The Central Scotland Police is removing Sun Microsystems Inc.'s StarOffice productivity software from about 400 PCs and switching to Microsoft Corp.'s Office System, citing lower maintenance costs and the need to interoperate more smoothly with other departments running Windows.
It is the latest anecdote in a wider tussle for business between Microsoft and open-source software in Europe. Several organizations, particularly public bodies, have been adopting or experimenting with Linux and other open-source products, but the move by the Scottish police shows the migrations are not all one-way.
"It's not really based on any ideological argument about open-source software, it's based on pure business needs," David Stirling, head of IT for Central Scotland Police, said of the decision to switch.
The agency is one of eight police jurisdictions in Scotland and employs about 1,000 officers and support staff. It adopted StarOffice in 2000 when it was short of cash after paying out for a new crime reporting application, Stirling said. It retained Windows on its desktop PCs but ran the StarOffice applications from a central Sun Unix system and 30 Linux servers installed at branch offices.
The agency said in 2000 that it would see initial savings of at least £245,000 (US$439,000) from switching to StarOffice and Linux, and that the open-source deployment would allow it to bring productivity software to more of its officers.
Early this year, however, the agency reviewed its IT infrastructure as part of an effort to meet performance targets, comply with Scotland's Freedom of Information Act and work more closely with other law enforcement groups. Following the review, and a follow-up study in March, it decided to switch back to Microsoft.
The force expects to significantly reduce its maintenance and administration costs using the Microsoft software, Stirling said. He stopped short of saying the total overall cost of ownership would be lower, but estimated that the Microsoft software would cost no more and lead to greater efficiencies.
In the past, when the agency deployed a new police application on StarOffice and Linux, the application had to be customized to work with the open-source software, Stirling said. It was also more difficult to configure the open-source software so that police officers could access their files from any police station, he said.
Perhaps most of all, the agency needed its systems to work smoothly with those at other agencies and criminal justice departments. Scotland's other seven police jurisdictions use Microsoft for their desktops and applications layer, he said. "Even though we're one of eight police forces, we make up only 5 percent of the police officers. It's hard to have 5 percent driving the rest of the force," he said.
Central Scotland Police has now signed a three-year enterprise license agreement that includes the Microsoft Office System, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 for 500 end users.
Help from Microsoft in other areas may have influenced the decision. The company plans to work with Scottish police to develop an electronic document management system to help it comply with requests made under the 2002 Freedom of Information Act, and a document sharing system for police staff, Microsoft said.