German government adopts Linux in IBM deal

DUSSELDORF, Germany -- The German Federal Ministry of the Interior in Berlin agreed today to a partnership with IBM for the vendor to supply the Linux operating system to federal, state and local governments. The ministry is joining a small but growing group of European governments, including Finland and France, that are throwing their support behind open standards.

Under a deal signed by German Interior Minister Otto Schily and Erwin Staudt, chairman of IBM Deutschland GmbH, federal, state and local governments will receive discounts on IBM hardware and software products that support Linux.

IBM plans to preinstall on its servers a version of Linux, supplied by SuSE Linux AG in Nurnberg, Germany. SuSE Linux is a member of the newly created UnitedLinux group that aims to develop a common business version of the Linux operating system. The other members are Caldera International Inc., Turbolinux Inc. and Conectiva SA.

One of the reasons that the German government is jumping on the Linux bandwagon is cost; the government hopes to save money by reducing its reliance on a single corporate software supplier. Another reason is security; open-source software is seen as more resistant to crashes, bugs and viruses.

In a statement, Schily said the partnership with IBM stems from talks with companies about new IT security measures following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. He said that by supporting open-source software, the German government will avoid a "mono" IT environment, which is more susceptible to attack.

Moreover, Schily said, support of Linux will enable the public sector to achieve a greater level of software "heterogeneity" and to procure products for open-source environments more quickly and easily.

In addition to supplying hardware and software, IBM will provide technical support to government officials deploying Linux and other open-source software products. This support will include the launch of an open-source portal and a hotline service. The company will also be in charge of establishing a strategic management team to help develop new IT solutions based on open standards for the public sector.

In a statement, Staudt said the German public sector's decision to support open standards and open-source products will send a positive signal to companies already doing or planning to do business in Germany.

Eitel Dignatz, president of Dignatz Consulting in Munich, called the German government's commitment to Linux "a very positive decision." Although the open-source operating system "can't solve all problems, it's a good step in the direction of open standards, which, in turn, support interoperability," he said.

The German public-private partnership will extend to December 2004, a company spokesman said.

IBM invested about $1 billion worldwide in Linux intitiatives last year. The company says it has already recouped that investment.

For more Computerworld coverage of Linux, see our special focus page.

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