but it was really low; even legitimate things like Christmas baskets or company tchotskes were frowned upon, which kind of weirded out suppliers the first time they dealt with the military since it could come across as rude when an Airman tells you to take your fruit basket home with you). Violation of this was taken very seriously. As big and established as MS is -- not to mention the fact they've dealt with the gov't on a contractual level for over 20 years -- this is a pretty boneheaded move. They should have known better and whoever authorized this should get shit-canned.
    • by nacturation (646836) <nacturation&gmail,com> on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:52PM (#8527877) Journal
      Quoting from the article:

      "Government Entities: Microsoft intends that this product be used in accordance with applicable laws and regulations for the evaluation, use and benefit of your government agency only," Microsoft states in the note. "You may, at your discretion, return this product package to Microsoft at its expense."

      Okay, sending back at Microsoft's expense is easy. Just send it via UPS SonicAir [ups.com] same-day service. Doing a quick quote, from Texas (for example) back to Redmond would cost at least $264.94. Also, be sure to send it in the evening so that nighttime charges apply, and from obscure locations so the extended mileage also figures into the cost. If you do it right, you could get it up into the thousands depending on location (overseas stations?) and time of day. If there aren't any commercial flights, you can have UPS charter a plane just for your CD. Oh, and send each CD back separately for maximum effect.

      When you absolutely, positively, have to stick it to Microsoft.
    • Re:HUGE NO-NO (Score:4, Informative)

      by thewiz (24994) * on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @11:46PM (#8528693)
      IIRC there may have been a monetary cap on what you could accept but it was really low; even legitimate things like Christmas baskets or company tchotskes were frowned upon, which kind of weirded out suppliers the first time they dealt with the military since it could come across as rude when an Airman tells you to take your fruit basket home with you.

      I've worked as a contractor to the USAF and it's the same for contractors as it is for the military: no gift over $10.00 in retail value may be accepted as a gift from a vendor. Things like mouse pads, coffee cups, items that would be considered swag at a trade show, etc. If it's over $10.00, then you have to politely return the item and notify your manager/commanding officer. What Microsoft is doing is considered to be an attempt at BRIBING a government official/representative. They've been working with the government and military long enough to know this. It sounds like Microsoft still thinks the rules don't apply to them.
  • Military Guy here (Score:5, Interesting)

    by An-Unnecessarily-Lon (761026) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:32PM (#8527701) Journal
    I am a Network Admin Here in AK and I can tell you that one of the most poisonous aspects of .Mil networking is Civillians. The other is the decisions made by Command Sections who are only interested in one thing, Budgets. It sucks being told that your decision base on good sound Tech principles is not what they want to hear because of the cost involved. The free software giveaway came about because a lot of paperwork is created in time with no war. Therefor people have to take their work home to get finished to make deadlines. So leadership said take a copy home install it. The Mil makes you use it. you have to get the work done so you are entitled to a free copy. Integrity is the hardest thing to keep.
  • OpenOffice? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ErichTheWebGuy (745925) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:33PM (#8527710) Homepage

    Wonder what would happen if we all sent OpenOffice.org CD-ROMS [openoffice.org] to not only the Army, but to other government agencies? Seems like a fantastic marketing idea to me, and I dont think (?) that employees would be breaking ethics rules, since it is free software.
  • by powerpuffgirls (758362) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:34PM (#8527717)
    So how do you think the market will react if we are spoilt with choice between Microsoft product and Linux products, all free of charge?

    Most of us here would choose Linux any day not because of the price, but the freedom and security. But how would the mass consumers think of it?

    With MS's cash reserve, they could very soon use such tactics, like they have a cheaper version of Windows for pirate-infested countries.
  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:35PM (#8527729)
    This is the same reason why anybody remotely connected to an academic institution can get software at cut-rate prices. The hope is whatever vendor's software you learn first, you stick with.

    Microsoft's trying to make sure every government employee runs Microsoft at home so that the government can't risk losing compatibility with everybody's home systems. Of course, the fact that giving something worth $500 to government employees is considered a "bribe" is something Microsoft doesn't care about, since when did laws get in the way of their operations?
  • by Kickstart70 (531316) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:35PM (#8527731) Homepage
    I bet the Army pays about $3 for small arms fire targets. These are perfectly free and visibly shatter when shot. Rather than complain, the Army should request that they send more to make our fighting troops better shots!
  • Bill: apperantly we violated some rules regarding 'ethics'. You ever here of it?
    Ballmer: I think there was something in a college course, but I'm not sure.
    Bill: hmm, See if you can buy this ethics things, so we can get back to telling the government what to do.
  • by Wesley Felter (138342) <wesley@felter.org> on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:47PM (#8527826) Homepage
    For quite a while Microsoft (and probably plenty of other software companies) has been donating software to schools and taking a tax write-off for the full retail cost. Not only is the first one free but it's apparently a tax benefit for MS.
  • by rindeee (530084) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:48PM (#8527840)
    I just returned from days of meetings that involved folks from the NMCI group, NSA, NIST, DoD, NAVSECGRU , CyberCorps and lots of others. I can assure you that within this area of the Fed (cyber-warfare, crypto, security, intel, etc.) that MS is a laughing stock. In the past this hasn't mattered terribly, but you have to understand that now things are very different. NSA/NIST (partnering as NIAP) now set the standard that all other agencies from the CIA down to the Dept. of Ag MUST follow. They establish the common criteria, define new directives and standards, etc. etc. aud nausiem. While MS isn't being thrown out, they are being gelded. It is a matter of time until the attitude held by these folks permiates the Fed as a whole. Linux is being pushed not becuase it's free, but because it's more readily secured. Much talk was bantied about on lots of OSS packages. I personally gave an impromptu class after hours to some of the less technical folks on installing and using Thunderbird + Enigmail + WinPT (GPG). Perhaps Linux/OSS truly is viral. It certainly is spreading as if it were. Keep the faith my friends.
  • by JoeShmoe (90109) <askjoeshmoe@hotmail.com> on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:53PM (#8527879)
    As I pointed out when I submitted the story, Microsoft already makes copies of Office that time out after 90-days or let you register via CC during the trial period. You can get them at most Kinko's and so on, and certainly somewhere on Microsoft's website.

    So if Microsoft true intention was to familiarize large customers with new features, wouldn't it make a lot more sense to send them:

    a) a self-running slideshow/video showing demonstrations of the new features (a la Video Professor, autoplay and go)

    b) the aformentioned 90-day trial edition so they could install and see how well it works and then turn around and requisition it if they find a reason to keep it

    c) MSDN or other licensed version that has no restrictions but the EULA clearly states the copy is not legit and cannot be used for actual business (development and testing only)

    Somehow I don't think that's what Microsoft is doing. What they are doing is handing out free license keys to what retails for $499+. That means whoever happend to open the colonel's mail could just slip the key in his or her pocket and take it home with them, register it on their home system and enjoy a free copy of an outragously priced package. I mean, if everyone gets a free copy for personal use, stands to reason when requisition time comes around, people will suggest Office 2003 like they have at home.

    This is bribery. Just because they call it marketting doesn't make it any less unethical. Otherwise, why can't GM just hand over the keys to their new SUV so that people can become "more familiar with our new features"? A legit Microsoft license (the actual hologrammed piece of paper with the key on it) is just as tangible and valuable as any other real-world freebie.

    -JoeShmoe
    .
    • by Detritus (11846) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @10:32PM (#8528148) Homepage
      I was watching a television show on the history of weapons used in the American Civil War. Colt Firearms did something similar. They sent beautifully engraved and inlaid Colt revolvers to many generals and public officials. They were just gifts, but it was an obvious attempt to gain influence with decision makers in the government.
  • DoD rules on Gifts (Score:5, Informative)

    by eodtech (225994) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:55PM (#8527896)
    The $20 / $50 rule is one of the key rules on employees accepting gifts from sources outside the government. This information paper is designed for employees of the Department of Defense (DoD).

    1. General rule against gifts. DoD employees are generally prohibited from accepting gifts that are from a "prohibited source" or that are offered "because of the employee's official position." [5 CFR 2635.202(a)]

    2. Definitions. The definition of "prohibited source" includes companies and organizations that do business or seek to do business with DoD. [5 CFR 2635.203(d)] A gift is offered "because of the employee's official position" if it is offered because of the status, authority or duties associated with the employee's Federal position. [5 CFR 2635.203(e)] "Market value means the retail cost the employee would incur to purchase the gift. An employee who cannot ascertain the market value of a gift may estimate its market value by reference to the retail cost of similar items of like quality." [5 CFR 2635.203(c)]

    3. Exceptions. There are about 30 exceptions to the general rule against gifts. One exception, which is called the $20 / $50 rule, provides that an employee may accept gifts of up to $20 in market value per source per occasion, so long as the total market value of the gifts received (under this rule) from one source does not exceed $50 in a calendar year. [5 CFR 2635.204(a)] One may not accept cash under the $20 / $50 rule. [5 CFR 2635.204(a)]

    4. Examples. Here are two examples of gifts that may be accepted under the $20 / $50 rule. First, an employee who gives a speech as part of her official duties may accept a thank you gift having a value of $20. Second, an employee may accept three $16 lunches from a DoD contractor in a calendar year.

    5. Buying down to $20. If you are offered a gift that has a value over $20, you may not "buy the gift down" to $20. [5 CFR 2635.204(a)] For example, if you are offered a $21 ticket to a baseball game, you may not pay $1.00 to whomever is offering the ticket, and then accept the ticket under the $20 / $50 rule.

    6. Combining items. If you are offered two separate items on the same occasion, and each item has a value under $20, and the items together have a value over $20, you may accept one of the items and decline the other. For example, if you give a speech as part of your official duties, and you are offered a $6 coffee mug and a $15 pen as thank you mementos, you may keep one or the other, but not both. [5 CFR 2635.204(a)(Example 2)]

    7. Different sources on the same occasion. Under the $20 / $50 rule, you may accept gifts of up to $20 in value "per source per occasion." This means that the $20 limit applies separately to each company or organization that is offering you a gift on a particular occasion. Here is an example from the ethics regulation.

    During off-duty time, an employee of the Department of Defense (DoD) attends a trade show involving companies that are DoD contractors. He is offered a $15 computer program disk at X Company's booth, a $12 appointments calendar at Y Company's booth, and a deli lunch worth $8 from Z Company. The employee may accept all three of these items because they do not exceed $20 per source, even though they total more than $20 at this single occasion. [5 CFR 2635.204(a)(Example 5)]

    8. Impermissible gifts. If an employee receives a gift that cannot be accepted under the $20 / $50 rule (or any of the other gift rules), the employee must do one of the following (unless the item is accepted by the agency under specific statutory authority). If the gift is a non-perishable tangible item, the employee must either return the item to the donor or pay the market value of the item to the donor. If the gift is a perishable item and it is not practical to return the item (such as flowers or a fruit basket), the item (at the discretion of the employee's supervisor or ethics official) may be given to an appropriate charity, may be sha
    • by Baron of Greymatter (156831) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @10:21PM (#8528070)
      At least they were when I worked for a major defense contractor in the '80s. Their rule was $0.00 - absolutely no gifts whatsoever. Not even a Big Mac for lunch or a coffee mug from a vendor/subcontractor's rep or a US Government agent or member of the military (our customer).

      Violations were a firing offense. My employer took ethics quite seriously, at least after some engineers and managers were caught taking bribes & gifts from vendors in the mid '80s. They were promptly fired and blackballed from the industry. Their clearances were permanently revoked so it was legal.

      Microsoft should properly be stripped of all government contracts for this violation. Too bad it won't happen. Bill Gates is Bill Gates.

    • by solarrhino (581267) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @10:44PM (#8528223) Homepage Journal
      When I was a defense contractor and we had military customers in for reviews, we would give them lunch - usually a buffet of some kind - but would put out a basket so that they could pay what they thought the lunch was worth.

      I have to give the Joes credit, they generally kicked in some reasonable amount - a few bucks each - evne though the company feed the rest of us too, and it would have been impossible for any accountant to tell if the Joes paid "enough".

      If this seems like jumping thru hoops, you have no idea how seriously the military takes its rules.

  • by gcore (748374) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:58PM (#8527921)
    I bet a school could really save some money by getting those "free as in beer" copies of Office.

    But hey, why should schools save money?
  • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @10:00PM (#8527930) Journal
    So software, claiming to be from Microsoft with a free license, is arriving at Army posts.

    No doubt it's intended to be installed by army personnel and used as an office suite while processing internal messages, right?

    If anybody on the command staff is thinking clearly, anybody who actually INSTALLS such an abomination has a LOT more to worry about than an Ethics violation.

    Just think: If you were in the Army would YOU use free-in-the-mail software to process sensitive military information?

    This is no joke. Battles have been lost because the size and location of the forces were betrayed by such things as an intercepted order for toilet paper.
  • Dear Bill (Score:5, Funny)

    by bgeer (543504) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @10:01PM (#8527940)
    Thanks so much for all the Office 2003 CDs, it was very thoughtful of you to send them by. However, have determined that they represent a threat to national security, so you will have to take them back at once. If you can't collect them all by tomorrow, we will return them to you ourselves.

    Unfortunately, due to the current conflicts our choice of couriers is limited, so we will have to return the CDs by loading them in pamphet-dispersion canisters and dropping them on your Redmond, WA offices.

    Love,
    The Army

  • The real goal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Greg@RageNet (39860) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @10:12PM (#8528017) Homepage
    The real goal of the program isn't gifts, it's the tried-and-true microsoft crowbar they use to get into any organization. One key 'early adopter' or in this case recipient of the software starts using the system. Then everyone who works with this person is forced to upgrade as the old versions are incompatable with the new version.

    Government employees are a great target for this because it forces all the non-governmental organizations that work with the government to get licensed for the software or face not being able to exchange documents.

    -- Greg

  • Damage control (Score:5, Interesting)

    by unoengborg (209251) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @10:16PM (#8528042) Homepage
    Since Microsoft introduced software activation, it has bin harder for non technical persons to pirate windows

    Could it be that Microsoft have discovered that the pirating done by home users did a good job in promoting their software as these users never would buy a full price copy anyway. But if they use it at home they would still be able to recommend it to friends and employers and help MS to help the MS-Office document file formats to being regarded as a defacto standard..

    If they get MS-Office for free, Microsoft may think that these home users are less likely to use OpenOffice.org at home, only to discover that it is very compativle withe the MS-Office suite and largely offers the same value as their expensive package. And then they are less likely to show their boss, or install it at work perhpas preventing Microsft from selling other products such as Exchange and database servers.

    Giving free software to employees companies and government agencies that have large Microsoft contracts is probably just the beginning.

    In fact I would notbe surprised Microsoft to bundle CDs with Windows and Office with every computer magazine you buy. The sofware will be licenced for private use only.

  • by Zakabog (603757) <john AT jmaug DOT com> on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @10:27PM (#8528117)
    Soldier: Sir you're coming too close to our computers
    Bill Gates: Come on just try it a little
    Soldier: I'm going to have to ask you to step away from the computers!
    Bill Gates: Come on here's a CD lemme just install it, it'll only take a minute
    Soldier: This is your last warning, if you do not leave this area you will be terminated immediately!
    Bill Gates: Here lemme just *reaches for a mouse*
    Soldier: FIRE!

    *right about here is some gruesome video of bill gates being ripped to shreds from M4 rounds*

    Wow it'd be like a real life xBill [xbill.org]
  • Flight Sims on Linux (Score:5, Informative)

    by sbaker (47485) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @10:46PM (#8528233) Homepage
    I design flight sims for the US military - our older products are on IRIX, our newer ones are Linux-based. Not an M$ system in sight - they just don't cut it for flexibility and reliability.
  • Microsoft... (Score:4, Informative)

    by bferlin (642337) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @11:00PM (#8528323)
    I'm sure this has been said a few times... but as an IT manager, I've already recieved three copies of Office2k3... one was sent to the last IT manager before me, one was sent to a name resempbling slightly mine (I never registered with them, but they call plenty to have figured my name out from other people at my company) and one for the Vice president right above me. It has to be apparent to EVERYBODY that the only way they can get lock in is to get as MANY people using thier software whose file formats are unreadable without the software. How do you do that? You get a few executives who may or may not have computer experience to use it, they send files to people who can't use them, and suddenly they say 'Well, IT, why can't they open them?' ... you say 'Well, because you have the newest version and they're using the old version/the Open version.' ... voila. Suddenly the upgrade is hurried because you can't see the one new feature that VP wants that the other copies don't do. I'm sure people still realize that the reason nobody bought office 2k for so long was because there was backwards compatability. People didn't need to upgrade until outlook 97 became a virus trap and you had to upgrade just to get rid of it. Now they need to start the lock-in again. I'm sure people all over the world were seeded with this software in an attempt to continue the cycle...
  • by AbbyNormal (216235) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @11:05PM (#8528378) Homepage
    how come it is so expensive in the stores? Can they afford to give it away? If so, can they afford to lower their price in stores? Hmmmm.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @11:34PM (#8528611)
    One thing the CNET article fails to point out is that the federal ethics rules governing gifts to federal employees are government-wide, not just for DOD, Interior or any other agency.

    That includes the $20/$50 gift limit ($20 for a single gift, $50 total for all gifts from a single source in a given year). All of this is administered by the Office of Government Ethics, an independent agency that used to be part of the Office of Personnel Management, another independent agency.

    http://www.usoge.gov

    The applicable regs are here, in S 2635.201:
    http://www.usoge.gov/pages/forms_pubs_o therdocs/fp o_files/reference/rfsoc_02.txt

    Or there's a handy cartoon pamphlet:
    http://www.usoge.gov/pages/forms_pubs_o therdocs/fp o_files/pamphlets/phgiftsfrmout_98.pdf

    I had to learn all about this because I used to work for a publishing company that was going to launch a magazine for federal workers that we were going to give to them for free ... and we basically could only $49.95 for nonfederal subscribers because that way the federal employees were only excepting a "gift" of that amount.

    Now I work in a small consulting shop. Microsoft has a program and gives us *everything* for free for our internal use because they want us to push it onto our clients. I'm talking Office, Server, Exchange, Project Server, whatever. Some of the big-time VARs and integrators get deals too.
  • MS Office 2003 may not be selling too well, but that is no excuse to give away free copies of it to government employees to boost marketshare.

    Rather it would be better to give free copies to the education market that cannot truely afford it. Our college still uses MS Office 2000, and trying to do a PowerPoint XP/2002 Slideshow on a machine with Office 2000 and a Projector loses a lot of the special effects and other things.

    Also interesting to note is the media copy protection that MS Office 2003 has in it. Another reason for avoiding MS Office 2003 and sticking with an older version of MS Office or going with OpenOffice.org instead. I can see novices copy protecting their documents that they need to share with others and then someone in a different department tries to open up a shared document and it won't let them, and they need access to the info ASAP. We already see this problem partically when novices set passwords on documents and share them and don't tell anyone else what the password is.
  • by pair-a-noyd (594371) on Thursday March 11, 2004 @12:14AM (#8528851)
    the guys with big toys that have the word "tactical" in the name...

    Smooth move M$..
  • by tuxedobob (582913) <tuxedobob@mLISPac.com minus language> on Thursday March 11, 2004 @12:31AM (#8528940)
    I'm willing to bet that the army, et al. can't accept gifts of ANY kind from ANYONE. Accepting free anything makes it seem like the army is taking bribes. That's a domain reserved for politicians.

    Seriously, though, I work at a fast food restaurant. We're not supposed to give free or discounted anything to any government official (police, health inspectors, etc.) even in good faith, or in kindness, because it makes it seem like we're bribing them. The one exception is donating sandwiches to the fire department's fundraiser/awareness day thingy.
  • by AnalogDiehard (199128) on Thursday March 11, 2004 @12:40AM (#8528999)
    I used to work in a classified secured area.

    Military and classified networks are walled fortresses with complete isolation from the internet world. They do not tolerate breaches of this nature that puts classified data at risk. If even a laptop enters from the outside world, it will not leave without a complete wipe of the hard drive, memory, and any other removable media. No exceptions.

    M$ Office Product Activation phones home over the Internet. That's a no-no in a classified secured area.

    Someone at M$ is going to get das boot.

  • Oh the Irony! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mydoghasworms (598337) on Thursday March 11, 2004 @06:54AM (#8530389)
    Fighting Free software with free software.

    (Okay, I know they are two different types of free; hence the capitalization).

Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurence of the improbable. - H. L. Mencken

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