LHCb detector at CERN

CERN opts for open-source software in light of Microsoft price hikes

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The European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) is to begin switching from Microsoft software to open-source alternatives in anticipation of large license fee increases by the Seattle computing giant.

CERN’s IT department established the Microsoft Alternatives project (MAlt), which was intended to put the organisation “back in control using open software”.

In a blog post, Emmanuel Ormancey, deputy group leader at CERN, explained that the organisation has for many years relied increasingly on commercial software. Ormancey wrote that while this was made attractive by “advantageous financial conditions” on account of having the status of an academic institution, these advantages soon disappeared when Microsoft revoked its academic status and were replaced with expensive licensing schemes intended for the private sector.  According to CERN, this is not sustainable.

CERN is funded by member states and is dedicated to basic research in particle physics. It takes an open and collaborative stance to its operations, running an open access publishing project and welcoming the public to some of its facilities. CERN uses open-source software for some of its operations, such as to power the Large Hadron Collider, but relies on Windows for running its desktop computers.

A year after MAlt was first established, CERN has announced its plans for transitioning to open-source software. It will begin by piloting a mail service for the IT department and volunteers, which will be followed by a CERN-wide migration to the new service. Some Skype for Business clients will also migrate during this time.

According to the blog post, many other services are being worked on and prototypes and pilots will emerge over the next few years.

“While the Microsoft Alternatives project is ambitious, it’s also a unique opportunity for CERN to demonstrate that building core services can be done without vendor and data lock-in, that the next generation of services can be tailored to the community’s needs and finally that CERN can inspire its partners by collaborating around a new range of products,” wrote Ormancey.

Microsoft's support for Windows 7 will end in January 2020, forcing organisations around the world either to switch to Windows 10 or look for alternatives. Last month, it was announced that the South Korean government would begin switching its operating system from Windows to a Linux OS, beginning with the Ministry of the Interior and Safety.

Last year, Microsoft closed a deal to acquire code repository GitHub, in what could be interpreted as an off-brand step towards embracing open-source and collaborative software.

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