The French Gendarmerie's gradual migration to a complete open source desktop and web applications has saved millions of euro, says Lieutenant-Colonel Xavier Guimard. "This year the IT budget will be reduced by 70 percent. This will not affect our IT systems."
Guimard this Thursday in the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands gave a presentation on the move from a Microsoft-based to an Ubuntu GNU/Linux-based desktop. The Lieutenant-Colonel was one of the keynote speakers at an annual conference organised by NOiV, the Dutch national resource centre on open source and open standards.
Most of these savings are on proprietary software licences. Up until 2004 the Gendarmerie acquired 12,000 to 15,000 licences annually. In 2005 it bought just 27. "Since July 2007 we have bought two hundred Microsoft licences. If one of us wants a new PC, it comes with Ubuntu. This encourages our users to migrate." Guimard estimates Gendarmerie since 2004 has saved 50 million euro on licences for standard office applications, hardware and maintenance.
The Gendarmerie's decided on a strict open standards IT policy in 2002. The 105,000 heads strong police force at that time used an out-dated IT system which was expensive to maintain and not able to interoperate with other police forces or custom agencies. Strictly maintaining of this policy for instance lead SAP to adapt its human resource application so it could be used with a web browser. "This means we can move to a competitor's human resource application at any time.
The decision in 2004 to move to open source, was raised by one of the Gendarmerie's accountants. "Microsoft was forcing us to buy new software licences. This annoyed our accountant, who tried OpenOffice." According to Guimard the proprietary software maker then started lobbying the Gendarmerie, which is how the general manager found out about the experiments. "When he saw OpenOffice worked just as well and was available for free, it was he that decided it should be installed on all 90,000 desktops."
Guimard says the Gendarmerie since 2002 found out that open source applications usually are better at handling open standards than proprietary software. Moving to centralised Imap servers for email, lead the organisation to deploy Mozilla Thunderbird on the desktops. Making all the web applications work equally well,resulted in the roll-out of Firefox across the organisation. "Users need no training to use a web browser."
In 2007 the Gendarmerie decided to replace even the desktop operating system. Guimard: "Moving from Microsoft XP to Vista would not have brought us many advantages and Microsoft said it would require training of users. Moving from XP to Ubuntu, however, proved very easy. The two biggest differences are the icons and the games. Games are not our priority."
According to Guimard the move to open source has also helped to reduce maintenance costs. Keeping GNU/Linux desktops up to date is much easier, he says. "Previously, one of us would be travelling all year just to install a new version of some anti virus application on the desktops in the Gendarmerie's outposts on the islands in French Polynesia. A similar operation now is finished within two weeks and does not require travelling."
NOiV conference programme (in Dutch, pdf - please note: this link is 404, site archive is no longer available)
Xavier Guimard's presentation (in French, pdf)
NOiV presentations (link is now 404, site archive is no longer available)