Open Source

End of an open source era: Linux pioneer Munich confirms switch to Windows 10

​The German city of Munich, famous for rejecting Windows in favour of using Linux on its PCs, will return to Windows after the move won the backing of the full council.

The German city of Munich, famous for rejecting Microsoft in favour of using Linux on its PCs, has voted to return to Windows.

After more than a decade of running Linux-based PCs, Munich city council has decided to switch about 29,000 PCs to Windows 10.

Back in 2003 the council decided to to switch to a Linux-based desktop, which came to be known as LiMux, and other open-source software, despite heavy lobbying by Microsoft.

But now Munich will begin rolling out a Windows 10 client from 2020, at a cost of about €50m, with a view to Windows replacing LiMux across the council by early 2023.

Politicians who supported the move at a meeting of the full council today say using Windows 10 will make it easier to source compatible applications and hardware drivers than it has been using a Linux-based OS, and will also reduce costs associated with running Windows and LiMux PCs side-by-side.

SEE: Linux to Windows 10: Why did Munich switch and why does it matter?

Munich has always kept a minority of Windows machines to run line-of-business applications that are incompatible with Linux, and where virtualization isn't an option. Today there is disagreement over what proportion of machines run Windows, with critics saying it is as high as 40% of PCs, while others argue it stands at about 20%. Nevertheless, despite Munich running both systems side-by-side for more than a decade, today the council says this dual-system setup is unsustainable, hence the need to return to Windows.

Mayor Dieter Reiter said there's never been a unified Linux landscape in the city. "We always had mixed systems and what we have here is the possibility of going over to a single system. Having two operating systems is completely uneconomic.

"I've never said I'm an expert in IT procurement. But I'm backed by 6,000 co-workers who also aren't satisfied with the performance of the existing systems."

Not all politicians support the return to Windows 10. Opponents of the move have questioned the need for a migration that will cost the authority more than €50m and take years to realize, at a time when the authority will also be busy restructuring its IT department.

SEE: How a Linux stronghold turned back to Windows: Key dates in Munich's LiMux project

Dr Florian Roth, leader of the Green Party at Munich, questioned whether returning to Microsoft was really the best way to improve IT at the authority:

"We're agreed that improvements to our IT are absolutely necessary. But whether the expensive model of a complete rollback to Microsoft, with the associated financial costs, is the answer is open to question," he said.

"Do so many millions, resources, people really need to be tied up in such an unnecessary project?"

Roth also argued that being so heavily reliant on Microsoft, or any other single vendor, raised potential security issues. "The German Federal Office for Information Security, Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik,recently repeated that a monoculture in software is dangerous," he said.

While staff have reported intermittent problems with IT at the council, past surveys have found only a minority of staff wanted to return to Windows and Microsoft Office. However, there have been vocal critics of IT, with the human resources department saying productivity had "decreased notably" due to crashes and printing errors since moving to open-source software.

Last year, a study of IT at the council by consultants Accenture and arf said it took the council too long to update software and fix bugs, resulting in "obsolete, partially unsafe, usually extremely cumbersome IT, leading to lots of wasted time and productivity", but blamed a lack of coordination between the more than 20 IT departments serving the city, rather than the use of open-source software.

One council insider with knowledge of the LiMux described the decision to TechRepublic as "tremendously disappointing", while another said it was "a disaster in terms of costs" and unnecessary given problems with LiMux and open-source software having been broadly ironed out.

The migration to Windows 10 is part of a wider €89m shake-up and restructuring of IT at Munich, under which the council also wants to significantly increase the number of applications that are run on virtualized infrastructure or in web browsers. By creating these "platform-independent" applications, the council believes it could reduce the time it takes to test and update clients.

Matthias Kirschner, president of the Free Software Foundation Europe, questioned why the council is investing so much in switching to a new desktop OS while also focusing on sourcing apps that will run on any platform.

"Munich has talked about being operating system independent, that is why I don't understand why they are now investing so much time in changing an operating system," he said.

Thomas Ranft of the FDP/HUT party asked why the council should spend so much money to give up "the vendor-independence that Linux gave us", especially if Windows wouldn't be a long-term solution.

"It makes no sense because where we want to get to in Munich is the cloud. What's the point of an intermediary solution that costs us almost €100m?"

Trying out Microsoft Office

The council also backed a 6,000-seat trial of Microsoft Office 2016, which will be run on virtual machines.

The findings of this pilot will be discussed by the council at the end of 2018, when Munich is expected to vote on whether to replace the open-source office suite LibreOffice with Microsoft Office. If the move to Microsoft Office is given the go-ahead, it is expected to begin in 2021 and be completed by the end of 2023.

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

The estimated cost of the move to Microsoft Office, when combined with the Windows 10 migration, could surpass €100m according to one report, due primarily to the huge expense of converting more than 12,000 LibreOffice templates and macros, as well as developing a new templating system.

Those supporting the move to Microsoft Office say staff using LibreOffice find it difficult to swap documents with external organizations, due to incompatibilities with Microsoft Office, although a council insider told TechRepublic these issues affect no more than about 60 employees, out of thousands of computer users.

With additional reporting by Toby Wolpe.

munich-panorama-620px.jpg

The Munich skyline.

Image: Björn Kindler

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

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox