Software

Linux in Munich: 'No compelling technical reason to return to Windows,' says city's IT chief

The man in charge of Munich's central IT expresses surprise at politicians' decision to prepare to move away from a Linux-based OS.

munich2.jpg
Getty Images/iStockphoto

The man who runs Munich's central IT says there is no practical reason for the city to write off millions of euros and years of work to ditch its Linux-based OS for Windows.

The city authority is widely expected to swap Linux for Windows, due to support among Munich's ruling SPD-CSU coalition for phasing out the use of open-source software.

Last month, the general council backed a proposal that the administration should investigate how long it will take and how much it will cost to build a Windows 10 client. Once the details are known, the council will vote on whether Windows should replace LiMux, a custom version of the Ubuntu OS that is used by more than 15,000 staff across the authority. The changeover would take place by 2021.

But now the man in charge of Munich's central IT provider, IT@M, has said there is no technical reason to switch back to Windows, expressing surprise at the decision that the city should prepare to return.

"We do not see any compelling technical reasons for a change to Windows and Microsoft Office," IT@M head Karl-Heinz Schneider told German publication Heise.

Schneider said Munich had solved compatibility problems related to running line-of-business software on LiMux and swappping documents with outside organizations. These compatibility issues were cited by CSU politicians as being a key reason why Munich needs to change OS and to drop LibreOffice and other open-source software in favor of "commonly-used" alternatives.

"We've solved compatibility and interoperability problems by providing MS Office, mostly virtualized, at the workstations that need to work with external organizations using Office documents," he said.

In general, "IT@M knows no major technical problems with LiMux and LibreOffice", he added.

Schneider echoed the findings of an earlier report by consultants Accenture and arf, that the problems with IT at the council were related to the fragmented structure of the city's IT management, which falls under both the central IT@M and local IT departments. According to Schneider, this disjointed setup has resulted in some municipal offices being issued slower machines and outdated software by their local IT departments.

"This leads to a variety of old and ancient LiMux, Windows and Office versions," he said, adding this even included unsupported OSes, such as Windows XP and 2000. Munich still runs a minority of Windows machines, where their use is unavoidable.

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

Where there had been IT failures within Munich in recent years, such as in the District Council (KVR), these "never had anything to do with LiMux", he said, with the department in question using only Windows clients, and Linux and Windows servers.

Schneider also pointed out that in sidelining LibreOffice, the politicians' proposal was ignoring the consultants' recommendation that the open-source office suite should continue to be used "as a standard".

In past employee surveys, users complained of intermittent, rather than persistent, issues, 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 LibreOffice for criticism, although in later correspondence with the administration, some departments did blame the move to open-source software.

Ahead of last month's council vote on the future of LiMux, Kristina Frank, party member with the CSU, told the meeting that operating system's continued use was no longer viable.

"Most workplaces in Germany and worldwide are running other clients. Linux may be the right choice for many users but it's not for Munich," she said.

"Our LiMux client fundamentally works but it's not efficient or intuitive and there are regular problems when you have to add other software, regular compatibility problems."

However, Dr Florian Roth, leader of the Green Party at Munich, said LiMux was an easy scapegoat for problems stemming from organizational issues with the IT department, such as the slow rollout of new software.

Björn Schießle, of the Free Software Foundation Europe, was encouraged that the SPD-CSU proposal to prepare for a return to Windows had been modified, so that the council will get to vote again on whether to switch back, once more is known about the costs.

For the move to save money overall, using Windows would need to be considerably more effective as an operating system, because past estimates have put the price of Munich returning to Windows at more than €17m, not including software licensing and new infrastructure costs.

However, the Green party's Roth, who is strongly opposed to returning to Windows, has said the switch back is very likely, due to support for the move among the majority of the Munich's politicians and Microsoft being incentivized to offer the city an attractive deal.

At the time Munich began the move to LiMux in 2004, it was one of the largest organizations to reject Windows, and Microsoft took the city's leaving so seriously that its then CEO Steve Ballmer flew to Munich, but the mayor at the time, Christian Ude, stood firm.

More recently, Microsoft last year moved its German company headquarters to Munich.

Munich City Council said it had no comment in respect to Schneider's statements.

Read more on Windows and Munich...

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.

Editor's Picks