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French ministries prove free software is viable

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Free and open source software solutions are suitable for use in public administrations, the extensive use by French ministries proves. The LibreOffice suite of office productivity tools is now installed on more than 500,000 desktops across the ministries. The combination of Postgres, a relational database system and servers running the Linux operating system is also very common.

French ministries are encouraged to take into account free and open source. For example, it can be used to create competition, whenever a proprietary software alternative is a monopoly, or near a monopoly, says Laure Patas d'Illiers, computer scientist and senior adviser at France's Ministry of Finance. She is one of the founders of MIMO, a resource pool of the French ministries promoting open ICT productivity tools for desktop PCs. MIMO (Mutualisation Interministérielle pour une Bureautique Ouverte, or Inter-ministry Mutualisation for an Open Productivity Suite), which began meeting in 2005.

Ms Patas d'Illiers was one of the speakers at the LibreOffice Conference, which took place in the Swiss city of Bern, on 3 September.

She explained that MIMO started in part to lessen the pain of switching to free software. "Switching to free software is hard", she confessed. The IT administrators feel alone, and they are blamed by the users for any problems encountered when switching from proprietary to open source applications. However, step by step, the MIMO working group and other, similar groups, helped to convince management in the ministries that free software is a viable alternative.

Fitting free software

A major boost for MIMO is the Ayrault Memorandum, published in September 2012, the government policy on free software. It is not a mandatory policy, but acts as a guide of good practice. Free software and proprietary alternatives should be given the same level of attention and consideration, the Prime Ministry's memorandum says. The memorandum defines the cases where free software is suitable.

Following the memorandum, the working groups in the same year published a reference list of software and formats based on open standards SILL (Socle Interministériel Logiciels Libres - Interministerial Free Software Base). Updated annually, it currently contains 150 applications and extensions that are approved for use by France's ministries and other French public administrations.

MIMO distributes the solutions of this selection of free software desktop applications, making available a DVD ISO image. "Making this available only to French public administrations is too complicated, so it is available for everybody." The applications however, including required geographic maps, are selected for public administration' use.

Advancing free software

There are also ICT support services for free software users in the ministries. The ministries can use two contracts with ICT service providers, supporting 260 free software applications. The support team includes members that interact with the upstream developers, ensuring that patches made for the ministries are contributed to the software projects.

In June 2013, MIMO joined the advisory board of the Document Foundation, the non-profit organisation promoting the development of LibreOffice.

 

More information:

Presentation by Laure Patas d'Illiers, France's Ministry of Finance (video)
Presentation by Laure Patas d'Illiers, France's Ministry of Finance (pdf)
Socle Interministériel Logiciels Libres (SILL, in French)
OSOR case study