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The French gendarmerie has blown a big framboise at Microsoft by ditching Windows XP in favour of Ubuntu.

The paramilitary police force is to switch 70,000 desktops over to the Linux OS, two years after switching its browsers to Firefox, and three years after dumping MS Office for OpenOffice.

Deputy director of the force’s IT department Colonel Nicholas Geraud said the change will be gradual, according to the AFP. 5,000 to 8,000 machines are to make the switch this year, with the rest swapping over the next four years.

Geraud cited familiar reasons for the switch: diversifying suppliers, reducing costs and gaining control of the software. He claimed the switch to open source products was saving the department around €7m a year.

The 100,000 strong force’s leap to open source software is thought to be one of the biggest yet by a public organisation. Apparently, the French national assembly made the switch to Ubuntu last year.

In the UK, education IT agency Becta has advised schools to give Vista and Office a wide berth and to examine open source alternatives.

For its part, Microsoft has fought hard to stop public sector customers switching to open source, and has had a few successes in changing some public sector minds.

Still, it has had a hard time persuading anyone to switch across to its flagship desktop OS, Vista. At the same time, Microsoft intends to pull most versions of XP off the market later this year, after already being forced to extend the life cycle of the OS. ®

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