Friday, September 24, 2004

Business Report - Iran closes Windows as it ditches Microsoft and embraces Linux

Business Report - Iran closes Windows as it ditches Microsoft and embraces Linux: "Governments given key to Office suite as software giant faces growing competition from open-source solution

Iran closes Windows as it ditches Microsoft and embraces Linux
September 21, 2004

Tehran/Paris - Iran has become the latest country to edge towards ditching the ubiquitous Microsoft computer operating system in favour of the open-source Linux solution, even if its refusal to abide by copyright laws means that the Islamic republic does not pay a penny to Bill Gates.

At the same time Microsoft offered more than 60 governments the key to its Office desktop suite yesterday as the world's leading software maker faces growing competition from open-source rivals such as Linux.

In a statement on its website, Microsoft said it would share its source code to the Microsoft Office 2003, which includes Microsoft Word and Excel spreadsheet applications, as part of its Government Security Programme (GSP).

Launched in January 2003, the GSP is a no-fee global agreement aimed at promoting confidence in the security and interoperability of Microsoft's products.

Under the programme Microsoft already offers the source code to its Windows operating system, used on about 90 percent of the world's computers.

Microsoft said that more than 30 countries, including Australia, Britain, China, Norway, Russia and Spain, have signed GSP agreements.

Government agencies from more than 60 countries with intellectual property regimes that meet international standards are eligible to participate in the programme.

Under the terms of the GSP's three-year contract, governments can access Microsoft's underlying codes and use them to develop new software, but they cannot alter the sources codes themselves.

The move came as Microsoft faces competition from so-called open-source software such as Linux, available for free on the internet.

Several governments and municipalities have turned to Linux as a way to save money.

In Europe, the city of Vienna announced last month that it would join a growing number of European cities next year embracing Linux.


The municipality of Munich, in southern Germany, has been operating exclusively on Linux since 2003.

Last month Hewlett-Packard announced plans for what it said was the world's first notebook computer from a major manufacturer using the Linux operating system.

According to Mohammad Sephery-Rad, the man in charge of Iran's computer systems, long-term political and security considerations have sparked a major initiative to make the switch to Linux.

"All the software in Iran is copied. There is no copyright law, so everybody uses Microsoft software freely," said the secretary of Iran's High Informatics Council.

"But we cannot continue like this much longer," he said.

The reason has nothing to do with the guilt of using pirated software (a cracked Windows XP CD costs the same as a blank CD), but more pragmatic considerations - not least because of the irony that Iran's information technology backbone is based on software from its arch-enemy the US.

Firstly, Iran is trying to gain entry into the World Trade Organisation, a step that would entail respect of international intellectual property laws.

"We would have to pay a lot of money," said Sephery-Rad, noting that most of the government's estimated 1 million personal computers and the country's 6 to 8 million computers were being run almost exclusively on the Windows platform.

"Secondly, Microsoft software has a lot of back doors and security weaknesses that are always being patched, so it is not secure. We are also under US sanctions. All this makes us think we need an alternative operating system."

The alternative selected is Linux, which several governments have been embracing as a way to save money, break free from Microsoft's virtual monopoly and evade the daily barrages of viruses that bombard Windows systems."

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