PARIS (AFP) — The French paramilitary police force said Wednesday it is ditching Microsoft for the free Linux operating system, becoming one of the biggest administrations in the world to make the break.
The move completes the gendarmerie's severance from Microsoft which began in 2005 when it moved to open sourcing for office applications such as word processing. It switched to open source Internet browsers in 2006.
Linux is an open-source operating system, which used to be the reserve of computer geeks but is now an easy-to-use system aimed at average users.
The gendarmerie's 70,000 desktops currently use Microsoft's Windows XP operating system. But these will progressively change over to the Linux system distributed by Ubuntu, explained Colonel Nicolas Geraud, deputy director of the gendarmerie's IT department.
"We will introduce Linux every time we have to replace a desktop computer," he said, "so this year we expect to change 5,000-8,000 to Ubuntu and then 12,000-15,000 over the next four years so that every desktop uses the Linux operating system by 2013-2014."
There are three reasons behind the move, Geraud said at the Solution Linux 2008 conference here. The first is to diversify suppliers and reduce the force's reliance on one company, the second is to give the gendarmerie mastery of the operating system and the third is cost, he said.
He also added that "the Linux interface is ahead of other operating systems currently on the market for professional use."
Vista, for example, Microsoft's latest operating system, is being spurned by consumers who cite "concerns about its cost, resource requirements, and incompatibility with their existing applications," according to InformationWeek.com.
Geraud explained that the move to an open source operating system was logical after the police switched in 2005 to open sourcing for its office applications and in 2006 for its Internet browsers and its email.
The move away from licenced products is saving the gendarmerie about seven million euros (10.3 million dollars) a year for all its PCs.
"In 2004 we had to buy 13,000 licences for office suites for our PCs," he said, "but in the three years since then we've only had to buy a total of 27 licences."
In 2005 the gendarmerie switched from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice -- a collection of applications such as a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation programme similar to Microsoft Powerpoint, all of which can be downloaded free.
A year later it abandoned Mircosoft's Internet Explorer for the Mozilla Foundation's browser Firefox and its email client Thunderbird.
"When we made that choice Firefox represented about 3.0 percent of Internet browsers and it's about 20 to 25 percent now which confirms our choice," Geraud said.
The gendarmerie with its 100,000 employees is the biggest administration to shift to open sourcing for its operating system, but it is not the first in France. That honour belongs to the National Assembly which adopted Ubuntu for its 1,200 PCs in 2007.
Although the gendarmerie is ahead of the market the market is catching up.
Dell, for example, this week started offering Ubuntu Linux 7.10 on its XPS 1330 laptops in France, Germany, Spain and Britain, while US customers will be able to order the machines within the next week or so, according to the company's website.
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