In a bid to promote wider competition in public sector IT, the Office of Government Commerce is sponsoring the trial of open source software in nine government departments and local authorities.
The news marks another step on the journey towards the acceptance of open source and a small detour from the Microsoft roadmap.
Microsoft is keen to fight this trend and has approached Newham Borough Council in London, one of the local authorities taking part in the trial, with the offer of extensive consultancy designed to highlight the advantages of sticking with Microsoft.
The news is a reminder of how important the public sector is to Microsoft. Earlier this year it fought a hard battle to stop the city of Munich going down the open source route. Chief executive Steve Ballmer even paid a personal visit to negotiate with officials, but was unsuccessful in his quest.
Microsoft argues that any organisation looking at open source must consider the total cost of ownership of the operating system. It is right and the outcome of the trials will be eagerly awaited. While it is waiting, Microsoft may ponder the consequences of last year's licensing changes.
In latest survey from public sector IT managers' organisation Socitm, 71% of its members said changes to Microsoft's licensing would influence their IT strategies. If these trials prove a success, we may see more public sector organisations considering an alternative to Microsoft.