The NHS is to begin trials of a desktop Linux software suite in a move it says could free up money for the frontline health service and save taxpayers millions of pounds.
The health service will evaluate Sun Microsystems' Java Desktop System package, which includes the SUSE Linux operating system, a browser, StarOffice and Ximian email.
NHS director general of IT Richard Granger, said in a statement: "Our evaluation of the Java Desktop System holds the promise of allowing a greater share of NHS funding to flow directly towards improved levels of Patient Service. If this solution were to prove effective we could save the NHS and the taxpayer many millions of pounds whilst at the same time using rich and innovative software technology."
The NHS has around one million employees and with talks with Microsoft still ongoing about a new software licence contract for the health service, Granger's words are likely to chill Microsoft executives to the bone.
Granger made no secret of his anger at the cost of software licensing when speaking at a recent event, making barbed comments about Microsoft's reluctance to offer a bigger discount on 800,000 licences.
"The cost of software is going to become several orders of magnitude lower than it is now. I don't value the IP in the same way they do," Granger said at the time.
Whether the public announcement of the open source trials is merely a ruse to improve Granger's bargaining position with Microsoft or a genuine evaluation of desktop Linux remains to be seen.
Charles Andrews, director of public sector sales at Sun, told silicon.com that the NHS could put more money into front-line patient care with the cost savings from ditching Microsoft's software, with Sun offering JDS for $50 (£29) per employee per year.
"You pay one price for one of them and a lot less for the other," he said.