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Israeli govt opts for open-source software

The Israeli government is no longer buying Microsoft applications in protest over the company's sales policies.

Government agencies will continue to use the Microsoft products they already have, but will not upgrade them, and the government is promoting the development and use of open-source alternatives, said Ministry of Finance vice spokeswoman Maly Cohen.

She added that the government is unhappy with Microsoft's refusal to sell individual programs at a reasonable price. "Office includes software that we don't use, and if you buy individually it costs much more than as a package.

"We already have XP, and so the government decided that as we're not in a high-tech industry, there's no need to upgrade every year."

Microsoft Europe Middle East Africa spokesman Tom Brookes said yesterday that Microsoft will continue to work with the Israeli government and see what solutions it can find.

"Microsoft is very willing to discuss how we can help, although the Israeli government is, of course, free to use whatever technology it wishes," he said.

Microsoft takes a long-view approach to the way it works with governments, Brookes said, and if there is some way that it can work with the Israeli government it will do so.

On its part, the Israeli government has also decided to encourage the development of lower-price alternatives to Microsoft in a bid to encourage computer use across Israel.

"We have worked with Sun and IBM on designing a Hebrew version of Open Office software and distributing it as an alternative to Office," said Cohen. "It depends on the government office, but the government is now using Office, Linux and the Open Office software."

Open Office is free, open-source office software that was originally based on StarOffice from Sun.

The adoption of Open Office by the government has already raised interest in the software among Israelis, including those who normally are not interested in technology, said Shoshannah Forbes, who works as a software tester for Open Office.org, the organisation that develops the open-source program.

Microsoft software is very expensive in Israel and interest is such that she has been asked about Open Office by complete strangers. Forbes recently bought a new, high-spec computer for 2,000 Shekels ($457), and said that a copy of Office to run on it would have cost the same again.

The government decision has been key, because people did not know about alternatives and also because many government online services required that things be submitted in a Microsoft Office format, Forbes said. The government's decision will make open-source software much more useable, Forbes said.

Gillian Law writes for IDG News Service


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