Scottish police release StarOffice

Von Todd R.

The Central Scotland Police operation is removing Sun Microsystems Inc."s StarOffice productivity software from about 400 PCs and switching to Microsoft Corp."s Office system. Officials this week cited lower maintenance costs and the need to interoperate more smoothly with other departments running Windows.

The switch is the latest example of a European tussle for business between Microsoft and open-source software.

Several European organizations, particularly public agencies, have been adopting or experimenting with Linux and other open-source products in recent years, but the move by the Randolphfield, Scotland-based police unit shows that 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," said David Stirling, head of IT for Central Scotland Police.

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 for a new crime-reporting application, Stirling said.

The police department expects to significantly reduce its maintenance and administration costs using the Microsoft software, Stirling said. He stopped short of saying that the total overall cost of ownership would be lower but estimated that the Microsoft software would cost no more and offer efficiencies.

The agency had retained Windows on its desktop PCs but ran StarOffice applications from a central Sun Unix system and 30 Linux servers installed at branch offices. Early this year, following a review of its infrastructure and a follow-up study in March, it decided to switch.

A Sun spokesman declined comment on the decision.

Analysts said they weren"t surprised by the move, noting that organizations often move among technologies to give themselves the best fit. But some said the move may indicate that Microsoft could be returning to favor in Europe.

Laura DiDio, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston, said changing conditions for the police department make deals like this one understandable. "StarOffice is a great package," she said, but it may not have all the collaboration and other features needed by police today to help fight terrorism electronically.

Carol Baroudi, an analyst at Hurwitz & Associates in Waltham, Mass., said the deal "is not an insignificant thing" because Microsoft has been taken to task across much of Europe for its high prices as many governments have moved to open-source applications and Linux to save money.

"There"s a very strong open-source push in Europe, so to win back accounts is no small thing," Baroudi said.