Governments face challenges every day that are on par with relatively few other organizations. They encompass a large number of users and deal with potentially sensitive information. Under tighter budgets than ever, governments are actively seeking an alternative that will cut high costs and provide flexibility.
Perhaps this is why numerous government bodies worldwide have continued to adopt less-expensive open source alternatives so hungrily this past year.
France dumped NT for Mandrakes from MandrakeSoft; Brazil opened an IBM learning center for Linux; the U.S. Department of Defense let loose an open source volley ; and a revolution is brewing yet again in Massachusetts, this time with open source.
Open source platforms within the government sector -- Linux especially -- have created a welcome mix of savings and flexibility, for businesses who want to get out from under Microsoft's grip.
Every day, another big name joins the fray of Linux vendors catering to government agencies.
Seeing an opportunity to stake its claim, Waltham, Mass.-based Novell Inc. is pitching new open source offerings and a Linux Migration Strategy and Services program -- aimed at government agencies. The company made several related announcements during its BrainShare conference in Spain earlier this month.
Novell has established a Porting and Migration Network, an initiative designed to help customers and software and hardware partners make the move to Suse Linux Enterprise Server. As part of the initiative, Novell is establishing its first Porting and Migration Center in Germany, a dedicated lab facility to help developers and software partners make the move to Linux.
The company also announced the release of Zenworks 6.6 Linux Management, Novell's software management system for Linux.
"[Governments] need to manage the identities of a wider number of users than any other industry; they need security both on the side of classified information and citizen information," said Kari Woolf, a marketing manager for Novell.
The migration program will allow government bodies to find the best possible path for migrating to Linux on both the desktop and server level, Woolf said.
She added that governments are eagerly moving to Linux because of the savings perceived with an open source platform.
"They really need to do more with less," she said. "And they know what they don't spend on IT, they can spend in other areas, for example, police and teachers."
Woolf said many governments are not comfortable with putting their computer infrastructure in the hands of one proprietary vendor. There's too much of a risk in not being able to service constituents effectively if something isn't working, she added.
Bill Claybrook, president of New River Marketing Research, Maynard, Mass., said governments are so actively adopting open source because they believe they can save money.
"The government sector is one of those areas where the employee doesn't need a full set of applications," Claybrook said. "A lot of retail and government jobs are very specific … they may only need e-mail and not all the other pieces of software available on Windows."
Claybrook said this limited environment lends itself well to a Linux desktop, which can provide tailored applications without hefty licensing fees.
"You can save money on licensing no matter what Microsoft says," he said. "A lot is available for free … in many cases they can get Linux for free [like] with Fedora."
The idea behind open source software isn't as important as the savings associated with it, Claybrook said, as government agencies are less likely to have developers who will take apart the code and look at it for potential tweaks.
"[Governments] whose developers have those resources certainly helps, but the main reason why Microsoft has made some of its source available is not because they wanted to, but because governments have found something they like about Linux and have started requiring that the code is available," he said.
Open source abroad
While open source is certainly being adopted or explored by several U.S. government agencies, including California and Massachusetts, most of the big headlines are being reserved for locations in China, India and South America.
Claybrook attributes this to a definitive lack of influence from Redmond, which is predominantly located in the U.S. and Europe.
"There's very little going on in China [with Microsoft] … where government-sponsored Linux is running on government servers." Claybrook said. "They are not as advanced, frankly, as other countries [and] lots of people don't like to deal with large companies with all this paperwork -- and again with the licensing costs."
Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Jack Loftus, News Writer