Following the recent decision by the City of Munich to opt for Linux on the desktop, it is worth taking stock of the progress of Linux in government circles across Europe, writes Robin Bloor, of Bloor Research
This is, in my view, a determining point in the Linux story, because if European governments move to Linux in a big way, it will boost the momentum for Linux everywhere. We have thus assembled a set of press clippings which chart Linux acceptance in government. The most recent clippings indicate a trend to Linux on the desktop.
In alphabetical order...
The French Tax Authority deployed 950 Linux servers in 2000. (Source: LinuxToday)
A new agency was created in August 2001, with the task of coordinating IT efforts between different government agencies. The Agency for Information and Communication Technologies in the Administration (known by its French initials ATICA) has taken on the task of ensuring that government projects use open standards to reduce costs and redundancy, and to improve interoperability in government projects.
The French government also wants to encourage a decentralised software industry by allowing small companies to work on open-source government projects, rather than the concentrated software development that tends to result from proprietary products. (Source CNN November 2001)
The country's head of IT systems at the Ministry of Culture, Bruno Mannoni, said the department has cut back on expenses since it began replacing 300 of its servers running Windows NT and Unix to open-source alternatives. (Source: IDG, June 2002)
The German Federal Ministry of the Interior in Berlin announced a government deal with IBM Corp. to purchase hardware and software products that support Linux. The official who signed the deal said that the switch to open source would avoid a "mono" IT environment, which is more susceptible to attack. (Source: IDG, June 2002)
A small German institute has become one of the Interior Ministry's first agencies to implement Linux on the desktop, as the government pushes ahead with its ambitious plans to introduce open-source software in the public sector. One of the main reasons why the German government is pushing Linux is to lower total cost of ownership. (Source: IDG, February 2003)
Munich is Germany's third largest city with an administrative organisation that includes over 14,000 desktop computers. In May 2003 it chose to run Linux and either StarOffice or OpenOffice (a decision is yet to be made) on all those computers instead of Microsoft products. The decision was made with the assistance of SuSE Linux AG and IBM, who are jointly bidding for the maintenance and hardware supply. The migration program will begin next year. (Source: IT-Director.com).
Germany is leading the march to Linux.
In July 2001, a document entitled "Government Guidelines for the development of the Information Society" published by the Italian government, identified Open Source as one of the enabling factors. It explicitly cited e-health as one of the strategic fields where the Public Administration might effectively use Open Source.
In early 2002, Mario Pelosi of Italy's Department of Innovation and Technology said his country recently decided to form a commission to study the desirability of Linux. (Source: Washington Post)
In June 2002, an Italian Green Party senator tabled a bill that would commit Italy's civil service to using Open Source. The bill had cross-party support. The bill proposed that the state administration should opt for free software whenever its technical performance is comparable to that of proprietary software. (Source: LinuxWorld).
The Dutch Government wants to promote openness for public sector information systems. During a symposium in The Hague, the ICT Unit (ICTU) of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations presented the latest developments of its programme for Open Standards and Open Source Software in Government (OSOSS). This programme is now supported by a new website, which will serve as a repository of publications, best practices, news and other information relevant to the promotion of open standards and open source software in government. (Source: Open Source Victoria, May 2003)
In April 2002, the government of a western region of Spain called Extremadura, with 1.1 million inhabitants, launched a campaign to convert all the area's computer systems, in government offices, businesses and homes, from the Windows operating system to Linux.
More than 10,000 desktop machines were switched immediately, with 100,000 more currently being converted. The regional government paid a local company $180,000 to assemble a set of freely available software, including operating system, word processor, spreadsheet and other applications.
The government also invested in a development centre that is creating customised software for accounting, tracking hospital patients and crop-yield management that the agency will distribute free to citizens. The European Economic Commission is promoting it as a model for the rest of the world, and officials from governments as far away as New Zealand and Peru have inquired about duplicating the region's efforts.
Some Spanish government systems and those belonging to the telecommunications company Telefonica were recently shifted to Linux partly because of security concerns. (Source: Washington Post).
The UK government is already an occasional user of Linux. An expert at the British government's computer security headquarters, CESG (Communications-Electronics Security Group - a sister organisation of the UK's GCHQ) even endorsed Linux as the most secure computer architecture available of its type. Linux is also in use in some areas of the UK police force, apparently for security reasons. (Source; IT-Director.com, 2002)
So the UK appears to be the least enthusiastic of those mentioned, but someone has to be trailing the field. The thing about EU governments is that they tend to follow each other for the sake of standards. If they standardise on a Linux desktop, they'll change the market.