GNU/Linux Desktop Survival Guide
by Graham Williams
GNU/Linux and Open Standards
Free software is software free of restrictions and limitations, and is sometimes also available under an arrangement where there is no purchase fee. While free software and open standards don't necessarily go hand-in-hand, open standards provide a level playing field for all to compete, and so open standards are just as important as free software. Many governments and organisations around the world are moving to GNU/Linux and Open Standards. We illustrate some of these below. This is merely a snapshot, and indeed it was becoming a significant task to keep this list up-to-date,
Unfortunately, we live in a commercial world where very large financial and self interests take precedence over common sense and a care for humanity. I have had the opportunity to discuss and present open source to many people, including politicians. These politicians have seen the sense of open standards and open source, and some have even had open source products (e.g., OpenOffice) installed for their own use. But a common story is that once they started openly advocating open source, they were bombarded by a stream of well funded lobbyists espousing the problems with open source. Unfortunately we generally only have the evidence to support the case for open source, rather than flashy and well paid smooth talkers. So let the evidence speak. If MS/Windows or Mac/OSX suit your needs and you are comfortable being locked into their environments, that is fine. That is why we have choice. But do make sure you understand that you are locked into whatever the software manufacturer wants to supply you—you have no freedoms there.
In September 2006 the City of Munich announced that it has started deploying a Debian-based solution on employees Desktops, replacing existing Microsoft Windows setups. Debian News carried the announcement from the City of Munich web site.
In December 2005, the Chief Technology Officer of the French Tax Agency gave a presentation on their adoption of OpenSource. From the presentation and an interview with Groklaw he indicates that FOSS is now our standard policy even for critical applications, that new servers are all GNU/Linux based, and that some 4000 servers run GNU/Linux.
In September 2005 the Australian state of New South Wales' Office of State Revenue announced it will scope a transition to GNU/Linux on the desktop within 6 months. The report in LinuxWorld indicates that significant cost savings are expected, in particular with the new licensing arrangements for Microsoft's Vista.
In September 2005 the State of Massachusetts decided to standardise all desktop applications on the OpenDocument format, as reported by CNet. This is a unencumbered open format that anyone is able to conform to, and many open source products already do. Notably, Microsoft has sofar declined to support such an open standard.
In July 2005 the City of Vienna, Austria, announced that it is migrating 18,000 desktops, 8,200 printers and 560 servers to a GNU/Linux distribution based on Debian (http://www.magwien.gv.at/vtx/vtx-rk-xlink?SEITE=020050705010).
In May 2005 Nokia announced an Internet tablet PC that uses Debian as the operating system. The Nokia 770 (http://linuxdevices.com/news/NS3716070830.html) uses Linux because it is “the best source for software that could be adopted, adapted, and integrated into an excellent consumer product.”
The Brazilian Government, as reported in the New York Times, 28 March 2005, has looked to “save millions of dollars in royalties and licensing fees” by switching to “to free operating systems, like Linux.”
In March 2005, South Korea's Ministry of Information and Communications launched “a government-wide promotion to increase the free use of the Linux operating system in the public sector,” as reported in TechNewsWorld, 28 March 2005.
EDS, a multinational computer services company, and very much a MS/Windows shop, wanted to implement a messaging system to provide support world wide. The deployed system is built on GNU/Linux. They comment:
The new Linux environment provides a level of security and stability unavailable elsewhere. Because it is open-source software, it also offers significant cost savings on licensing and allows EDS to provide faster, more responsive support because programming problems can be diagnosed and repaired more quickly.See http://www.eds.com/services/casestudies/eds_instant.aspx.
LinuxWorld Australia reported (17 December 2004) on Cisco's adoption of GNU/Linux on the Desktop, on the grounds of easier support. Cisco, the report goes on, have already converted more than 2,000 of its engineers to Linux desktops and plans to move laptop users to the platform over the next few years. An IT manager at Cisco (and chairman of the Open Source Development Lab's (OSDL) Desktop Linux Steering Committee) estimates that it takes a company approximately one desktop administrator to support 40 MS/Windows desktop, while one administrator can support between 200 and 400 GNU/Linux desktops, through tools such as ssh!
An article in ZDNet UK on November 30, 2004 (http://news.zdnet.co.uk/software/linuxu) reports how Europcar International reduced its IT costs with Debian GNU/Linux thin clients. The car hire firm cut its hardware and maintenance costs dramatically by migrating 1,500 rental stations to thin clients running Linux, with another By converting fat clients to terminal servers running GNU/Linux they reduced the total cost of ownership by 60 percent. Europcar tuned a version of Debian to include specific inventory, security and remote management tools needed by the company. The main advantage for Europcar was the ability to centrally manage the terminals in its 1,500 rental stations spread across Europe, dramatically reducing the cost of maintaining the systems and in particular the cost of implementing updates.
Singapore's Ministry of Defence plans to deploy OpenOffice.org on 15,000 Windows PCs within 18 months, according to a ZDNet article on 2 November 2004.
The Venezuelan State Government announced in September 2004 that it will switch to free software (see, for example, http://venezuelanalysis.com/news.php?newsno=1373). President Chavez announced that free software will be used “in an official and obligatory manner ... in the public administration.” In December 2004 (as mentioned on Slashdot the government issued a decree to prioritise the use of free and open source software over proprietary systems in government entities. This follows a year of pilot deployments in Venezuela's Info Centros (Internet public access points) and some ministries. The decree calls for plans to actively deploy FLOSS during a 24-month period. Related articles include http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news.php?newsno=1439.
The Munich City Government announced in June 2004 (see, for example, silicon.com), that its year-long trial had proved a success and the local government would migrate its 14,000 desktops to Linux over the next 4 years. Microsoft apparently worked hard to turn this decision around and in August 2004 there were stories that they had succeeded, but it appears not so. A press release on 22 April 2005 (http://www.muenchen.de/Rathaus/dir/limux/publikationen/news_archiv/127730/basis_client.html) provided an update and announced the choice of Debian as the distribution to be used. Some useful documents on the decision and implementation are available from http://europa.eu.int/ida/en/document/3223/470.
The Swiss Taxation Office distribute a CDROM with the open source office suite called Open Office. On the CDROM is an Open Office version of the Tax form. Tax payers fill in the form and lodge their returns electronically.
In June 2003, at the Net World Order conference, held at the CeBIT trade show in New York City, and sponsored by the Business Council for the United Nations, Bruno Lanvin from the World Bank said
These countries need cheap and efficient technology to make the giant leaps necessary to catch up with the rest of the world. Many are now using Linux, which looks to become the No. 1 operating system in China and India soon.
Spain's regional government of Extremadura announced in April 2002 (see, for example, Linux Weekly News) its LinEx project, a GNU/Linux distribution based on Debian with Gnomeas its default desktop environment. Extremadura set itself the goals of creating conditions for wide-spread adoption of information technology and increase computer literacy among the citizens. However, their Microsoft solution was not possible because of license costs. So the Extremadura government turned to open source software and the government gave away the product CDs to government offices and schools. The Extremadura government announced an installed base of over 80,000 LinEx computers in schools and 33 computer centers for use by the general population.
Mexico City's municipal government announced plans in March 2001 (see, for example, Wired News) to move to the Linux operating system and “to use the money it saves to fund social welfare programs.”