The Leisure and Cultural Services Department has asked software vendors for estimates on a project that could see the Linux operating system installed on 2,000 desktops. If the project goes ahead, it would be the first major installation of Linux on government desktops, although the operating system is used on several servers, including some at the department. Sufan Kan of Shaolin Microsystems said the department, which oversees Hong Kong's museums, concert halls, libraries and playgrounds, has about 1,000 desktop computers running Microsoft Windows. The department is considering Linux as a cheaper alternative to upgrading to Windows XP. Plans under consideration include the purchase of new computers, doubling the number of terminals to 2,000. The department's systems analyst, Christine Chong Yuk-kam, said a move to Linux was being considered, but nothing had been finalised. 'Yes, there is the possibility but it is not up to the planning stage yet,' Ms Chong said. Another software vendor, Thiz Linux, has also been asked for an estimate, according to Ms Kan. Shaolin Microsystems specialises in software that helps administrators install and manage desktop Linux over a network, while Thiz has developed Chinese-language versions of the Linux OS and office applications. Because the Linux kernel was developed by volunteer programmers and is available free over the Internet, the cost of licences is lower. Governments in developing countries, including China, have advocated Linux as a way to keep information technology costs down. Microsoft counters that the long-term costs of running Linux may be higher than for Windows. Ms Kan said if the department went ahead with a desktop Linux project, implementation would take up to two years as users would need to be trained. Interest in Shaolin Microsystems' products was coming from Germany, the United States and the mainland, with many universities and high schools looking to deploy Linux in their computer labs, she said. Mainland government departments in Beijing and Guangdong have awarded high-profile Linux contracts to domestic vendors over the past year, including Red Flag, Chinese2000 and Kingsoft. The Guangdong contract, announced last month, was worth about HK$4 million and came soon after the similar-sized purchase of Microsoft licences.