Israel has joined what has increasingly become a worldwide crusade to break free of the Microsoft Corporation and their perceived monopolistic constraints.

The Ministry of Finance announced Sunday it will begin distributing Open Office, which is a package of basic software programs similar to Microsoft Office, for free starting this coming week. The ministry plans to distribute thousands of Open Office programs on CD-ROM at public computer centers and eventually community centers across the country throughout the coming year.

Open Office suite includes all the functions supplied by Microsoft Office – a word processing program, a spreadsheet program, and a presentation manager similar to PowerPoint. The programs can be downloaded for free at The programs can be used on nearly every operating system, including Linux, which is a free alternative to the Microsoft's Windows.

Over the past year the programs were translated into Hebrew by Sun Corporation and IBM with the assistance of the Finance Ministry. The ministry said its goal is to lower the price of a computer in a bid to reduce the technological gap between the rich and poor in Israel. The offer is also believed to be an attempt to break Microsoft's monopoly on the Israeli software market. Microsoft Office, which can cost up to 2,000 NIS, is currently installed on almost every personal computer sold in Israel, greatly increasing the price of a personal computer.

The Ministry of Finance is about to propose that government ministries use the free Linux open operating system as well. If the decision is carried out, the government will save millions of shekels a year in licenses, but could face much higher costs in other areas.

Ministry of Finance sources told Globes that the decision could be reversed if Microsoft Israel shows willingness to compromise on its pricing policy for tens of thousands of computer stations at government offices. The ministry is aware that despite the substantial savings accrued by not buying Microsoft licenses, there would also be considerable installment costs. Many Linux proponents say the costs are minimal, however, and still come out less than the built-in costs incurred through installation of Windows.

The Ministry of Finance says the Account General supreme inter-ministerial tenders committee had instructed IT managers at government ministries to buy PCs without Microsoft operating licenses from January 2004.