A pilot scheme which could see police forces throughout England and Wales switching to Linux desktops has kicked off with delivery of the first systems to the West Yorkshire force. The deployment is taking place under a contract awarded to netproject earlier this year by the UK Police IT Organisation, and if successful will cover over 60,000 desktops. In West Yorks alone the installed base is around 3,500, and a spokesman reckoned that the savings from this would be around £1 million a year.
It is however the approach and architecture of the system that is most interesting, because if it is proven to work for the police, it's likely to open doors for Linux in numerous other areas of UK public service and government. Eddie Bleasdale of netproject calls it the "Secure Open Desktop Architecture." The user-facing part of the system consists of an ultra low cost machine being supplied by the Telford office of Taiwanese company GCI, price £299, including a smart card reader.
These clients connect via VNC to the business end of the system, which can include legacy Windows systems, making it easier for customers to transition to open source. The clients themselves are 'stateless,' so a user can log on with their smartcard from any machine on the network, and get immediate access to their personal desktop, which includes Openoffice. For police work this has clear advantages, because it potentially makes mobile connectivity a lot easier.
Bleasdale, who says he has interest from several other organisations, has wider ambitions for the system. Given that the client hardware isn't particularly important, for example, it can be easily swapped out with fanless workstations or appliances that would be silent, and quite possibly more reliable than your average PC. He also pitches it (presentation available here) in the trusted computing arena, and against the PC-centric and network computer approaches. Note that the presentation outlines a structure for an "Open Source Infrastructure for Secure E-Business," which is clearly a tad more ambitious than simply re-equipping the whole police force. And note in passing (page 9) a classic example of Eddie's characteristic tact and diplomacy: "Linux is Unix done properly."