French opt for laissez-faire Linux

French opt for laissez-faire Linux

Summary: The French tax agency claims that upgrading its 80,000 desktops to Office XP would cost €29.5m, but switching to OpenOffice.org only €200,000

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"Think small, start small, scale up." The strategy ex-Wal-Mart executive Michael Bergdahl claims was responsible for creating one of the most successful businesses ever, is good advice for organisations looking to adopt open source.

Organisations that "think big" when deploying open source can run into problems. Take the City of Munich, which decided to migrate its 14,000 desktops to Linux two years ago, but is not actually going to start the migration until 2006, claiming that an "additional pilot" is necessary. Paris City Council was planning a migration to open source software on its servers and desktops, but later nixed its plans claiming "the scenario of a near-term massive migration to open source... appeared incompatible with the original state of the technology and systems".

For an in-depth look at how governments around the world use open source click here

In contrast, and possibly in reaction to the previous examples, the French tax agency (Direction Générale des Impôts) has opted for slowly, slowly approach. The agency, which manages the taxes of all states and cities in France, has been investigating open source for more than five years. As early as 2000, the agency was running a mission-critical application on open source systems. It then decided to standardise on the open source application server JBoss in 2004 and is now planning to migrate 80,000 PCs to the open source productivity suite OpenOffice.org.

Slow and steady
The agency is currently using 150 open source products across its offices and has mandated the use of open source for all new projects, according to Jean-Marie Lapeyre, chief technical officer at the French tax agency. Open source software is attractive for a number of reasons, says Lapeyre. In his view it cuts costs, reduces vendor lock-in, improves standards compliance and increases flexibility.

The cost savings realised by the agency are considerable, with support and maintenance now budgeted at systems. The agency is now saving around €20m per year, says Lapeyre — a considerable chunk of the agency's €200m (£140m) yearly IT budget.

Ten times less than proprietary
Three companies — Capgemini, Linagora and Bull — are due to provide support for the 150 open source products used in the company, which already uses ATOS Origin to provide support for its JBoss systems. Each of the services companies in turn uses a number of subcontractors to provide support for the individual products, for example, JBoss is a subcontractor to ATOS Origin.

But despite the double-layer of consultants involved in supporting open source, the savings are still considerable. "If I add the costs of supporting JBoss and the costs of the new contracts I will sign, the total corresponds to ten times less than what I would pay for proprietary software," says Lapeyre.

The avoidance of vendor lock-in, associated traditionally with proprietary software, is also an important consideration for the agency. With proprietary software only the company that made it can provide comprehensive support as only it has access to the source code, but any company can support software from an open source project as the source code is freely available, says Lapeyre.

"We can have a contract with any player to support open source products. At the moment JBoss is providing support for its product, but in the future this could change. We are not...

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Topics: Apps, Software Development

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4 comments
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  • Pure economics is driving decision making but Linux technology also has much to offer!!

    C'est bon!
    anonymous
  • Change in small amounts but do make sure that changes are in check with the broader (future) plan in mind would be my game plan.

    That said it seems to me that the French are well ahead of the game. Add the Germans and you can see who will be passed the learning curve in the future of the EU. In other words, who will be leading the total game. At least some seem to understand the signals that matter.
    anonymous
  • I'm confused. The cost savings used by the French Minister,and Massachusetts ITD people, are not consistent with what I read on the "Get the Facts" advertisements, when talking about TCO costs.The MS articles wouldn't be telling 'porkies' would they?
    anonymous
  • I installed OpenOffice on production systems the morning I heard about the 1.0 release. I had to hunt the world over to find a server not loaded down with the demand. There were a few problems, but it worked. Today, there are still a few problems, not least of which is that OO is not ported to AMD64 and I use an AMD64 terminal server. Using a 32bit chroot is a minor problem. OO works well for us and we can generate PDFs which helps with interagency communication. Microsoft is not an innovator. Its barbaric EULA (End-User Licence Agreement), endless changes of file format, useless features, broken features, incompatibilities with previous versions, very high licence fee and the fact that they still do not do PDF two years after OO are all the reasons anyone needs to switch. Ray Ozzie had it right when he stated, "Complexity kills. It sucks the life out of developers, it makes products difficult to plan, build and test, it introduces security challenges, and it causes end-user and administrator frustrations.". Microsoft knows its own problems and refuses to fix them. It deserves to be abandoned.

    The question to ask is why anyone should stay with Microsoft. Those who are solidly locked in made a mistake with their last acquisition. The longer the switch is delayed, the more the pain.
    anonymous