The Quebec government illegally bought software from Microsoft, including Vista and Office, Quebec's Superior Court has ruled. ((Paul Sakuma, file/AP))

Quebec's government broke the law by buying software from Microsoft without considering offers from other vendors, the province's Superior Court has ruled.

The government's procurement agency acted illegally in spending $720,000, beginning in the fall of 2006, on the migration of 800 workstations to Microsoft software, including Windows Vista and Office 2007, Judge Denis Jacques ruled in Quebec City on Thursday. The government did not perform a "serious and documented search" for alternatives, which it must do with any expenditure over $25,000, he said.

The decision was in regards to a suit filed in March 2008 by Savoir Faire Linux, a small Montreal-based firm that deals in open-source software.

Jacques dismissed arguments from the government, which said that Microsoft software was selected because employees were already familiar with it, and that switching to a different platform would have incurred additional costs. The government also argued that the move to Vista was an upgrade, not a purchase, and therefore did not need to be publicly tendered.

A tender was made, but only to authorized Microsoft dealers. The contract went to Compugen Inc., a Microsoft dealer based in Richmond Hill, Ont.

Savoir Faire Linux had asked for the purchase to be reversed, but the judge rejected the request on the grounds that the installation of the software was complete. He did award Savoir Faire Linux with the costs of its legal action.

"The [government] should have issued a request for proposals," the judge said. "Under the circumstances, it wouldn't be reasonable to retroactively cancel the purchase, given that it wasn't in bad faith."

The company was pleased with the ruling, despite not getting the contract reversed, and hailed it as a major win for both government and taxpayers.

"The contract wasn't really important for us… the biggest winner in the case is the Quebec government because now the administration is free from the grip of a multinational's fiefdom," said Savoir Faire Linux executive vice-president. "They will have to follow the purchase rules and won't be able to pass over them by anymore."

Officials from Quebec's procurement office could not be reached for comment. Microsoft said it was glad the matter was resolved.

"While this is a matter between Savoir Faire and the government of Quebec we are pleased that the contract is upheld and that the courts found Microsoft acted in good faith," said spokesperson Cynthia Keeshan.

Governments around the world have been under pressure to reduce their software budgets and reliance on proprietary vendors such as Microsoft. Several countries, including France and the Netherlands, have in recent years switched to open source software such as Linux.

With files from CBC's Zach Dubinsky