U.K. police force considers Linux for desktops

A U.K. police advisory body, the Police Information Technology Organization (PITO), has launched a three-month study to consider the possibility of using the Linux operating system on all police force desktops, the PITO said Wednesday.

"We are looking at the cost, stability, security and compatibility with other systems that are currently being used on the various forces. There is no commitment towards Linux just yet, but we liked it enough to look into the possibility of using it on what we estimate to be 60,000 desktops throughout the police forces in England and Wales," said PITO spokeswoman Isabell Davies.

The PITO is a government agency that is charged with providing IT, communication systems and services to the U.K. police as well as other U.K. criminal justice organizations. The PITO has contracted Netproject -- an association of user organizations including Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance Group PLC, Nationwide Building Society, National Grid and government departments -- to carry out the Linux usability tests as part of a larger study called Project Valiant, Davies said.

"Valiant is examining the requirements for the next generation of police computing, and Linux is just one of 13 strands to the project. Valiant is looking at everything from the recruitment and retention of IS staffing to desktop software," Davies said.

U.K. police forces are currently using either Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT or Window 2000 on their desktops, and the study is looking at the possibility of using Microsoft software as well, Davies said. "One of the reasons we are looking at Linux is because it is an open standard which is something we were interested in. At this stage of the study, we are trying to establish whether Linux is mature or stable enough to potentially meet police service needs. We are expecting the study results by the end of March," she said.

The U.K. police force isn't the only government agency thinking about making the switch from Microsoft to alternative forms of desktop software. Both the Society of Information Technology Management (SOCITM), the group representing local government IT workers, and the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), which is representing the government on a national level, have been in negotiations with Microsoft over new software licensing terms. Last November, OGC revealed that it was in talks with Microsoft over a single contract to supply its Office and Windows software to the country's 497,600 public servants. The OGC said that under its new licensing program, Microsoft was looking to raise fees on government contracts by between 50 percent to 200 percent and that the government had not ruled out the idea of ending its contract with Microsoft to find cheaper software elsewhere if a deal could not be reached.

Netproject believes that PCs configured with Linux can be made highly secure with user identification technology such as smart cards and biometrics, project manager Eddie Bleasdale said in a statement. The software can also be updated over the network, he said.

With the development of other software tools that enable Microsoft Windows applications to be ported, Linux is currently ready for deployment on the desktop, according to Bleasdale.

There are number of applications that have been developed for PITO that run under Microsoft Windows, and Netproject will examine the strategies and software tools that would enable these programs to be ported to Linux, Bleasdale said.

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