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Peter Sayer
Senior Editor

French police uses open source for variety, consistency

Feb 03, 20062 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsLinuxOpen Source

France has two national police forces, each reporting to a different ministry. One ministry is trying to avoid the kind of IT monoculture that allows viruses to spread and disable all key systems; the other wants to bring uniformity to a sprawling IT infrastructure. Both are turning to open source software to achieve their aims.

The Ministry of the Interior, responsible for the Police Nationale, favors harmony in system architecture, but diversity in technology, and is replacing some, but not all, of the proprietary systems it uses with open source alternatives.

“It’s for security reasons, to avoid a concentration of one particular technology that could lead a total break-down of systems,” said Patrick Guedj, an IT manager at the Ministry of the Interior, speaking at the Solutions Linux conference in Paris this week.

At the Gendarmerie, the police force run by the Ministry of Defense, the goal is instead to “homogenize the desktop,” IT manager Nicolas Géraud said, speaking at the same conference.

Last year, Géraud’s team rolled out the (OOo) open source desktop productivity suite to around 45,000 gendarmes who previously used Microsoft Office to write up citations and file their reports. Over 80 percent of them are now using OOo and Ic@re, a package developed in-house that automates 500 different administrative procedures using OOo.

This year, the goal is to roll out the Firefox Web browser and Thunderbird e-mail client to those same users, and to deploy a new version of Ic@re written in Java.

The Gendarmerie has replaced 15,000 of its computers since the migration began, installing only OOo on the new machines. In early 2007, the Gendarmerie plans to delete its remaining copies of Microsoft Office, completing the migration to OOo.

The workstations still run the Windows OS today, but the Gendarmerie is looking at the possibility of switching them all to Linux in 2007 or 2008.

Resilience in the face of security incidents is not the only reason the Ministry of the Interior is clinging to its mix of systems, according to Guedj.

“Today, in desktop productivity software, there’s a certain software hegemony,” he said.

By using several suppliers, the ministry can play them against one another to keep prices down: “If you buy everything the same, especially in IT where technology is sticky and difficult to change, it kills competition and pushes up prices,” he said.