Politicians should value highly the technological independence provided by using free and open source software, recommends Lieutenant colonel Stéphane Dumond, head of IT at the Gendarmerie in France. Using such software puts public services in control of their technology decisions and reduces strictly pecuniary constraints, he says.
Earlier this month, the Lieutenant colonel did a 53-minute radio interview with April – one of the main free software advocacy groups in France. The interview is available online, as an audio file (podcast) and in a transcription.
The Gendarmerie is one of Europe’s prime examples of a public service that relies on free and open source software. The police force is using open source everywhere: servers, databases, and on 77,500 of its 85,000 desktop workstations (91%).
In addition to technological sovereignty, one of the main advantages in standardising on open source software distributions is ease of management. The IT department centrally manages servers and hosts for the 100,000 active personnel and some 30,000 reservists, spread over 4300 posts across the country and French-administered territories overseas. Over the years, this has reduced the time spent on IT management by 35%, recounts Lieutenant colonel Dumond.
The police force decided to standardise on open source at the beginning of the century, when access to computer facilities was still limited to about 10,000 personnel in Paris and its immediate vicinity. This meant that for many, technological novelties were introduced from the start as open source, Lieutenant colonel Dumond said in the interview: “Each new technology and functional contribution was adopted very quickly.”
The IT department focused on creating a web interface for most of the services it provides to its colleagues across the Gendarmerie. The scale of the operations allowed it to require even large proprietary software vendors to conform to its specifications. One example is the use of SAP for resource management: SAP developed a thin client based on Mozilla Firefox for the Gendarmerie, Lietenant colonel Dumond told April.
The IT department has established working relations with the main open source projects that it relies on. It does little IT development, but contributes some code to projects. One example mentioned in the interview is the media player VLC. The Gendarmerie contributes performance enhancements that enable VLC to work with proprietary surveillance videos that it seizes as part of its police work.