Vendors want the right to remain silent

I have never been particularly good at keeping secrets but today's technology vendors belong to a generation that has made the 'confidentiality agreement' a routine defence against the mere hint of public scrutiny.

It is a bit like the mantra 'you have the right to remain silent' that's heard at least once on every TV police drama.

Ask a vendor why Company B suffered a $50 million cost blowout implementing their software and the predictable reply is that they cannot disclose details about their customers.

Ask about the next version of their software and you're expected to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA).

Ask about their competitors and they will tell you they don't have any. Why? Because there is no other software/hardware/service on the market with the same capabilities, it is unique and oh so believable.

This handy little confidentiality clause is a remedy for all manner of ills. But what are we protecting here and more specifically, who is being protected?

Keep the legal theatrics for something worth protecting instead of making such clauses a dubious refuge for information gatekeepers. Such antics are proving a little too transparent for Judge Vaughn Walker who is presiding over the US government's suit to block Oracle from buying PeopleSoft.

Last week he continued to grill both sides as to why documents and testimony filed under seal should be kept confidential.

Both parties are desperate to keep proceedings out of the public eye, but the Judge has ordered them to show cause as to why material should be kept from the public arena with a decision expected in coming weeks.

Judges are under considerable pressure to maintain public access to judicial proceedings and rightly so, but Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft and SAP are desperate to keep everything under wraps.

Judge Walker has repeatedly expressed frustration throughout the duration of the trial at the amount of material filed under seal.

It includes documents and testimony describing the competitive strategies of all the major players as well as the mechanics of complex software deals and vendor discounts.

Let's see how these deals are done; arm customers with the information they need to get the best discounts.

At a time when user groups are quickly losing their autonomy and are forced to rely on the fiscal goodwill of vendors to survive, customers need all the help they can get.

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