City of Austin considers move to free software

The tech hot spot of Austin is considering removing Microsoft software from some of its computers and replacing it with open-source software in what could be another setback for the technology giant’s lucrative government business.

By David Koenig, The Associated Press

The city could wind up with Linux-based open-source systems for some functions on its 5,200 desktops and Microsoft for others, said Pete Collins, the city’s acting chief information officer.

"It’s going to be a hybrid solution," Collins said.

Collins cautioned, however, that a decision to drop or scale back on products from the world’s largest software company could be several months away.

Some functions, such as the city council’s agenda-management system, only run on MS Office. Also, Austin’s licensing agreement to use Microsoft runs until the end of next year, and Collins said he wouldn’t stop using the software while the city is still paying for it.

Austin is considering reducing its use of Microsoft to save money. The city is paying more than $3 million under a licensing agreement signed two years ago and faces a $30 million budget shortfall, Collins said.

For the past several months, city technology workers have been testing open-source software on about 30 desktops. The study was disclosed Wednesday in a Web posting by an employee in Collins’ department. Collins said a larger pilot would begin in January to test whether open-source software such as OpenOffice — a free competitor to MS Office — would work in other city departments.

Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft declined to comment on Austin’s plans beyond a spokesman’s comment that it would "work closely with Austin to explore how we can best meet their business needs."

Austin’s deliberations is more evidence that the growing movement behind open-source software is spilling into the lucrative government market, which accounts for about 10% of global information-technology spending, according to research firm IDC.

In October, a top Massachusetts official directed the state’s chief technology officer to adopt an open-source policy, and foreign governments and cities, including Munich, have switched to Linux.

Microsoft software generally runs on coding that the company keeps secret. The so-called open-source operating systems are led by Linux, whose contents are public and freely available, which advocates say makes open-source systems cheaper to install and operate.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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