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French Eye Open Source, e-Government Savings

French Eye Open Source, e-Government Savings

The seriously cash-strapped French Government is looking to e-government and open source software for its salvation, under a plan to boost productivity and slash public spending.

Minister for civil service reform Renaud Dutreil told the fifth Worldwide Forum on e- Democracy in Paris late September that the French Government expects to cut up to half a million jobs from the French civil service over the next 10 years, according to a report in E-Government Bulletin.

Dutreil says new technology will help cut France's ballooning public-sector wages and pensions bill, which is contributing to the expanded national debt likely to cost the government Euro 1.63 billion to service in 2005 alone. "Cutting jobs is something that we were previously too afraid to talk about. But this is an obligation, not a political choice," he says.

He says the job cuts will be achieved via an imposed limit on recruitment far lower than the average rate at which people leave public jobs, according to the Bulletin. "Around 77,000 civil servants leave every year, and we must limit recruitment to between 30,000 and 40,000. How are we to maintain services? The e-economy is one of the keys," he says.

Meanwhile Dutreil, who earlier claimed cutting the software bill for the government by half is fully achievable, also told the Forum the French government is seriously looking at increased use of open source software, saying migrating some of the government's 900,000 desktop computers to open source technology is one of a range of options being considered.

Dutreil wants French government agencies to face up to some uncomfortable truths about modern services. "There was a time when we felt French-style public services were best, but those times have gone. Now, others have gone ahead of us in modernization," he said.

"We've talked about modernization for years. We've gone round and round the mountain, but not up the mountain. Now we need to go up the mountain."

The government wants to give "alternative" and open-source software (OSS) companies a chance to win business from Microsoft, with French representatives insisting the move isn't an attempt to punish Microsoft or American companies; but rather is simply to assist the country's government to move away from one supplier of state software.

"We are not starting a war against Microsoft or against American companies in the software sector," Dutreil says. "[But Microsoft] must return to being one supplier to the state among others. The competition is open. My estimate is that we can cut the state software bill at least in half."

The plan embraces both office-productivity suites and operating platforms such as Windows, with contracts for both estimated to be worth more than $360 million each. The software will be rolled out over three years. OSS solutions such as Linux, Mozilla, Apache, MySQL, Evolution and OpenOffice.org are definitely a possibility, Dutreil says, noting that such software is "very credible."

Microsoft France managing director Christophe Aulnette immediately announced the software company would fight the migration. "[OSS] is not free," he said. "It is very expensive because it shifts the cost to maintenance, services, integration, and training." However Microsoft, which is appealing a European Union fine for breaching antitrust law, said it wanted to show the French government it can offer software at a competitive price.

And despite Aulnette's defiant words, that's apparently exactly what it has done. According to The Register Microsoft immediately offered the French Government a 57.4 percent price cut

"Microsoft France CEO Christophe Aulnette told Agence France Presse he remained confident that Microsoft would hold onto Paris. 'There are a certain number of incorrect ideas circulating about free software, for example that it's free, he said."

And The Register reports Liberation cited a source close to the mayor's office as saying that Microsoft fears the symbolic effect of the loss of Paris most of all, but notes that the price cuts may be enough to discourage Paris from making the big leap."

France's public sector deficit is set to bust the European Union limit of three percent of gross domestic product (GDP) for the third year running this year.

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