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NHS mulling Ubuntu switch after Windows XP fail?

The NHS could be considering switching its software infrastructure from Windows to Ubuntu, after Windows XP vulnerabilities were exploited in the recent cyber attack that crippled the National Health Service. Or is it just an elaborate gag?

The NHSbuntu platform came to our attention via Dr Dean Jenkins, a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and editor-at-large of BMJ Case Reports, who writes about it on Differential Diagnosis, his blog.

According to Dr Jenkins, the Linux-based NHSbuntu is a “modern, secure, open source, operating system being considered by Jeremy Hunt for the NHS.”

He adds that as NHSbuntu is built on the “industrial strength Ubuntu desktop,” it offers a full-fat security feature set to meet the NHS’s needs, including secure email, smartcard authentication and whole disk encryption, plus support for modern web browsers and popular office softtware.

He also notes Ubuntu was found to be the most secure operating system by the UK government’s National Technical Authority for Information Assurance (CESG, formerly the Communications-Electronics Security Group), which is part of the National Cyber Security Centre. Although he takes a dig that this assessment was made “more than two years ago.”

The NHSbuntu project is currently available to view on GitHub, and news that it is apparently being considered by Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt first cropped up on the openhealth hub forums, where user Barry Schofield claims: “I have passed your disc to Jeremy Hunt and he was extremely interested. He is passing it on to his tech people.”

It’s important to note that while the NHSbuntu platform appears to be real based on the GitHub code, and reports that it is one of the new software options being considered by the government aren’t entirely implausible, it’s impossible to independently verify the claims – short of bumping into Jeremy Hunt down the pub.

We’re undecided as to whether it’s a mischevious ruse – the tagline of “simple tech for the NHS” just seems too patronisingly Partridge-esque to be genuine, doesn’t it? – or if it could be the beginning of a major public sector coup for Ubuntu. But watch this space, as the fallout from the NHS ransomware attack is still in its early stages.

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Is the government really considering Ubuntu for the NHS, or is it just an elaborate geeky gag? Let us know your take in the comments below.

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