October 5, 2001

German government email contract could lead to agencies switching to Free Software

Author: JT Smith

- By Grant Gross -

Just as the U.S. Congress begins considering a bill that some advocates believe will outlaw Open Source operating systems, the German government has hired three companies to create Free Software email options for its IT security agency's email project.

The German Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik (Federal Agency for IT Security, also known as BSI) has contracted with the German Free Software companies Intevation and g10 Code and Swedish platform-independent software company Klarälvdalens Datakonsult for its Sphinx secure email project. Company officials predict the contract could lead to wider adoption of Free Software by the German government.

The three companies' Project Ãgypten will focus on making Open Source email programs KMail and mutt compatible with Sphinx, which include standards S/MIME and X.509v3. The results of the project will be released under the GNU GPL.

"We plan to do the development in an open manner suitable
for Free Software projects," says Jan-Oliver Wagner, managing director of Intevation and coordinator of Project Ãgypten. "We want to handle the project in a
way that it will leverage and add to the work of other developers and ask for your collaboration. The BSI pays us to ensure that their specs are followed precisely and the result passes strict tests. This is the first time the BSI contracts for Free Software development and the experiences they make will be important."

Wagner believes this is the first Open Source/Free Software development project contracted by the German government, although the German Economics Ministry has also sponsored Free Software development.

There's interest from several German agencies in replacing proprietary software with Open Source, especially Linux and KDE, Wagner adds, and the BSI contract seems to be the first step toward wider adopting of Open Source software in the German government. He expects a pilot program soon, where one German agency converts to Open Source software.

"They (the BSI) have already paid (for) some proprietary developments, and they realized that if they don't do this for free software solutions as well, the plans to eventually migrate desktops to GNU/Linux/KDE would suffer lack of their standard secure email exchange," Wagner says.

"The project realizes a future important element for GNU/Linux as an alternative desktop for authorities and companies."

The project is scheduled to be completed by March 2002, in time for the CeBIT technology show. For more information, see the press release announcing the project.

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