The government may stop using Microsoft as its main software supplier due to a rise in licence fees that could raise costs by as much as 200 percent.

"Depending on the system, Microsoft is asking for a rise in licence fees of between 50 and 200 percent on government contracts," said Martin Day, spokesman for the Office of Government Commerce today.

The OGC is in talks with Microsoft over a single contract to supply its Office and Windows software to the country's 497,600 public servants, Day confirmed.

The UK government currently spends approximately £120m per year on the direct purchase of Microsoft products. The OGC says the increased licensing fees could add up to £60m a year to the bill.

Though Day could not comment on progress in talks between the government and Microsoft, he said one of the possible steps the government could take is to look elsewhere for its software needs.

It seems the public, in the guise of PC Advisor forum contributors, has a solution — open source software. Just last week the French government said it would favour the use of open standard and, if possible, open source software in government systems. Perhaps the British will go for this idea too.

One forum writer said: "I think more and more larger organisations such as councils will start to head down the Linux road. The more that do it the more support that Linux will get and MS will get some proper competition."

Peter Thomas, better known to regular visitors as China, said: "[Microsoft] know that local councils are 'not for profit' organisations, and that taxpayers' money is paying the licence fees, so I would have thought that some kind of concessionary rate might be appropriate."

But Thomas has a word of warning also. "My experience with my own local authority's computer policy isn't one that fills me with optimism for their ability to cope with Linux on their desktops."

It has been reported that the government has already begun examining switching to alternative software suppliers.