Swiss Users Stand Up For Open Source

Open SourceRegulationSoftware

Whatever the Swiss government thinks, there are plenty of users in Switzerland who know that open source provides a viable alternative route


Switzerland hit the open-source headlines in May, when Red Hat and others challenged an £8 million annual contract for desktop systems. The contract was issued to Microsoft, with no public tender, because there was no “sufficient alternative” to Windows and Office, said the Swiss Federal Bureau for Building and Logistics.

The Swiss open source community hotly disputes that claim, and the Linux Days conference, held in Geneva at the start of June, gave it a fine opportunity to back up its case.

The French-speaking Lemanique area around Geneva and Lausanne may seem like a quiet and sleepy backwater, but on 3rd June, open source developers and users gathered there to show, to a much wider audience, some of the interesting solutions open source software has provided within Switzerland.

Since Linux Days started in 2005, it has had a growing list of speakers and visitors. It began with a focus on education and the public sector, and has expanded. This year’s theme was “Open for Business”, featuring mainstream businesses that are using Linux servers and workstations for their standard applications, but there education still featured strongly.

Swiss open source users attribute this change to a move to web-based applications and the multi-platform strategies of the browser developers, which makes it a simple matter to roll out applications on platforms that might have seemed exotic a few years ago. The recession has also increased some users’ openness to try new solutions that may save money.

No alternative?

All this added up to a line-up of speakers which provided a solid and direct contradiction to the assertion that there is no alternative to Microsoft.

Two presentations on public sector computing were from IT professionals from the District of Vaud (Lausanne), for projects in geological mapping and online monitoring of resource consumption for public buildings.

CERN teaches language on Ubuntu

The European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) houses some of the brightest minds in the world, and is at the forefront of open source development. So when the State of Geneva was looking for a partner to help it develop an educational laboratory, it turned to CERN. From this collaboration comes the Open Source Language Laboratory (LESOLL), based on Ubuntu.

Funded by European member states, CERN boasts technology talent from around the world. For the LESOLL project, it called upon Miika Tuiska from the HIP-TEC department of the Helsinki Institute for Physics. As the project’s key architect, Tuiska brings together the disparate requirements into one cohesive computing environment. By using Ubuntu and the buying power of the state of Geneva, the per seat cost can be kept to a minimum and can allow a roll-out to a greater user population.

The LESOLL project, currently being piloted in Geneva’s public schools, aims is to provide a computer-based learning tool for subjects across the curriculum. The developers found computer assisted learning was useful for language teaching – and the open source desktop supported it well.

Geneva’s learning its lesson

The Canton of Geneva had a programme for computer-aided learning for several years but it really started moving in 2007. Old style language learning labs use tapes, but the canton replaced these with digital media. More functions were added with each new release, so the teacher can monitor individual students from his or her console and, students can work together on tasks.

In the next stage, the canton wants to let institutes swap content developed within the system – but to do this, it must settle questions of who owns that content, and make sure that teachers – who may not be as IT literate as their pupils – are well enough trained to handle the process.
Open source projects always learn from each other, and the canton has been consulting with the State of Adalucia in Spain which has over 300,00 Linux seats. Two schools have piloted the project, and it will be rolled out to two more by the end of the summer.

With the court case ongoing, Red Hat declined to be interviewed for this article – but if the company needs some references to bolster its complaint, it doesn’t seem as if it will have to look too hard.

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