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Europe: Loves Linux, Runs Windows

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PARIS -- European governments have long complained about their dependence on Microsoft's software, but their rhetoric has not turned into a mass migration away from Windows.

During the past few years, Europe's elected officials have made a lot of noise about ambitious projects to switch to open source software, including big migrations of government PCs in France, Germany, Spain and Norway.

These plans are often heralded as major inroads against Microsoft's Windows hegemony in the old country -- where Microsoft has been fined close to $1 billion in antitrust violations by the European Commission.

Yet the actual migrations have been negligible. More than 95 percent of all PCs used by European government workers still run on Windows, according to the market research firm IDC.

"No one has come out and said 'we are migrating every desktop or laptop on Linux,'" said IDC analyst Massimiliano Claps.

In Norway, a project known as eNorway 2009 was begun in 2005 to convert Norway's public sector to open source software.

The goal was for all government institutions to begin replacing Windows with non-proprietary, open source software by the end of this year, but the project has stalled, with few if any Linux PC installations, according to Geir Nøklebye, an IT consultant and open source activist.

Even the most ambitious open source initiative in Europe to date -- a massive project begun several years ago by the local government in the Extremadura region of Spain -- has seen only mixed success.

The project has managed to convert more than 75,000 PCs to run on Linux, but the migration has not been total. Even some of the computers in the project's administrative office still run Windows, one anonymous employee told Wired News.

The Extremadura government has saved 30 million euro in licensing fees by adopting gnuLinEx for an investment of 125,000 euro, according to local officials.

"Extremadura's project is the biggest and the most ambitious in Europe because of the political clout behind it," said Luis Millán Vazquez de Miguel, regional minister of infrastructures and technological development for Junta Extremadura, in an e-mail.

Despite the massive shift, compatibility issues necessitate the use of Windows PCs for some applications, such as for CAD drawing or for graphics design programs, said project employees contacted by Wired News.

It's the same story across Europe. Switching to open source can cause compatibility issues with Microsoft's file formats, which are proprietary -- and still used by the vast majority of other computer users. There can be conflicts with MS Exchange servers, commonly used for e-mail and calendaring. And there's the problem of educating government IT departments about the ways of Linux.

Elected officials might make public proclamations about how their government's PCs will no longer be captive to Microsoft's oppression, but getting the IT department to carry out the noble plan and to do the necessary grunt work is far from easy.

"If the technicians say 'no,' it's not going to happen," Nøklebye said.

Still, Europe's elected officials continue to drive toward open source. In the next few months, lawmakers in France's National Assembly will begin to use PCs equipped with Linux, Sun's OpenOffice software and the Firefox browser.

Benoît Sibaud, the president of April, a French nonprofit free software organization, said the French government's push away from Microsoft platforms is largely driven by concerns about industrial espionage and security in "the economic war between Europe and the United States."

France's police and tax departments are two branches of the public sector that have sought to adopt open source platforms. But in the case of the Gendarmes, for example, the PCs made available to its 100,000-member police force run almost exclusively on Windows, a spokeswoman said.

Still, the Gendarmes unit plans to equip 5,000 of its PCs with Linux next year under a pilot project, with plans for full integration of the operating system by 2010. The French police unit has also shifted its users to OpenOffice and Firefox while dumping Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer. Many of its servers run on Linux-based platforms.

A Gendarme contacted by Wired News who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that while he was optimistic about the prospects of the Linux operating system and noted how his unit had a capable IT support staff, he was not too happy with OpenOffice. He said he missed MS Office, even though it is designed by a company run by people he considers to be "thieves."

"(OpenOffice) is complicated. It is atrocious," the Gendarme said. "We save money but the advantages of its use are not terribly clear."

Ironically, the French Gendarmes will probably still have to pay a U.S. company licensing fees for the Linux distribution it uses on its PCs.

Fonte: Wired

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