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U.K. looking to Linux with help from IBM

Nine new test programs in Britain add to open-source rumblings in Germany, China, the United States and elsewhere and increase the heat on makers of proprietary software.

The British government and IBM are kicking off nine Linux test programs in an effort to see how much money government agencies can save by switching to open-source software.

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IBM also announced that it is setting up a Linux competency center in Moscow in conjunction with the Russian government and local universities to examine how Linux can be used in the region.

The two announcements build on the momentum Linux is currently enjoying in the public sector. In May, the city of Munich agreed to replace 14,000 Windows desktops with Linux-based PCs. Open-source rumblings are also being heard in Korea, China, India and the United States. Open-source software, advocates say, can cut costs and ease software licensing and management hassles.

Microsoft, Sun Microsystems and other proprietary software developers, however, argue that the cost savings are often exaggerated. Because of the recent lawsuits filed by SCO, Linux could open up users to legal liability, some have said. Intellect, a trade group partly backed by Microsoft, issued a report saying that Linux could bring anarchy to U.K. government agencies.

The British Linux effort follows in the same general footsteps as recent moves in Germany, said Adam Jollans, Linux strategy manager at IBM. The German government first conducted test programs and then two years later began deploying Linux.

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The pilot programs "will provide data for the government agencies," Jollans said.

Last year, the Office of Government Commerce (OPG), the procurement and standards arm of the British government, and the Office of the e-Envoy told agencies that they could begin to install open-source software. Some projects are already under way.

"This builds upon our commitment to create a level playing field between open-source software from a range of suppliers and propriety software within government procurement," OGC Chief Executive Peter Gershon said in a statement.

The nine pilot projects will be implemented in a variety of government agencies, including the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Office of the e-Envoy and the Powys Borough Council.

Jollans could not state exactly how Linux will be used but said that agencies are looking at using it in both servers and desktops. So far, Linux has largely been a server phenomenon.

"The desktop conversation is definitely happening," Jollans said.

The Russian center will primarily function to educate local agencies about Linux and how it can be used in different environments. IBM has set up similar centers on Wall Street, in the United Kingdom and in the Middle East.