Russia’s government has been flirting with the idea of switching to open source for some time, but often that’s been just another example of waving the threat around to encourage Microsoft to offer more favourable licensing terms for using its software, as has happened frequently in the UK. However, a new move by the Russian authorities might finally see them making the switch:
Russia’s Industry and Trade Ministry plans to replace US microchips Intel and AMD, used in government’s computers, with domestically-produced micro processor Baikal in a project worth dozens of millions of dollars, business daily Kommersant reported Thursday.
It’s not hard to guess why Russia wants to shift away from Intel and AMD chips: in the light of Snowden’s revelations, there has to be a strong presumption that most of the advanced technology exported from the US has backdoors that allow the NSA to spy on users around the world. Hardware is especially problematic, since it can’t simply be hacked to remove the dodgy bits. Interestingly, Russia is opting to use the ARM processor:
The first products will be Baikal M and M/S chips, designed on the basis of 64-bit nucleus Cortex A-57 made by UK company ARM, with frequency of 2 gigahertz for personal computers and micro servers.
And here’s where those chips are going to be used:
The Baikal chips will be installed on computers of government bodies and in state-run firms, which purchase some 700,000 personal computers annually worth $500 million and 300,000 servers worth $800 million.
If that plan is realised – and it’s worth emphasising that is a big “if” - it would not only signal a massive shift away from US-made chips but also dropping Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office, since the stated plan is to use GNU/Linux for all the systems. Unlike previous announcements, there would be little that Microsoft could do in the way of offering financial incentives to the Russian government to prevent that move. In this case, the chief consideration is improving security, not saving money, and that’s one area where free software’s open code is simply unbeatable.