Munich city official takes heat for thinking about ditching Linux for Windows


By Scott M. Fulton, III 

It was already being declared a success–in the context of information technology, on a scale approaching the fall of the Berlin Wall: the city of Munich, Germany’s 2004 migration plan away from proprietary software, specifically Microsoft’s Windows and Office, and towards a specialized distribution of Ubuntu Linux called LiMux. It was part of the German government’s effort to follow the European Union’s lead in avoiding situations where government services found themselves restricted and constrained by a foreign country’s standards and formats.

But now, Munich Deputy Mayor Josef Schmid tells the online publication Sü from German text) that his city has reached a state of desperation. Now Schmid is calling for a study to investigate the feasibility, and potential benefits, of moving some 15,000 city officials’ desktops back from LiMux to Windows.

One very large clue as to Munich’s problem came two years ago, when the makers of the open source productivity suite LibreOffice (which uses OpenDocument format) announced that Munich would be changing its office productivity suite transition plans from OpenOffice to LibreOffice. This announcement came a full eight years after the previous transition officially began, leading some German journalists to wonder what was really going on.

The answer was made clear by a very telling headline published in 2013 (translating from the German): nothing.

As city officials stated just after the turn of the century, the problem with the mostly Windows-based systems they had was software fragmentation and the lack of standard choices, according to published reports. Despite the fact that Office was being used for general productivity, for example, city departments made their own choices about which applications to use, for instance, for designing Web pages or editing photographs. Each application stuck to its own proprietary standards, and IT workers were bogged down with requests for translating files (you can just imagine the floppy disk traffic) from one set of formats to another.

But the problem that some city officials now report doesn’t sound much different. Although LiMux comes with its own selection of free and open source software for a variety of general purposes, it appears general purposes are not the problem. There’s evidence that federal government officials may be bringing in their own computing devices for special purposes. Specifically, the cites a lack of outrage among federal workers about the use of proprietary formats, who are evidently only using the ODF format when they really need to–an indication that they’re bringing Office to work with them.

Schmid is quoted by several sources as saying that his city is paying real money to adapt LiMux to the needs of city workers, though he did not say how much. Though supporters of the ongoing migration state it has already saved the city some €10 million in licensing expenses, a 2013 study conducted on Munich’s behalf by HP (translated from the German) stated the city spent a full €61 million in IT-related expenses, including re-training, just to avoid spending license fees.

Munich Mayor Dieter Reiter recently admitted to the press that, in the time he was waiting for Linux-based software to finish its job, he could go sing a song. Schmidt says he’s willing to consider the possibility of advocating a move back to Windows–as a fan of neither system himself, he says, he hasn’t made a decision.

But Schmidt’s comments have already been derided (translated from the German) as appeasements to Microsoft, specifically since the company is already doing a migration of its own: It’s moving its German headquarters to Munich, and expects to be operational there by Summer 2016.

For more:
– Munich shifts to LibreOffice [by Brian Proffitt, ITWorld, October 17, 2012]
– Microsoft Deutschland GmbH relocates its headquarters [Eversheds German real estate news, November 18, 2013]

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