In what can prove to be massive blow to Microsoft, Russia has taken another step towards the transition into complete usage of free software. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Monday signed an order for the transition of federal bodies and agencies to use free software.

This comes after the 2008 campaign to rid schools of all paid proprietary software and encourage free software.

Although Russia's expanding campaign against proprietary software will negatively impact several software developers, world's software behemoth, Microsoft stands to lose out on the most.

Russia has so far worried Microsoft with its notoriously high-rate of software piracy, following China and other Asian countries. While the majority of the population uses pirate Microsoft softwares, now the country is completely planning to cut off paid proprietary software.

Moreover, Microsoft is already down licking its wounds in the United States, where the internet giant and rival company Google has managed to grab the attention in the software market as well. Businesses, universities, and government institutions are increasingly opting for professional Google Docs solution over Microsoft's offerings.

Amid these developments, Microsoft on Tuesday vowed to provide free software and legal assistance to activist groups in Russia and 11 other countries. This came after mounting pressure from rights groups, which alleged that the Redmond software giant was part of Russia's use of anti-piracy laws to quell dissent. As per reports, authorities have repeatedly seized the computers of activists and journalists critical of the government, in the name of the anti-piracy laws, to search for pirated Microsoft software.

With the existence of this license, Microsoft is clearly articulating its position that we do not wish to engage in anti-piracy actions against NGOs and small, independent media in these 12 countries that are using Microsoft software for their business needs, Microsoft's deputy general counsel Nancy Anderson said in a statement.

Several organisations and countries have tried and continue to try their hand at encouraging migration to free software. One of the campaigns that failed in the past was China's Jiangsu deployment of Linux in secondary education. The feedback was extremely poor. It later led to a trade deal between China and Microsoft that allows students in the Asian giant to legally buy Windows+Office bundles for just $3.

The latest order

The order that affects all Russian federal agencies and any organizations funded by the federal budget maps a step-by-step transition, slated to be completed by 2015.

Each point of the 25-point document, which can be read and accessed on Google Translate, specifies an action that needs to be taken by an agency within the specified time; besides the expected result from the event.

CNews reported that one of the interesting points of the plan was a reference to the national repository, which must be created to the II (second) quarter of 2012. Deputy Minister of communications Ilya Massuh explained that the document refers to not so much an assembly repository distro Linux, many applications store similar to App Store, but for free operating systems.

One of the oldest repositories ACT in Russia is Sisyphus. The developer owns the eponymous distribution company ALT Linux, said the Google Translation of the CNews report.

Speaking on the implications of this move on the Russian economy, ALT Linux CEO Alexei Smirnov, who is familiar with the plan of transition of power in the ACT, said, Firstly, it would eliminate the cost of government royalties on the software, and secondly, will bring the remaining costs of imports to purchase from domestic manufacturers, and third, will spur innovation development of economy .

Experiment began in schools

The government in 2008 ordered schools to opt for free software packages for all of its computers, or pay for proprietary software from their own pockets.

By the end of 2009, all school computers will be installed package of free software (SCPI), Minister of Communications and Mass Communications Minister Igor Shchegolev was quoted as announcing back then.

Updates on Russia's experiment were positive. A 2008 report asserted on some evidence that the project will not remain unfruitful.

Among others, you are able to download the specially tailored Linux distributions, including a version tailored for older PCs with 128-256 MB of RAM and P-233-class CPUs and a Terminal Server edition that allows to use older PCs as thin terminals provided a decent server is available in the classroom.Secondly, the information is now coming from more than one source, which indicates that the regional participants of the project have both freedom and willingness to act, the report stated.

Pros and Cons for Russia

Russia will stand to gain economically with this kind of an implementation; besides the fact that the situation can spur technological innovation and development at the local level. The pros are:

- The move would eliminate the cost of government royalties on the software
- Domestic manufacturers stand to gain as the costs saved on imports can be used to purchase from local developers
- It will reduce the technological dependancy
- Consequently, it may also inspire innovation and development at the local level

On the negative front, Russia may face some resistance due to the human nature that makes people creatures of habits. The country may also need to train the end users on free and open source softwares.