Let’s be honest, it’s not exactly the storming of the Bastille. But it caused global headlines all the same: the French parliament is dumping Windows on its desktops and is replacing it by Linux and other open source components. We’re talking here about eleven hundred workstations affected, which probably explains one of the comments on the Internet: “this must be a .00000000000000000001% hit on Windows”. And come to think of it, there’s some resemblance to what happened on that revolutionary 14th of July, 1789 after all. No less important in the history of France, the glorious image of courageous French patriots that stormed a towering fortress to free hundreds of oppressed peasants was in practice a bit more prosaic. Actually, there were only seven inmates held in jail at the Bastille (including two madmen) and the defending garrison consisted of eighty invalides: old soldiers that were no longer capable of service in the field.
We should not get caught up in discussing what exactly could be a metaphor for what. Unfortunately.
Suffice to say that little events can turn out to be historic occurrences. Or they just may prove to be, well, little events. It’s tempting to say that only the hard, tangible business case matters: “… open-source software will offer functionality adapted to the needs of the members of parliament and will allow us to make substantial savings despite the associated migration and training costs…”. In practice, that won’t only pertain to a migration from Windows XP to Linux, but even so to upgrading from Windows XP to Windows Vista. The real significance may be in choosing software that – according to local Open Source supporters – provides the French parliament with greater control over its information technology while not depending on any vendor and making better use of public money. In that context, it is hardly surprising that the shift to open source was already pioneered by the Ministry of Culture.
It’s up to us, and history, to determine what is true and what is relevant. For now, we don’t see shouting crowds and guillotines move in on Windows yet. Then again, I guess Louis XVI didn’t see much coming either.