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Netherlands Adopts Open-Source Software

The Dutch government has set a soft deadline of April 2008 for its agencies to start using open-source software -- freely distributed programs that anyone can modify -- the Netherlands Economic Affairs Ministry said Thursday.

Government organizations will still be able to use proprietary software and formats but will have to justify it under the new policy, ministry spokesman Edwin van Scherrenburg said.

Van Scherrenburg said the plan was approved unanimously at a meeting of two parliamentary commissions on Wednesday.

Many governments worldwide have begun testing open-source software to cut costs and eliminate dependency on individual companies such as Microsoft Corp. The government estimates it would save $8.8 million a year on city housing registers alone after switching to open source.

Microsoft has raced to achieve "open source" certification for its Open Office XML standard, but has so far failed to receive endorsement from the International Standards Organization, the certifying authority recognized by the Dutch government.

Microsoft Netherlands spokesman Hans Bos noted that its Word documents were still allowed as equal alternatives for the moment and said he expects the company to receive approval soon for its Open Office XML to qualify as open source.

But he said the company was worried about and opposed other aspects of the Dutch policy, especially the provision that agencies should prefer open source.

"We think it's not in the best interest of the wider software market to single out one model for endorsement like this," he said.

The numerous European towns and cities, notably Munich, Germany, and Vienna, Austria, using open-source systems remain a tiny slice of the overall software market.

The Dutch policy directs government organizations at the national level to be ready to use the Open Document Format to save documents by April, and at the state and local level by 2009.

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