Enterprise Software

Ditching Linux for Windows? The truth isn't that simple, says Munich

Munich city council says a review of its IT has not been triggered by staff dissatisfaction after moving from Windows to Linux on the desktop, in spite of reports to the contrary.

Munich city council demonstrated to the world that an organisation employing thousands could ditch Windows and move to Linux and free software.

When the project finished late last year about 15,000 staff at the German authority had been migrated to using Limux, a custom-version of Ubuntu, and OpenOffice.

But is the council's move to open source about to be scrapped in favour or returning to Microsoft?

No says the council, in spite of numerous reports to the contrary. Suggestions the council has decided to back away from Linux are wrong, according to council spokesman Stefan Hauf.

He said the council's recently elected mayor Dieter Reiter has instead simply commissioned a report into the future IT system for the council.

"The new mayor has asked the administration to gather the facts so we can decide and make a proposal for the city council how to proceed in future," he said.

"Not only for Limux but for all of IT. It's about the organisation, the costs, performance and the useability and satisfaction of the users."

The study, being conducted by internal IT staff at the council, will consider which operating systems and software packages - both proprietary and open source - would best satisfy this criteria. The study is not, as has been reported, solely focused around the question of whether to drop Limux and move back to Windows, he said.

LiMux-screenshot-11-2013-620px.jpg
The Limux operating system is based on a customised version of Ubuntu
GPL

No decision has been taken with regards to the future of Limux and free software at the council, he said, or will be taken, until the review is complete.

"Nothing is decided because first we have to see the report and then we can decide," he said, adding the review has not been triggered by any dissatisfaction with Limux but is rather part of a review of how to proceed now the Limux migration project is complete.

The level of complaints about Limux and free software from council staff are nothing unusual, said Hauf, with the primary gripe being a lack of compatibility between the odt document format used in OpenOffice and software used by external organisations. Munich had been hoping to ease some of these problems by moving all its OpenOffice users to LibreOffice and by funding updates to LibreOffice that improve interoperability with Microsoft's Office suite.

No date has been set for the completion of the review of the council's IT, which Hauf said has "just started". If the findings are unclear he said a second review may be carried out by an external group of experts.

The move to Limux from was triggered by a similar review in the early 2000s, which considered the merits of switching from Windows NT to XP and a newer version of Microsoft Office, versus a GNU/Linux OS, OpenOffice and other free software.

Free software was ruled the better choice by Munich's ruling body, principally because it would free the council from dependence on major proprietary software suppliers and put in place open protocols, interfaces and data formats.

This demand for greater freedom from lock-in was a driving force for the project, Peter Hofmann, the man who led the Limux project during its implementation told TechRepublic last year.

"That was never the main goal within the City of Munich. Our main goal was to become independent," he said.

The final decision on the future of Munich's IT will be made by its elected members. While the majority of the city council are reported as being behind the Limux project, mayor Reiter was recently cited as saying open source software is 'running behind the proprietary IT vendor's solutions'. The council's deputy mayor Josef Schmid has also complained about the time it took to get council emails and calendar appointments accessible on his smartphone.

The council had previously said that the move to Limux had saved it more than €10m, avoiding Microsoft licensing costs and extending the lifespan of its PCs. In August 2013 Munich said it had cost €23m to shift to LiMux and OpenOffice. Munich says this is far less than the estimated €34m it said it would have cost to upgrade to Windows 7 and newer versions of Microsoft Office.

Microsoft claimed that, by its estimation, the LiMux project would have cost considerably more than Munich had stated. A Microsoft-commissioned report put the project's price at €60.6m, far more than the €17m Microsoft claimed it would have cost to shift to Windows XP and a newer version of Microsoft Office. However Munich said Microsoft's figures were based on a number of bogus assumptions, such as massively overestimating the number of people who implemented Limux.

About

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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