Open Source

Ditching Windows for Linux led to 'major difficulties' says open-source champion Munich

Once seen as a stalwart supporter of open source, the city council last week said that running a Linux-based operating system on its PCs would not be cost efficient in the long run.

The city of Munich has suggested it will cost too much to carry on using Linux alongside Windows, despite having spent millions of euros switching PCs to open-source software.

Once seen as a champion of open source, the city council last week said that running a Linux-based operating system on its PCs would not be cost efficient in the long run.

"Today, with a Linux client-centric environment, we are often confronted with major difficulties and additional costs when it comes to acquiring and operating professional application software," the city council told the German Federation of Taxpayers.

Running Linux will ultimately prove unsustainable, suggests the council, due to the need to also keep a minority of Windows machines to run line-of-business software incompatible with Linux.

"In the long term, this situation means that the operation of the non-uniform client landscape can no longer be made cost-efficient."

The need to run Windows machines at Munich is not new and has not been raised as a significant issue by the council in the past. Since completing the multi-year move to LiMux, a custom-version of the Linux-based OS Ubuntu, the city always kept a smaller number of Windows machines to run incompatible software. As of last year it had about 4,163 Windows-based PCs, compared to about 20,000 Linux-based PCs.

The taxpayer's association says the "major difficulties" mentioned by the council stem from Linux-based operating systems not being not adopted by large organizations "as a serious alternative to Windows".

The assessment is at odds with a wide-ranging review of the city's IT systems by Accenture last year, which found that most of the problems with IT at the Munich stem not from the use of open-source software, but from inefficiencies in how Munich co-ordinates the efforts of IT teams scattered throughout different departments.

Dr Florian Roth, leader of the Green Party at Munich City Council, said the review had also not recommended a wholesale shift to Windows.

"The Accenture report suggested to run both systems because the complete 'rollback' to Windows and MS Office would mean a waste of experience, technology, work and money," he said.

Don't miss: Munich: The journey from Windows to Linux and back again (free PDF)

In March the city's IT chief also said there was 'no compelling technical reason to return to Windows', pointing out the authority had "solved compatibility and interoperability problems" related to running software on LiMux.

However, a city council spokesperson said it stood by the statement, adding that the Accenture review recommended that only a single desktop OS should be used "in the medium term".

The comment from the city was made after the taxpayer's federation featured the LiMux project in a roundup of projects that have wasted public money.

"The "LiMux" operating system, which cost around 19 million euros, has obviously proved to be a wrong decision. Penguin, adieu!" it states.

However the federation also points out that any subsequent switch back to Windows will cause further expense.

"The now planned development of a new Windows base client for the Munich city administration will devour further tax money in the millions."

Commenting on the federation's report, the Green party's Roth said: "in my view the waste of money is the full return to MS, not the 'Linux experiment'". In 2014, Munich mayor Dieter Rieter said going back to Microsoft would mean writing off about €14m of work it had carried out to shift to Limux, OpenOffice and other free software.

The federation's post also makes no mention of the licensing and other savings achieved by switching to LiMux, estimated to stand at about €10m.

While the difficulties highlighted by the council weren't raised in years' past, today there is support for phasing out the use of open-source software among the majority of the city's politicians, who voted to take the first step back towards Windows earlier this year.

Munich is widely expected to swap back to Windows, however the final decision to turn away from open source won't be taken until at least November this year.

The city's administration is investigating how long it would take and how much it would cost to build a Windows 10 client for use by the city's employees. Once this work is complete, the council will vote again in November on whether this Windows client should replace LiMux across the authority from 2021.

In past employee surveys, users complained of intermittent, rather than persistent, issues with the city's computer systems, with problems cited included printing, viewing and editing documents, unstable programs, poor usability and difficulty exchanging documents with outside parties. They didn't single out LiMux or OpenOffice/LibreOffice for criticism, although in later correspondence with the administration, a few departments did blame the move to open-source software.

An insider at Munich also recently told TechRepublic that the city has begun work to switch to using Microsoft Exchange to handle calendar and emails across the council, although the authority refused to confirm this.

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Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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About Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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