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Cities Begin to Look Away from Microsoft

PARIS, Jul 13 (IPS) – Many European public administrations are distancing themselves from the U.S. software giant Microsoft and turning to free software.

The Paris city administration has announced it is considering replacing its Microsoft systems with public domain software such as Linux, OpenOffice and Mozilla.

The overhaul of the city’s data processing systems would entail acquiring some 15,000 new computers with the new software by 2008.

Microsoft said in January the change would cost Paris 15 million dollars, and offered a 60 percent discount on its own systems. That reduction would bring costs down to less than seven million dollars, it claimed.

Joachim Larisch, administrative director at the university of Bremen in northern Germany says free software is better suited to government needs. ”By its mere conception, Linux can be adapted freely by users, without having to solicit permission from private software producers,” he said.

Linux is a competitor to Microsoft Windows. OpenOffice, a free system for data processing, competes with Microsoft Office, and Mozilla, an Internet browser, is challenging Microsoft Explorer.

”Besides being free of charge, Linux and OpenOffice can be easily adapted to an administration’s needs,” Larisch said. ”And the Internet browser Mozilla doesn’t suffer the numerous safety gaps of Microsoft Explorer, which are very dangerous for a public administration.”

In addition, he said, Linux users are not compelled to use software associated with it, as with Microsoft.

Use of free software has become a central issue in strategies to eradicate the digital divide, the growing technological and commercial gap separating the industrialised rich from the poor countries.

In discussions at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) held in Geneva in December last
year, representatives of non-governmental organisations and from the poorest countries emphasised the need to support free software to promote wider access to information and communication technologies.

Several NGOs and representatives of governments from the South tried at the meeting to promote free software. But the U.S.government resisted such efforts.

”Part of the digital divide comes from artificial obstacles to the sharing of information,” Richard Stallman, founder of a project to promote free software told IPS. ”At Geneva the Brazilian government sought measures to promote free software, but the U.S.. government was firmly against it.”

Stallman, a U.S. citizen, said that U.S. President George W. Bush had received substantial financial contributions from Microsoft for his election campaign.