The Minister in charge of French administration modernization has declared to Reuters that, in order to reduce the price of software licenses used in the French administration (900.000 desktops), they are going to let Microsoft compete with Free Software, including MandrakeSoft and Mozilla Europe (both entities are based in Paris, France). The French national police has already tested Free software on 20.000 PCs, and all ministries have already tested Free software solutions for the desktop. "Experimentation is over, we now have to enter a phase where the savings are real", said sources close to the Minister. Migration is expected to mostly take place in 2004 and 2005. "I have nothing against Microsoft", said the Minister to Reuters, "they just have to become again a vendor (of the French administration) among others".

Renaud Dutreil, the Minister, added: "It is very clear that Free Software solutions are a credible alternative to proprietary software, in terms of price and features. These solutions deserve a better place on the Administration desktops".

MandrakeSoft mentions that they already have contracts ongoing with various government agencies, including those in charge of Culture, Agriculture and Finance.

This announcement (in French for now, English version hopefully coming soon) is a big deal for Free software in Europe, where governments have traditionally more influence on markets than in the US.

Interviewed by Reuters this morning, I, as the Mozilla Europe president, emphasized the fact that saving on license costs is just the tip of the iceberg. It's also a matter of not becoming too dependent on a single vendor (locked-in by formats and having to purchase newer license) and being more interoperable, as Libre software tends to respect open standards much more than proprietary software. (Should you doubt about this, just compare MSIE's standards support IE with Mozilla's!). Finally, for the European economy, buying service from local companies is much better than purchasing licenses from a US company. Such a vision is very important for a government whose job is to help the local economy thrive.

For those of you reading French, I suggest that you read Libération's Microsoft prêt à relever le défi des logiciels libres.

Update:Reuter's first piece of news published by ComputerWorld