Supporters of open source computer software will be cheered by the news that the French police are abandoning Microsoft's Internet Explorer for the Mozilla Foundation's Firefox browser.
The police force's 70,000 desktops were being converted to Firefox and its e-mail client Thunderbird because of the navigator's "reliability, security and inter-operability with other state services," said General Christian Brachet, IT director of the police force.
The move should be complete by the end of the year, he said, as enthusiasts of open source software wrapped up an annual meeting in Paris at the Solution Linux 2006 exhibition.
Firefox had been chosen because it was based on the W3C standard, an international norm for the Internet, and because it works equally well under Microsoft, Mac or Linux.
Firefox has now taken over nearly 18 percent of the French Internet browser market approaching the European average of 20 percent, according to a survey carried out in January by XiTi Monitor, an Internet site quality management service.
But it still has a way to go before matching the 38 percent market penetration the Mozilla navigator has achieved in Finland.
The French police force is also thinking ahead to a future when citizens could, for example, directly report a theft to the police via the Internet.
"With Firefox as our default browser we are not imposing a specific browser on the citizen: he'll be able to use any one as long as it respects the WC3 standard," Brachet told the monthly magazine Linux Pratique.
The switch to an open source navigator follows the police department's decision last year to migrate from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice for all of its desktops.
OpenOffice is a collection of different applications, which can be downloaded free of charge, such as a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation program similar to Microsoft Powerpoint, a vector graphics editor and a database program similar to Microsoft Access. Many of the components are designed to mirror those available in Microsoft Office.
By the end of last year, all the police force's computers had made the switch to OpenOffice 1.4 and by March should have moved to version 2.0.
The change should save the police more than 2 million euros (US$2.4 million) a year, according to Colonel Nicolas Geraud, deputy director of the police force's IT department.
Geraud, speaking at the Solution Linux 2006 exhibition, said this has been the annual cost of buying MSOffice licenses for the police force since 2004.
The move to open source also meant the department could better control its fixed costs as IT expenses were becoming independent of the number of desktops in use, he added.
On the ground the move to OpenOffice.org had been accompanied with a system known as IC@RE, developed by eight non IT-specialist police officers, to help police officers write out their reports.
"This product corresponds exactly to their needs," Geraud said.