Open source wins another local-government convert, with soft migrations to Linux imminent within the Austrian capital.
Special to CNET News.com
The local government of Vienna is due to start migrating its desktop PCs to open-source software in the second quarter of this year.
Erwin Gillich, the head of information technology at the Austrian capital's municipal authority, said this will be a "soft migration," in which users have the option of switching from Microsoft Office 2000 to the open-source productivity application OpenOffice.org and from Microsoft Windows 2000 to Linux. As OpenOffice runs on Windows as well as Linux, users can switch the productivity application without changing their operating system.
Of its 16,000 desktop PCs, Vienna has identified 7,500 that could be migrated to OpenOffice, of which 4,800 could migrate to Linux, according to Gillich. The IT department is offering to install OpenOffice or Linux free of charge on PCs and will charge departments less money if they run these open-source applications rather than running Microsoft Office or Windows. Users that make the change will be offered support but not full training, Gillich said.
This price advantage is likely to encourage some departments to migrate, but it is unlikely that more than a few hundred users will migrate to open-source software in the first year, Gillich said. Over time, he expects this number to increase, but he believes that it is unlikely that all users who are given the option will choose to switch.
"We want it to be a success, but the internal market will decide," Gillich said. "I don't think it will be as many as 7,500 PCs. The better (the open-source software) works, the more will take it. It's a bit cheaper; therefore, it can afford to be a bit worse—but not much worse."
Vienna will start offering departments the option of moving to open-source software in May or June this year.
Since the end of last year, Gillich's IT department has been working on creating a customized Linux version based on Debian. Named Wienux, it will contain a few extra tools that are not in the standard Debian distribution and will be modified to look more like Windows.
Gillich said it chose to create its own version, rather than use a commercial distribution such as Red Hat or Novell SuSE, for cost reasons. Debian was chosen over other free Linux distributions, as it is "a good, stable distribution which we can build on," Gillich said.
Vienna is not the only large European city that is migrating to Linux on the desktop. Munich, in Germany, is due to migrate 14,000 PCs to OpenOffice.org and Linux by 2008. Bergen, Norway, is migrating desktops in its 100 schools, which have 32,000 students and pupils.
Paris' administration was considering migrating 17,000 PCs, but stepped back in mid-October, saying the move would mean significant additional costs without improving the service.
Ingrid Marson of ZDNet UK reported from London.