Open Source Leads Gendarme to Arrest Spending

Our experience with France's Gendarmerie may be limited to Pepé Le Pew cartoons, but that won't stop us from applauding their efforts at locking up proprietary software. That might just be because the fabled maréchaussée is trimming its IT spending by 70% this year — without losing so much as a byte — thanks to the wonders of Open Source software.

How did this near-miraculous trim-down come about? Apparently, somewhere around 2002, the service discovered that Open Source applications handle open standards — which are a big deal, to say the least, in Europe — better than their proprietary counterparts. When they moved to IMAP for email, it was Mozilla's Thunderbird client that found its way to Gendarmerie computers, followed by a roll-out of Firefox for web browsing. In 2004, one of the force's accountants, ever on the lookout for costs to cut, took exception to Microsoft requiring new licenses for the service's software and suggested that OpenOffice be deployed instead. In a brilliant stroke of irony, it was the response from Microsoft, not the accountant's proposal, that brought OpenOffice to the attention of the Gendarmerie's general manager, who ordered that it be installed on all of the force's 90,000 desktops.

Even bigger change was to come in 2007, when the maréchaussée opted to scrub Windows in favor of Ubuntu, after learning that Microsoft's Windows Vista would require additional training for staff with reduced benefits for the service. Lieutenant-Colonel Xavier Guimard, who presented a keynote on the Gendarmerie's success at an Open Source conference in Utrecht, said the biggest difference the service found between Windows XP and Ubuntu were its icons — and games. Said Guimard: "Games are not our priority."

The Gendarmerie estimates that it has saved some €50 million on software licensing since 2004. Until that time, the force purchased between 12,000 - 15,000 proprietary licenses per year — in 2005, that number was trimmed to a mind-blowing 27. That wasn't the end, though, by far, according to Guimard: "Since July 2007 we have bought two hundred Microsoft licences. If one of us wants a new PC, it comes with Ubuntu. This encourages our users to migrate." But eliminating software license fees isn't the only way the service is keeping francs in the frocks of French taxpayers.1 Lt. Colonel Guimard revealed that the cost of updates, as well, has been trimmed dramatically, with what was once a year-long process with techs traveling to the four corners of the earth to keep anti-virus and other applications up-to-date is now a two-week process that requires no travel at all!

It is encouraging to see government organizations picking up on the benefits of Open Source software, and indeed, the governments of Europe have been leading the charge on Open Source deployment. The Gendarmerie Nationale is by no means the only governmental group to recognize what Open Source can do — just months ago, Breaking News carried news of Germany's Bundesministerium des Innern (Ministry of the Interior) and their successful deployment of Linux desktops to German embassies and consulates worldwide. One can only hope that as these governments find greater and greater success with Open Source, that certain other governments — indeed all — will do likewise.

1 Yes, yes, we know, francs went out with the introduction of the euro — call it poetic license.
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