Exclusive: UK local authority adopts Linux

Linux, the OS that started off as a blip on Microsoft's radar, is now making inroads into the most influential institutions in Britain. Will Knight reports

The UK officially boarded the Linux bandwagon Monday when a local authority in Britain inked a deal with a leading Linux database provider for a limited number of licences.

The government authority, which cannot be named yet, is currently testing out Linux for a broader rollout once evaluation of the OS, and native applications running on it, are complete.

A source close to the deal told ZDNet Monday, "Currently they [the local authority] have a couple of hundred machines running on Sun but have a limited user evaluation copy of database software running under Linux."

According to the source, the local authority has had dramatic success with the Linux system and is showing great enthusiasm for it. The source added: "It's only been two days, but already they say they've done more with this than with their old system." The source cited Linux' "resilience and reliability" as the main reasons for its new found success, not to mention the fact it can be implemented on low powered computers at significantly reduced cost.

The alternative OS, developed by Finnish developer Linus Torvalds, is widely regarded as the next big thing in enterprise computing and is widely expected to find roots in a variety of governmental institutions, mostly at the expense of Microsoft's Windows NT.

Director of IDC European software research Anne-Lise Wang endorses this view saying, "I have not heard of public administrations adopting Linux in any other European countries, but this news doesn't surprise me. There are obvious advantages for public administrations [using Linux]. It's definitely a very interesting development for us to follow."

But while Wang enthuses over the promise of a bright future for Linux he doesn't think public offices are likely to go completely open source just yet. "Depending on what applications they are running, I don't think their implementation will be just Linux. It's the lack of [native] applications that could be an issue in its adoption. It is no trivial matter moving applications over to Linux."

Director of sales for Red Hat UK, Andy Dickens believes that although Linux is an ideal solution for the public and government sector, potentially offering significant cost and administrative savings, the key to conquering this traditionally difficult area is support for third party software. "The [native] applications are slowly coming and I think this has been holding us back for a while. Love 'em or hate 'em Microsoft have a firm grip on the desktop."

The adoption of Linux in a public sector department is symptomatic of the enthusiasm Britain and the rest of Europe has been showing for Linux. A number of schools within Britain have already implemented Linux operating systems and servers. Red Hat is also currently also planning to offer implementations of Linux as well as technical support to all UK schools at a reduced rate.

A growing number of British government and public sector institutions are considering turning toward open source software as a more practical alternative to traditional commercial offerings. Defence company to the government, Racal, for example, recently outlined plans to implement Linux on thousands of its computers.

More to follow.

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