The French Say Au Revoir to Microsoft Software

The article title is a bit dramatic, but it looks like the French parliament is considering moving to Linux on both the desktop and server. From the article:
Starting in June of next year, French deputies will use desktops and servers running Linux, Mozilla's Firefox Web browser, and, a free open-source alternative to Microsoft's Office software.
For day-to-day documents, French members of parliament and their staff will use, currently in version 2.0.4 and designed to compete directly with Microsoft's Office System.
Why the change? The French parliament, composed of an upper chamber (le Senat, or Senate) and a lower chamber (l'Assemblee Nationale, or National Assembly), believes it can save money using open-source software, despite the near-term costs of switching from Microsoft systems and retraining all employees.
But that is a matter of some debate.
“The evidence on the cost savings attributable to a switch to Linux has been mixed,” according to Chris Swenson, director of software industry analysis at research group NPD. “There has been some evidence that companies have to spend a good deal on training and support after you deploy the operating system.”

The information is non-specific enough and far enough out that you have to wonder if they're just trying to get a better deal on Microsoft products. That being said, it's becoming clear that in the Government sector it's going to be the EU that leads the charge in Open Source adoption. The arguments for Open Source in Government are extremely compelling and something I've covered before. When you are controlling the data for an entire nation it's critical that you use Open Standards to ensure you have access to your own records in perpetuity. Controlling your own destiny in this context is critical. It's not a luxury, it's a requirement and it should be fairly obvious why being beholden to a single corporation is undesirable. If they do decide to move ahead on this, you have to assume that Mandriva (a French company) will make a very strong push. National Governments typically like to spend in their own country if it's at all possible.
There is one argument against leaving Windows and Office that I think is a bit over hyped these days. That's the issue of training. Yes, if you switch to and Linux you will have to retrain some users, especially the non-technical ones (which in almost any business are the majority). But looking at the upcoming versions of Office and Windows, they are sufficiently different from the older versions (especially in the case of Office) that you'll need to retrain those same users anyway! The incremental difference in training costs in this case is likely negligible and possibly nil. If you're looking to migrate to an Open Source solution, your next Windows and Office upgrade iteration is a perfect time to consider it. Keep in mind that staging the upgrade will likely gain you much better results with much less pain. OOo runs just fine on Windows. A switch from IE to Firefox and Office to will get your users comfortable with Open Source. Switching to Linux will then be much less of a change. After all, most people don't really “use” an operating system – they use the applications.
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One Response to The French Say Au Revoir to Microsoft Software

  1. Anonymous says:

    On the topic of training for migrating office workers, may I suggest you look at “Plan-B for – support for non technical users”
    It is a new kind of documentation and support that is very suitable for migrating to Because in such a situation, training sessions are overkill and too much in too short a time. Most users have very specific questions that they need answered when they arise. Training is better suited to introduction of new concepts and applications as a whole. But migrating users do know how to write a letter, report, presentation. What they need to know is things like “How do I print in landscape with this new application?” or “How to I search with wildcards in”

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