Last week, the city of Munich agreed to an offer made by IBM and SuSE Linux to migrate the city's 14,000 computers from Microsoft Windows to the open-source Linux operating system.
The German city’s choice of "penguin power" for its PCs may set a precedent for other German government decisions, in a country which is, increasingly, prepared to consider open source alternatives to Windows.
In a conversation with Jean Philippe Courtois, the Microsoft chief executive officer for Europe, I asked if open software, and the interests of European government in open software and open standards represent more of a commercial threat to Microsoft in Europe than elsewhere.
“The Unix culture is very strong in the European public sector,” says Courtois, "and Microsoft faces a global challenge in proving the greater value, flexibility and integrated nature of our solutions.
“That challenge faces us across the world but is clearly an area of focus within Europe."
While Microsoft has been revealing its source code to governments, it has been equally active in working with the industry to develop and support the next generation of open standards.
These, say Courtois, will complement our XML-based interoperable world, where data can be shared as easily as text and pictures, an example of how we are enhancing technologies and connecting all systems, not just Microsoft’s.
Not giving a great deal away then, as one might expect in such a sensitive area. But Courtois was keen to stress the scale of co-operation that is taking place between Microsoft and governments across Europe.
These early signs of German support of open source may be a warning to the Microsoft church but don’t yet represent the vanguard of the open-source "reformation". My words, not those of Courtois.
In fact, the bigger picture very much suggests that as the company challenges the position of the traditional Unix software market in partnership with traditional "big iron" companies such as Unisys, it is winning converts as government departments swap their Unix-driven legacy mainframes for more flexible and cost-effective Windows mainframes, like the ES7000.
Meanwhile, in Rome, Unix remains a preferred platform, but the government is putting in five Unisys ES7000 systems for a number of reasons, which involve cost, consolidation, internet enabling of applications and a general “tidying up” and centralising of its computing architecture.
This move does not mean that Rome has rejected Unix, but rather it recognises where the Windows/ES7000 combination offers greater flexibility and a better total cost of ownership solution than a Unix solution.
There I think we have something approaching an answer to the Windows/Unix/open source dilemma. Each solution can play well in a particular space, but Windows is a great all-rounder that continues to improve and scale up with every year that passes.
While Germany clearly recognises the strengths in the open source argument, I believe that where the public sector across Europe is concerned costs and co-existence, rather than replacement, will shape future demand for software as government services become increasingly connected and web-enabled.
What do you think?
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Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.
Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies and specialises in the areas of eGovernment and information security.
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