Yesterday's announcement of a Linux-based cooperation agreement between IBM and Germany's ministry of the interior changes the rules of the game dramatically. Microsoft still has deals with the German government, and will undoubtedly still sell software to it and to Germany's states, but the territory covered by the agreement and the terms used by minister of the interior Otto Schily signal that Linux has already won the server war in principle, and that the German government intends it to do so in practice.
The deal initially covers the sale of IBM systems including eServer hardware running SuSE Linux to federal, state and local government in Germany. This helps IBM and SuSE, obviously, but in long term they're unlikely to be the only ones, as Schily's goals included raising "the level of IT security by avoiding monocultures," and he is of the view that the agreement will help the federal, state and local governments by allowing them to acquire open source products "quickly, easily and without complication".
The agreement also calls for IBM and the German government to create "innovative and reusable IT solutions for the federal administration," while IBM will be setting up an open source portal and providing support services.
Microsoft has been making optimistic noises about its existing contracts with the German government, along with rather sour ones about the German government allegedly ignoring its own studies which (equally allegedly) "showed" that Microsoft software was superior both technically and on price. The reality, however, is that Microsoft's dominant position in client software, and its challenger status in server software is pretty much the same in Germany as it is in the rest of the world. At this stage the question for government is whether it does as Microsoft says and standardises on Windows at the server end too, or whether it looks to see if there's another game in town.
Germany seems not only to have decided to go with the latter but to make it its business to to help turn it into a convincing game. Oh, and by the way, the German studies we've seen tend to give points to Linux for servers while concluding it's not ready yet at the client end, so we suspect Microsoft of fuzzy survey interpretation.
Overall, the combination of government resources and IBM's government and corporate solutions expertise could be deadly, threatening Microsoft with a virtually complete lockout at the lucrative back-end of German administration. This isn't something a cash-strapped and resource-starved operation like SuSE (or even Red Hat) could do on its own at this juncture, so the deal is potentially a massive leap for Linux into the government/commercial arena.
It'll also give credibility to Linux elsewhere in Europe, where there is considerable chafing over the cost implications of Microsoft's Licensing 6.0, and over 'security issues' associated with Windows (Schily, tellingly, says September 11 was one of his considerations in striking the deal). It's a little close to the Licensing 6.0 deadline for people of to jump just on the basis of what IBM and the German government say they're going to do, but it's starting to look less like a leap into the dark. ®