The US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) is considering ditching Microsoft Vista and Office in favour of Linux running Google’s Apps Premier Edition, an official has said.

Speaking to Information Week, FAA CIO David Bowen cited technical reasons for the possible shift. "It takes the desktop out of the way so you're running a very thin client. From a security and management standpoint that would have some advantages," he was quoted as saying.

Compatibility was also an issue. According to Bowen, the FAA’s IBM Lotus Notes clients did not work properly on current versions of Vista.

He confirmed that the organisation was in discussions with hardware supplier Dell to see if the company could supply Linux for use with Google Apps, and what effect moving from Microsoft would have on future procurement.

If Vista is ignored in favour of an open source OS, it would mark another example of public sector organisations turning their backs on Microsoft’s expensively-developed new operating system and application suite. Only last week, the US department of Transportation (DOT), the FAA’s parent organisation, halted Vista upgrades for the foreseeable future, citing a number of concerns, though there is no suggestion that this means that DOT has plans to embrace any Vista rivals yet.

Microsoft is to be given a last chance to convince the FAA to stay with Windows during meetings scheduled for the near future, so this is not a done deal. But even the fact that it is being mooted shows the dangers that can jump out at a dominant player such as Microsoft whenever it brings in a new piece of software.

Google Apps is a new host-based application suite aimed at taking on Microsoft using a different thin client-like approach to software provision. Prices for the software-as-a-service system have been quoted in the range of $50 per client, per annum, which includes all maintenance and data storage. The suite has been shown off as a free trial since last summer.

Opinions have been mixed as to the likely success of the model, but there is no doubt that Microsoft’s software model is set to come under pressure. The savings from not having to hire in-house staff for applications support are bound to see it gain some traction. What will be key is whether Google Apps can stack up against the maturity of Microsoft’s equivalents.

Microsoft has its own hosted application development in the making, though it is some way behind Google in terms of turning it into a mature product.