The French government has joined the European governmental move toward open-source software, and announced it will install it on the desktop as part of Project ADELE - a plan to computerise much of the country's administration by 2007.
Director of the French Agency for the Development of the Electronic Administration, Jacques Sauret, told journalists that the administration will migrate a significant number of its desktops to open source operating systems and application software. It has yet to decide what percentage, he added, but it will be somewhere between 5 and 15 per cent.
At the moment, the vast majority of the government's PCs run Windows, with no open-source OS or applications present. But by introducing open-source software, the government will be able to "better evaluate the interoperability and comparative lifecycle costs of the different systems". It also wants to spend less of its IT budget on licences and more on integration and innovation, Sauret explained.
However, while the signs look promising for open-source advocates, it is strongly suspected that the French government is merely using the move and announcement as a bargaining chip to cut a deal with Microsoft. There are none of the large-scale roll-outs or philosophical arguments that have formed the German government's approach to open source.
Instead, Sauret made it quite clear to Microsoft what it's position was. "Today, we're a captive market," he said. "We're going to engage in discussions with Microsoft to obtain a single tariff for the whole administration, to get economies of scale." So if Microsoft wants to keep that percentage at 5 rather than 15 per cent, it will have to reduce its licence fee.
Microsoft is becoming extremely adept at this sort of discussion, however, and can be expected to follow its usual divide-and-conquer approach where it cuts a deal with one department (as ever, there is no collective purchasing with the French government - each department negotiates separately), and scares the rest into submission.
It failed in Munich, and that has sparked other German departments to jump in with both feet. However, it succeeded in Britain with Newham Council and seems to have persuaded others to stick with it. With the French already displaying their hand, don't expect to see open source making many in-roads.
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