Migration to Free Software: The French Ministry of Defence's About-Face in 2007

Press release, January 22, 2018.

The news site Next INpact has published an article titled “Microsoft Open Bar: When the Ministry of Defence Was Gunning for Free Software”, reporting on new documents that shed a light on the background of the Microsoft / Defence Open Bar dossier. The article shows that Michèle Alliot-Marie, then Minister of Defence, is alleged to have approved the recommendations of a 2005 report recommending that the French Ministry of Defence migrate its IT to free software — just a few years before the Ministry chose to sign an Open Bar agreement with Microsoft, without any public proceedings or call for competititive procurement, and against the advice of military experts.

Thanks to the release of several documents, Next INpact reveals the existence of a report — dated February 3, 2005, and signed by Jean Tenneroni, General Controller of the Armed Forces — on “Software for the Ministry of Defence: legality and procurement, procurement policy and migration to free software”. Michèle Alliot-Marie, then Minister of Defence, is alleged to have approved the conclusions of this report, namely, migration to free software.

The article explains that a “global contract with Microsoft” had allegedly been signed as early as 2001, and that Jean Tenneroni had, in his report, questioned the legality of this type of contract, going so far as to mention some “clauses that derogated from common law” and were not favourable to the Ministry of Defence. Thus, already in 2005, an expert from the Ministry of the Defence was challenging the use of global contracts written by Microsoft. Next INpact has not yet managed to acquire this report.

Another document published by Next INpact — a note originating from the General Council on Information Technologies and dated February 2006 — considers a migration to the OpenOffice suite in ministerial services. For instance, the Armed Forces had allegedly decided to migrate 90,000 workstations to OpenOffice.

The article recalls that the first directive of the General Directorate on Information and Communication Systems (DGSIC in French), created in May 2006 to elaborate the global IT policy of the Ministry of Defence, commited this ministry to a “strong-willed policy as regards free software”.

The article goes on to recall the position statement of Jean-Pierre Raffarin, then Prime Minister, in favour of free software as a way for government to save money. This statement caused him to receive a letter signed by Christophe Aulnette, then CEO of Microsoft France. This letter, published by Next INpact, reprises Microsoft's usual pitch; however, based on the other documents published by Next INpact, one might conclude that the then government was not very responsive to Microsoft's lobbying.

Unlike the government that succeeded in May 2007, on Nicolas Sarkozy's election as French President and the appointment of Hervé Morin as the Minister of Defence. Did the arguments of a monopolistic firm carry more weight for this new government than those of military experts, ministerial rulings and former ministers?

More specifically, in regard to the Ministry of Defence, the Canard enchaîné (the French satyric newspaper) revealed in 2013 the key role played by NATO to impose Microsoft — a role that Henri Verdier, Director of the Interdepartmental Directorate for Information & Communication Systems (DINSIC), seems to be confirming. Let us recall that the reintegration of France into NATO's integrated command was announced by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007.

As shown in our chronological account, starting in 2007, the DGSIC has been underscoring the benefits for the Ministry of Defence to engage into a “privileged relationship” with Microsoft, and initiated the procedure that was concluded by the signing of the Open Bar agreement.

“Next INpact's revelations confirm once again that, since 2007, everything has been done to strengthen Microsoft's dominance. The French government of the day capitulated every time to Microsoft: with the RGI1 version 1, with the Open Bar Microsoft/Defence agreement, signed upon Hervé Morin's appointment as Minister of Defence”, says Frédéric Couchet, Executive Director of April.

“Thus, as early as 2005, a report by military experts was advocating for an end to global agreements with Microsoft and for a migration to free software... It is astonishing that this report was not mentionned until now; in spite of the fact that all the ministers who have been in office since 2007 have been so enclined to emphasize the Open Bar's preliminary studies when answering written questions from Members of Parliament — an oversight that is far from innocuous”, notices Étienne Gonnu, public affairs officer for April.

To shed full light on this Open Bar agreement, April calls on all the colleagues of Senator Joëlle Garriaud-Maylam, the Secretary for the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Armed Forces Committee, to support her motion for a resolution to create a commission of inquiry into the framework agreements between the Ministry of Defence and Microsoft, tabled in October 2017. April also calls on the members of the National Assembly to act on this issue.

For further details, please read our dedicated page (in French).