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Free software central to France's Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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Free and open source software are a key part of the IT strategy at France's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the ministry wrote last month in response to questions by Isabelle Attard, a member of parliament. Free and open source solutions used range from development to office productivity tools.

The same IT facilities are used by three other ministries, for French Abroad, for Development and for Francophonie.

Last Friday the ministry was the first of the 37 to respond to a question by MP Attard. She wants to know how the ministries are implementing the government's free software guideline, known as the 'Circulaire Ayrault'.

Foreign/Libre Office

The ministry of Foreign Affairs writes that for the past eight years it has had a free and open source software strategy. And, since 2011, it is one of the members of the inter-ministerial working group on Free Software.

It is using free software development tools, including Acube and Hornet, Mantis and Subversion, to create its own software applications. It is using the SPIP open source content management system for the institutional websites and the Alfresco document management system. Those working for the IT department at the ministry can choose to use either Debian Linux or Ubuntu.

Workstations at the three ministries automatically have the LibreOffice suite installed. The ministries use Ubuntu to offer secure portable computers.

Interoperability

Comparing costs between open source and closed source alternatives is impossible, the ministry writes. Such costs are not recorded and most systems are a mix of open source and closed source.

In a statement published this Tuesday, April, an advocacy group, finds it regrettable that the cost differences can not be given. "But this exercise in transparency and the presentation of action favouring free software is very interesting. We're looking forward to the responses of the other ministries."

In contrast, Germany's ministry of Foreign Affairs last year put an end to its free and open source desktop strategy. Since 2002, it had been switching all 11,000 desktops to GNU/Linux, with about half of the embassies and consulates switched over in late 2008. The project was reversed to overcome interoperability issues with other ministries and facing increasing resistance from staffers.

More information:

April announcement (in French)
Answers by the Ministry of Development (in French)
Answers by the Ministry of French Abroad (in French)
Answers by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (in French)
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