Munich mayor: Full speed ahead to open source

For Munich, there's no turning back now. After some delay, the city is pushing full-speed ahead with its migration to Linux on the desktop, and even mayor Christine Strobl, a newly converted open-source user, likes what she sees.

For Munich, there's no turning back now. After some delay, the city is pushing full-speed ahead with its migration to Linux on the desktop, and even mayor Christine Strobl, a newly converted open source user, likes what she sees.

"It was no easy decision to migrate our computers to open source software," Strobl said Tuesday in speech at the Systems IT trade show in Munich. "But we're very happy with the results so far. I'm no technology freak but even I must admit how easy it's been to migrate to the new software."

Last month, Munich began replacing Microsoft's Windows operating system and Office products with Linux and OpenOffice.org software on around 14,000 desktops, a year later than planned and nearly three years since the city announced its move to open source.

Delays in the city's LiMux project began with a dispute over patent issues, sparked by proposed European Union (E.U.) legislation that some critics thought would make it easier to patent software. Because open source software is often created by groups of developers who write code that can be easily scrutinized, some critics have said that it may be easier for companies to make patent claims against it. But following a study by legal experts, Munich decided to take a calculated risk and proceed with its project.

The patent dispute was followed by longer-than-expected negotiations with companies bidding for the contract to provide system configuration and support services. On top of that was a one-year extension of the pilot phase.

The city now hopes to compensate with a fast rollout.

"Between now and 2008, we plan to complete the migration and I don't see any reason why we shouldn't," said Wilhelm Hoegner, IT director at the city of Munich.

Along the way, Hoegner and his team hope to fine-tune the deployment, in part by getting vendors to provide hooks to connect with open source software.

After some persuasion, SAP AG agreed to integrate OpenOffice into a new version of its ERP software, according to Hoegner. "We have a very close collaboration with SAP in the areas where we use the company's technology, and we see no reason to change this partnership," he said.

The Open Document Format that Microsoft plans to include in its new Office addition will help eliminate many of the formatting issues Munich city employees experience when converting documents from Office to OpenOffice.org, according to Hoegner.

To simplify document design, the LiMux team has designed its own open source WollMux tool to produce mastheads, forms and other city-specific documents.

Based on current costs, Hoegner expects to complete the open source migration project below budget. The city has earmarked €35 million ($44 million) for the project.

The lion's share of the costs is estimated to be training, at 38%, followed by implementation, at 18%, and development of templates and macros, at 15%, Hoegner said.

Although numerous other European cities are closely following the LiMux project, Hoegner is hesitant to estimate how many will ever take the leap and deploy open source on a large scale. "Politicians don't know enough about open source and are worried about making a mistake," he said. "Believe me, my head would have been on the block if things had backfired here."

Learn more about this topic

Munich begins Linux replacement of Windows

9/21/06

Munich migrates to Linux despite EU debate

9/30/04

 
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