UK government trials desktop Linux

Whitehall is to try out desktop Linux in a pilot in partnership with Sun
Written by Andy McCue, Contributor

Whitehall has again turned up the heat on Microsoft by announcing it will now trial Sun Microsystems' open-source desktop package in a number of pilots across the public sector.

Public spending watchdog the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) has signed a framework pricing agreement for Sun's Linux-based Java Desktop System (JDS) and a series of trials will begin in the New Year.

The OGC said the agreement now provides a competitive alternative to proprietary -- read Microsoft -- software across both the server and desktop environment. A similar deal was struck with IBM earlier this year for Linux server trials in some government agencies.

The move will also enable alternatives such as thin client and extend the life of existing PCs, according to Mark Woods, who led the negotiations for the OGC.

"We should not underestimate the impact on the environment of frequently replacing IT equipment, which together with the potential direct cost benefits makes for a compelling case," he said.

Richard Barrington, head of government affairs and public policy at Sun, told ZDNet UK's sister site silicon.com the details of the trials will be finalised in January and that they will prove the huge cost savings available in switching from Microsoft on the desktop.

"It allows government to step off the three-year treadmill of rip and replace," he said. "One of the biggest savings of all is that a percentage of the government estate is on [Windows] NT4, which they will have to rip out to upgrade to XP. They don't have to with JDS and that is a huge cost avoidance."

Barrington said that in one of the pilots Sun will be looking for a department or agency to commit to a "wall-to-wall thin client trial" using Linux server and desktop software.

The OGC deal follows on from the NHS announcing on Friday that it will trial JDS as a Microsoft alternative that could save taxpayers "millions" of pounds if it was rolled out across almost a million desktops in the health service.

Some suggested that NHS director general of IT, Richard Granger, was using Sun as a bargaining tool to force Microsoft down on licence costs. But, said Barrington, so what if it is?

"If all Granger does is beat down Microsoft on price then well done Richard Granger," he said.

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