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Russia to drop Microsoft in quest for 'national' operating system

Russia says it hopes to switch all government and school computers from Microsoft's operating system to the open source Linux by the end of the year.

By Correspondent / October 29, 2010



Moscow

The Russian government has admitted that it's spending almost $5 million to develop a "national" operating system, based on the open source Linux OS.

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It's a bid to rid state computers of Microsoft's Windows OS, and other proprietary software, with the stated goals of saving money, improving security, and reducing dependence on foreign software giants like Microsoft.

The trouble is, however, nobody has yet seen the new system, and some experts say they have no idea why it should be required.

"It's a very sensitive question," says Viktor Tsygankov, an analyst with the Russian branch of International Data Corporation, an IT consulting firm. "I don't really see how it's possible to make a 'national' OS based on the Linux kernel. Linux isn't Russian. And what stops us from using existing Linux systems? They are stable and work fine. This is just unnecessary, in my personal opinion."

Russia's Ministry of Communications ordered the switch, which is supposed to take place by the end of this year, three years ago.

That directive, however, went virtually unnoticed by the public until this week, when Russian newspapers reported that a Moscow computer science teacher, Vladimir Sorokin, had been forced to quit his job after writing a letter to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev complaining that his bosses were still compelling him to use educational software that required Microsoft products.

Reached by telephone Friday, Mr. Sorokin – who describes himself as a Linux expert – said he wrote to Mr. Medvedev after growing alarmed about the absence of any progress at all in providing and installing the open source software in school computers.

"We have to prepare students for exams using Windows and other closed products, when there is a clear state order saying that we must be using only free software beginning in 2011," he says. "I wrote to Medvedev because I recalled a speech he gave a few years ago, saying that if Russia didn't develop software independence, it would be vulnerable in all other areas. That really impressed me."

Software pirates

Sorokin says most Moscow schools were using pirated software until the state program was announced three years ago. As a stopgap measure, Moscow authorities purchased licenses for Windows and other programs being run on the city's school computers for three years, he says.

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