Feedback from French Members of Parliament Following the Migration of their Desktop Computers to Free Software

  • Video Interviews of French Members of Parliament and Comments by April
  • Transcript of Pierre Lasbordes' interview
  • Transcript of Rudy Salles' interview
  • Transcript of Alain Vidalies' interview
  • Transcript of Alain Vidalies' interview regarding the Libre Software Meeting (LSM)

    Video Interviews of French Members of Parliament and Comments by April

    In June 2008, one year after the migration of their desktop computers to Free Software, Bertrand Lemaire from CIO Online interviewed three French members of parliament.

    For the past year, all French members of parliament and their assistants have been using the GNU/Linux operating system on their desktop computers. This migration follows the recommendation of MPs from all sides, with Bernard Carayon (UMP) taking the lead, and a collegiate decision from the parliament's president Jean-Louis Debré and quaestors Guy Drut (UMP), Claude Gaillard (UMP) and Didier Migaud (PS).

    One year later, this migration appears to have unanimous support. The MPs said they were satisfied with their new equipment; they gave credit to the work of the members of the computer services of the French Parliament and underlined the quick and easy adaptation by users. The MP Rudy Salles, president (NC) of the IT & New Technologies Delegation, has also stressed that 500,000 euro has been saved thanks to Free Software.

    This migration is a success in two fields: within the French Parliament, where the computers are managed by the parliamentary services; beyond the French Parliament, where some MPs who have chosen to use Free Software (operating systems and/or software) in their parliamentary headquarters.

    Despite tight deadlines and an intense pace of work, the MPs and their assistants have easily adapted to their new computer environment. This shows that Free Software is undoubtedly ready for the desktop, both for businesses and for the general public. The interoperability with other systems, highlighted by Mr Rudy Salles, is undoubtedly a key point.

    The French members of parliament have set an example by choosing to use Free Software. By doing so, they encourage French players of this promising economic sector, they promote interoperability and they open the door to other migrations - starting with the French parliament's administrative services.

    Bertrand Lemaire has also interviewed Alain Vidalies, member of parliament for the French Socialist Party, regarding the 9th Free Software Meeting (in Mont de Marsan in France, between the 1st and the 5th of July 2008): the video interview.

    The transcripts of these interviews are available below. The journalist and some MP used the term « Linux » referring to the GNU/Linux operating system.

    Transcript of Pierre Lasbordes' interview

    Debriefing - Pierre Lasbordes, member of parliament for the French UMP Party representing the 'Essonne' constituency: Pierre Lasbordes' video interview

    Bertrand Lemaire: "Hello. A year ago, the French Parliament decided to migrate all MPs' workstations to Linux. A year after, we'll see how it is going, with Pierre Lasbordes, MP of the "Essonne" constituency." BL: "Mr Lasbordes, hello." Pierre Lasbordes: "Hello." BL: "You are a representative of the "Essonne" constituency, which includes the Polytechnique university. " PL: "No, of the Saclay plateau; the Polytechnique university is not part of my constituency. Mine "only" includes the Supélec university, the CEA [Atomic Energy Commission], the largest delegation of CNRS [National Scientific Research Centre] and the Paris XI Orsay university." BL: "So: many engineers, many thesis students, many scientists; and so you're, a bit, a forced user of computers. And for the 11 years you''ve been a member of parliament, you've experienced a number of evolutions. So, in 1997, how was it when one was elected as MP, and arrived [in the parliament] for the first time?" PL: "Well, first of all, we were very well received, very well greeted, with our traditional welcoming bag, containing many pieces of information that simplified, well, our arrival in Paris. And so we have, well I had an office at 233 Boulevard St-Germain, a somewhat old office, but well equipped. There were recent pieces of hardware, and so there were training courses for those who wanted, and therefore we got to work immediately, in a fairly effecient way, well I'd say an "automatic" way. We had several tools, let's say modern tools, at our disposal." BL: "And therefore, at that time, you had a single computer for your entire office, thus also for your assistant, and you also had your equipment in your constituency?" PL: "Absolutely, because we had at our disposal at the time, just like now, funding for computing, to allow us to equip our headquarters with the hardware of our choice. This is indeed not a bad initiative, since you can choose the brand, size or characteristics of a computer, so we had significant freedom of choice." BL: "With the last legislature, you are now equipped with a Linux computer. What has it changed for you, personally, but also in your relationship with your constituency, for your employees, and so on?" PL: Well, for my staff, we were forced to train ourselves on a new product; even if it is said that it's more efficient, it's still a new product, with which - well - we initially had some difficulties to start with, like any other system. I believe that today my colleagues are relatively happy to use it. It is true that it's different from Windows, we are more accustomed to working with Windows; in my constituency today, we stayed with Windows, but we manage to share files relatively easily, and that's what matters." BL: "Don't you use smartphones, or things like that, [like] shared calendar?" PL: "We try to work effeciently, in a modern fashion, but not too complicated, depending on the people's level... " BL: "OK. Overall, are you satisfied with the current situation, and especially in terms of return on investment since a priori there is a cost difference; are you satisfied?" PL: "Well, yes I am satisfied by it, because my staff doesn't come every day to tell me they're unhappy with it, and because we don't have to call every day the parliament's IT department, though they have always proven to be very prompt to solve our issues. So I think it is a good choice, I believe it is also a good choice in terms of public spending, because it is probably cheaper in terms of maintenance, than a - let's say - proprietary product. So we should be winning on all fronts. One still needs to know that Free Software does not necessarily have all the characteristics, all the performances, proprietary software has, one must be aware of it. But I think that it's enough for what we have to do."

    Transcript of Rudy Salles' interview

    Debriefing - Rudy Salles, member of parliament for the French party 'Nouveau Centre' representing the 'Alpes Maritimes' constituency : Rudy Salles' video interview (in French).

    Bertrand Lemaire: "Hello. A year ago, the French Parliament decided to migrate all MPs' desktop computers to Linux. A year after, we'll see results of this operation, with Rudy Salles, vice-president of the parliament and MP of the constituency of [the city of] Nice." BL: "Mr Salles, hello." Rudy Salles: "Hello." BL: "So you're vice-president of the French parliament, in charge computer-related issues, and you've also been an MP for 20 years. Many things have changed in 20 years, especially in information technology area, and even more here [in the French parliament]. Can you tell us a bit more?" RS: "Well listen, 20 years ago there were no computers. In any case, none were available to members of parliament. Nobody had a computer in their office. As for me, in my headquarters, I didn't have computers, we had typewriters. And in our offices, we also had typewriters; we had a fax on the first floor, not even in our offices. We had to go to the end of the first floor and wait our turn, because there were many MPs or collaborators waiting to send a fax. So you see, we used to lose lots and lots of time in all kinds of manipulations, because we did not have this computer tool at our disposal, since it simply did not exist." BL: "So it happened in the late 90s, under the [parliament's] president Mr. Forni; how did it go in the end, this arrival of computers?" RS: "Well there was a meeting of the board which I remember vividly in which we mentioned the possibility of putting computers in each MP's office. The question that was raised by the board commity was: should we put a computer in each office, or should we put them only in some offices? I also remember that at the time, when there was a computer, you had people who sometimes put a small mat above, for the computer not to catch dust. That tells you how often they were used. And so I asked whether we would also ask ourselves whether it was necessary to put a phone in every office or limit them to some offices. And that surely, once computers would be available, we'd realise we need them everywhere. So we decided to put them in all offices. And then it was asked: do we take these computers from the [budgetary] envelope dedicated to MP's computers, or is it taken from the parliament's own budget? Personnally, I said, you cannot take it from an MP's envelope because the MPs, especially the common ones, with no territorial constituency, need to get computers for their own offices, constantly; and I remember myself at the beginning when we first had a computer, which was plugged into the telephone line, which was not a high-speed line, and then gradually it was improved. Now at my office, I have obviously put all computers on a network, everyone is working on this network with a central repository where all files are aggregated, and where all employees work on the same system." BL: "So speaking of which, you had already a laptop on the previous legislature; it was running Windows; how did you take the decision to switch to Linux, and generally to free environments?" RS: "So, in the previous term of office, there was a decision that was indeed taken very late, only a few months from the renewal of the legislature. And it was something very hard to cope with for the [parliamentaray] services, because in only a few months it was very difficult to migrate from one system to another. As for the reason for which we switched from one system to another, I do not think there had been any discontent towards Windows, I do sincerely think so, but there was perhaps the will not to be dependent on a monopoly such as Windows, and indeed try free software. It was somewhat a political decision at the time, and it was assumed as such by virtually all political groups within the French parliament. And so the [parliamentary] services worked wonders to migrate from one system to another within a few months. We arrived last year not only to find a new computer system, but the parliament was under construction everywhere so it was a real achievement to get everything up and running. And I must say that the services have done well, even if there were a few hicups to begin with, but well, in the end, all in all, apart from the difficult first few weeks, and the refurbishing of he offices, we can say that the migration was done in a very correct way." BL: "Precisely, with this 20-year hindsight you have, was this transition to Linux more complicated than getting new machines in a previsous term of office?" RS: "It was less complicated than what one could have expected. One doesn't lose completely all one's bearings. There is obviously a different appearance, but one can say that the major features are found fast enough. While it's true that there's a little change in habits required, but you know, when you switch from Windows XP to Vista, or another system, then you're also forced to evolve and somewhat change your habits. So that has been done relatively fast. By the way, the computer parliamentary services put at the disposal of MPs and their collaborators training courses; and - well - we checked these courses and there was virtually nobody attending those training courses, because in fact people managed by themselves. So much the better. We organized training courses which have not served many, this means that people did not need them and therefore it means that it was easier than expected." BL: "So, overall, focusing on yourself as a common user, since you are not from a computing background, you were a lawyer before being elected, what was your experience of this migration; for example, as you are relatively interested in new technologies, Blackberries, things like that, what was your experience of this migration? Was it more complicated to synchronize your schedule, for example, using Linux instead of Windows?" RS: "Well, in fact, under Windows, we did not have that shared calendar functionality. With Linux, with the new system we have this feature, and therefore we offer additional services to MPs, that we didn't even consider during the previous legislature. And so after a relatively easy period of adaptation, technically a little more complicated, since synchronization didn't work with all mobile phones; in fact, it still doesn't work with some mobile phones, but it works very well with a number of identified phones. We also had to take contacts companies such as SFR, Bouygues or Orange [the three major French mobile network operators] because, there also, there were things requiring some adaptation. But in the end, it was quite remarkable, and today it's a system that gives us great satisfaction, that gives a flexibility of use: I have my mobile phone with me, my office is here with me; that is to say, you see, it asks me to give a command, which I do not give it immediately, but I have my agenda on it, I have all my contacts, my secretaries in Nice and Paris change my agenda, and in real time I know exactly what will happen in the next hour wherever I am, whether its here, elsewhere in France or even abroad. So there is a tremendous progress that we had not before. And I must say that for MPs who are by definition people who travel a lot, move a lot, it is an extraordinary tool." BL: "Yourself, who are an MP for [the city of] Nice, so at what ... 800km from here, is your office still under Windows, or has it also switched to Linux, and in the end how is the coordination going between your office here and your office there?" RS: "Listen, it's going very well. I am still using Windows in my office [in Nice], because I have a computer park which is what it is, and I especially cannot afford to renew it. But synchronization with that system works very well, and Nice's townhall uses Lotus. Well the three systems work perfectly, very smoothly, and we have no compatibility issues. So see, we don't have to complain on that side either." BL: "Overall, as a user, what is your assessment of this migration?" RS: "Well, first of all it allows us, contrary to what some may think - we tend to believe that information technologies enslave people; of course we must be careful not to be prisoners of computers - but first it frees you from many difficulties relative to location, you're in a certain place and not in another, you couldn't do some tasks because you were physically there; now thanks to computing, and thanks to what I'll call mobile computing, we have the possibility to be constantly in contact with our office. And so that's very important. And secondly, we've added many features, including digitalisation of all the parliament's paperwork, especially the sending of written questions [to the government]. Now, sending written questions is done in one click, immediately registered by the parliament's central office. Needless to you say that as time goes on, this digitalisation will continue, and we'll be able to work from our constituency as we currently do when in Paris [from within the parliament]. Because before, there was a big difference: there were MPs from Paris, who could access all parliamentary services, and the other MPs couldn't reach anything. Well now, these MPs will have all these services at home thanks to computing." BL: "That's a damn big progression." RS: "It is a huge progression. And it starts to restore equality between MPs from Paris and those from outside Paris, and on that I can tell you that we suffered from those disparities for many years and it made our [MPs outside Paris] work much more difficult." BL: "And in the end, as manager of the French Parliament, what is your feedback on this operation?" RS: "Well as a manager, thanks to the various analyses we did, Free Software allowed us to save 500,000 euro." BL: "Of tax-money?" RS: "Of tax-money. And I can tell you that among the parliament's board commity, there were a number of people who were rather reserved about Free Software, and who were rather attached to Windows, because of tradition - I'd say - because of habit and who in the end realized that we got the same services from Free Software, equivalent and sometimes better, sometimes worse, but only marginally; and in all cases at least equivalent. But mainly, when we take a look at the budgets, a 500,000 euro saving starts to matter and everybody realizes that we probably already had reason to do this a few years ago." BL: "Mr. Salles, thank you very much." RS: "Thank you."

    Transcript of Alain Vidalies' interview

    Debriefing - Alain Vidalies, member of parliament for the French Socialist Party representing the 'Landes' constituency: Alain Vidalies' video interview (in French).

    Bertrand Lemaire: "Hello. A year ago, the French Parliament decided to migrate all MPs' workstations to Linux. One year on, we'll see how it is going, with Alain Vidalies, MP of the constituency of [the city of] Mont-de-Marsan." BL: "Mr. Vidalies, hello." Alain Vidalies: "Hello." BL: "You've been a member of this prestigious house for 20 years now. Can you can speak a little of the evolution of your use of computers as an MP, and especially in the 1980s, did you have your own computer?" AV: "I think here it's like in all businesses. We have really experienced all these evolutions, and I personnally have experienced them because I've been here since 1988; that is to say there was nothing at first, and then appeared the computer and the first pieces of equipment, then new habits to take up during work, then the revolution, quality of work being of course improved, and especially for us the intervention of the administration. That is to say that today gradually all amendments - a whole series of exchanges that we have with the parliamentary administration - a great deal of this work has been computerized. " BL: "So during the previous legislature, you had a computer, as during each term of office, but ... previously it was using Windows, today you migrated to Linux, how did this migration go?" AV: "Well, on a personal level, it came with great concern; when people of my generation thought they could finally enjoy the computer as a tool, they were told of an impending revolution. So there was great concern about this issue. It is true that our younger employees have tried to reassure us about what was going to happen. So [I was] a little lost, but basically not for very long. The truth is that even those who were not fond of computers, for whom it was essentially a tool, have quickly learned. It was only new acronyms that have appeared to us, well, Kubuntu operating system appearing suddenly. But in practice today, with hindsight, I can say that it has gone on well, even for someone who wasn't paying a lot of attention to these issues, as a user, for my parliamentary work. Today, I am completely satisfied with this new system. And I think those who are considering the difficulty of migrating to Linux, I think of local governments, or perhaps businesses, shouldn't have any fear, because I am a living proof that someone who met all the conditions to be a user thrown off balance [by such a migration] is in fact today a perfectly satisfied user." BL: "Within three months?" AV: "Within three months; it has been extremely rapid. But well you know, it was enough that someone explained it to me, I think that's still a short space of time to be using it. Above all, services were provided very quickly, within a few weeks. And we must not think that the Windows era was a wonderful time, there were also many problems, bugs, and there are no more today than before, and rather less by the way, from a statistical point of view." BL: "So what is your use of computers? Do you use it yourself as an office tool, to send emails?" AV: "Obviously, I use it a lot to send mails, you would need to see the messages a member of parliament receives, because among the citizens' request done these days, there are also specific spam for MPs. So it's not uncommon to find in one's mailbox hundreds or even thousands of repetitive messages sent to us within the scope of a specific issue. So today, there are ... and that's very new in the work of public representatives with the emergence of computing, and that's exactly the effect of electronic mail, because it requires a significant monitoring work on the email, provide answers, develop them, so - well - that's a first point. But the second, it's obviously very important, it's regarding documentation; I mean, today, with the progress made here by the French parliament, and especially the possibility for me to consult technical documentation that was before only accessible in the library and which is now directly accessible on my computer, this research work done when you're a specialist on a specific issue, that's really a very important achievement. Beyond the consultation - I would say - of a series of websites, there is the possible monitoring of AFP [French news agency] news for example, we have an AFP wire which is available here at our offices for the parliament. When you're politically involved, that's very very important documentation." BL: "Do you use - I guess you do - a mobile phone or that sort of thing, and do you synchronize your address-book or your schedule?" AV: "Personally, I'm not there yet, I stayed to more basic uses, so I cannot answer yes to this question because I manage things differently, well directly on my laptop, but unconnected from my system." BL: "So I suppose, Mr. Vidalies, that you are also computerized in your constituency, how do you exchange, for instance office documents or that sort of thing?" AV: "Well, first of all, my office in my constituency is running Linux, and so obviously every day when I am in Paris, all important documents are exchanged, and vice-versa. Especially anything that I need to send afterwards, so it's work sharing, but everything I send to networks in my constituency was scanned here, left here and then is sent several times per week, two or three times a week, I send my interventions, or letters to networks or to a widespread audience, or else more focused systems that can interest particular categories of the population." BL: "And therefore, as a, I quote, the manager of a small business, since you have several employees, this migration to Linux, also in your constituency, how did it go?" AV: "Well, it went as well as possible, considering the concerns it generated. I must confess especially mine, but looking back right now, with almost a year's hindsight, it really wasn't difficult. We all became users, well, perfectly happy, so really, we were concerned, and we are not only reassured but really satisfied, which is quite a good thing. "

    Transcript of Alain Vidalies' interview regarding the Libre Software Meeting (LSM)

    Interview with Alain Vidalies, member of parliament for the French Socialist Party representing the 'Landes' constituency, regarding the Libre Software Meeting: the video interview (in French).

    Bertrand Lemaire: "Early July, in [the city of] Mont-de-Marsan, the Libre Software Meeting will take place; it's an opportunity to go see Mr. Vidalies, MP for the constituency of Mont-de-Marsan." BL: "Mr. Vidalies, hello." Alain Vidalies: "Hello." BL: "You are the MP of a constituency chosen by gods, if you allow me to say so, or at least gods of Free Software, since it's in your constituency that takes place in Mont-de-Marsan the Libre Software Meeting 2008. Can you tell us a bit more about this event?" AV: "Listen, this is an important event, I think it is well-known, it takes place in different locations, and then there was an initiative of local associations, who came to tell me a year ago now about their project. I went to a small event, on the regional level, which was already very interesting and which had been organized in a village called Brocas, and then the associations met and the idea came out of making this annual gathering around free software in the Landes region in Mont-de-Marsan. Immediately I tried to be their spokesman, between them and all local communities, because all of this requires a lot of money, quite a big organization; but what's exciting is both the subject, and the modalities of the organization of such an event, because it is really something that comes from people, from the base, supported by a very big quantity of work and I have been involved to this throughout the winter, me and my staff. It's really quite an adventure, but on a very large dimension. And it's hosted by a city like Mont-de-Marsan, capital of a "department" [French sub-region], as it is something important. And this is very interesting because it will be between two events: a big cultural event before and after a festive celebration of "la Madeleine", and amid this the LMS meeting, I think that it's very well perceived." BL: "What is the point for a city like Mont-de-Marsan, for a constituency such as the one in which you have been elected, to become such a worldwide meeting point? Is it something important, something only for tourism?" AV: "Ha, not at all for tourism; obviously, there is always this aspect, but it's not at all in this state of mind that the LSM was organized. First, it affects our image, that must be said; in term of location, I mean, the "Landes" region is not just ... it's also foie gras, it's also rugby, it's this somewhat traditional image, but it's also where there are people who work, who think, businesses, modernity; and so for us it contributes to this part of the "modern" image that is very important to us, but there is also a very concrete commitment with a group of local governments on the idea of Free Software, with all that it has to say on the subject, compared to proprietary software. So being an actor in this great movement, is also something important for us. So there are only positive aspects to our commitment to this organization." BL: "And as for you, I'd almost say as an individual, or at least member of the region hosting the LMS, what are your expectations regarding this event? I suppose you are going attend it." AV: "So yes, I'll attend it; and my expectations are twofold: First, I hope for it to be a success, that those who come discover the Landes region, I hope above all that the inhabitants of the Landes will be active and will not leave all of it to those coming from outside the region; and secondly I also expect, it must be said, spin-offs: How will this movement yield new vocations for Free Software, because there still remains much work to be done; vocations among individuals, among businessmen, and vocations among local government. So I hope that this moment will also be a time which will allow the free software movement to accelerate in Landes. And then, if there are initiatives in businesses, results in that area, I will of course be looking out for all that."