With the ministry operating around 20,000 PCs, the decision to move to open-source software on the desktop is among the biggest by any government agency, according to Bloomberg News.
Cheok Beng Teck, a director at the ministry, said that the decision to migrate from MS Office 97 to OpenOffice.org was made because the additional features of MS Office 2003 did not justify its higher cost. The ministry will keep the copies of MS Office 97 which it has already licensed giving users the choice, but new PCs will run OpenOffice.org, said the report.
Lim Swee Tat, the president of the Linux Users Group of Singapore, claimed this was the biggest rollout of open-source software in Singapore.
The ministry may also consider introducing Linux to its PC users, said Cheok, but he gave no timetable, according to Bloomberg.
John McCreesh, who helps to run the marketing for OpenOffice.org, said this decision shows mounting interest in the open-source productivity application.
"There is a growing trend in governments to move to OpenOffice.org. Concerns about money and open standards have meant there is increasing interest in it," said McCreesh.
Michael Meeks, an OpenOffice.org developer, said that cost is not the only issue -- the fact that OpenOffice.org has been translated into numerous languages also helps.
OpenOffice.org is available all four of Singapore's official languages: English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil, according to the native language section of the OpenOffice.org site. Office 2003 is only available in English and Chinese, according to the Microsoft Web site.
This is not OpenOffice.org's first big success in Asia -- in China OpenOffice.org is sold under the NeoShine brand, which McCreesh claims recently made it onto the preferred list for government office productivity products.
The City of Munich recently decided to go ahead with the migration of 14,000 PCs to Linux, after plans were scuppered due to worries about patent issues. The City of Bergen, in Norway, is also due to migrate desktops in its 100 schools, which have 32,000 students and pupils.
Paris' administration was considering migrating 17,000 PCs, but stepped back last week, saying that the move would mean significant additional costs without improving the service.