The Swiss government has announced it will switch to Suse Linux on more than 300 public-sector servers as those systems are upgraded.

The government currently uses Unix systems from IBM, Sun and HP, plus various Linux distributions, said chief information officer for the Swiss Federal Administration, Juerg Roemer. But it has decided to standardise on Suse Linux from Novell due to World Trade Organisation rules for public purchases, he said.

Red Hat Inc. was short-listed but "at the end, Suse was a bit better", Roemer said.

Cost was not a factor, he claimed, because prices were about the same from both vendors. Savings will come from employees needing to master only one Linux distribution rather than two or three, he added.

The deployment of open-source software by governments is being closely watched in the stand-off with proprietary software vendors. Governments have been more willing to accept supposed risks attached to open-source software than private businesses because of potential savings.

The Swiss government gives proprietary and open-source software the same chance when it is considering a purchase and decisions to go with one or the other are not political, Roemer said.

The transition will be made over a couple of years, and new servers will also be using Suse Linux, Roemer said. He estimated that government servers run more than 10,000 different applications.

Windows is the most popular operating system and it's more likely that Unix systems will be replaced first with Suse Linux, Roemer said. Apache servers running Linux provide much of Switzerland's Internet infrastructure.

The value of the deal was not available since it's not known how quickly the upgrade will progress, said Peter Helfenstein, country manager for Novell in Switzerland. The government's decision "is for us a great step forward", Helfenstein said.