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Commonwealth goes open source

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The state of Massachusetts is set to follow in the footsteps of a number of European cities by ditching Microsoft in favour of open source software.

In a move that could have serious repercussions for the Redmond-based software giant, the state has proposed that all its employees should use open formats for electronic documents from the beginning of 2007. In a statement on the state of Massachusetts' website, Peter Quinn, chief information officer for the state, said that it had had talks with a number of industry representatives and experts about its future direction.

"These discussions have centred on open formats particularly as they relate to office documents, their importance for the current and future accessibility of government records, and the relative 'openness' of the format options available to us," said Quinn.

Massachusetts' decision to switch from Microsoft's Office suite to an open source alternative could lead other states to consider dropping proprietary software. Not only would this prove embarrassing to a company which is already battling to stop European governmental organisations from ditching its products, but it could be costly too.

According to estimates, Microsoft Office accounts for as much as 30 per cent of the firm's revenues and therefore it is unlikely to welcome the news that one of the most populous states in its home market is planning on dropping its software.

Evidence of the company's increasing concern over open source can be found in the methods it used to try and convince Munich city council to continue using its software back in March 2003.

Back then, Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer arrived in the German city to personally plead with the mayor not to switch to Linux after discovering that the city was unwilling to spend $36m to upgrade to the latest versions of Windows and Office. In addition, Microsoft offered a 90 per cent discount and an offer of millions of dollars worth of training and support services. Despite this, Munich opted for an open source solution instead.

A number of other European cities have also made moves towards implementing open source software including Vienna, Paris and Bergen in Norway. Moreover, the UK government's National Computing Centre (NCC) recently launched an open source test laboratory to encourage take-up of open source solutions among public sector organisations.

In some ways it comes as no surprise that the state of Massachusetts is leading the way in dropping proprietary software in the US. After all, the state has been at loggerheads with the behemoth for a number of years.

Massachusetts was the only state that decided not to settle its antitrust claims against Microsoft in a case brought about by federal government and a number of US states back in 2002. That deal forced the software giant to make it easier for competitors to provide products on Windows. However, Massachusetts rejected that settlement claiming that Microsoft was still engaged in stifling competition.

In July 2004, the US Court of Appeals rejected the state's argument, but this latest move would seem to suggest that Massachusetts is not prepared to kiss and make up just yet.

Copyright © 2005, ENN

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