After a 10-year Linux migration, Munich considers switching back to Windows and Office

After a 10-year Linux migration, Munich considers switching back to Windows and Office

Summary: For the past decade, Munich has been the poster child for open-source advocates, who pointed to its successful migration from a Microsoft platform to one built on Linux and OpenOffice. Now, a newly elected government has called in experts to see whether it's time to switch back.


In most of the world, the Year of Desktop Linux never happened. In southern Germany, though, the city of Munich has spent the last 10 years migrating away from Windows and aggressively adopting Linux, OpenOffice (later switched to LibreOffice), and other open-source solutions instead.

Munich’s city council voted in 2003 to spend 30 million Euro over 10 years to make the transition, using a customized version of Ubuntu that it dubbed LiMux. The migration was declared complete in 2013.

And now, months after that milestone was achieved, the city’s newly formed coalition government is commissioning a study to determine whether it should phase out Linux and return to the Microsoft fold.

If you suspect politics is behind the tech scheming, you might be right.

The Second (deputy) Mayor of Munich, Josef Schmid, said the re-examination is necessary because of complaints from employees, who Schmid said are “suffering” in the transition. Schmid lost a runoff election for Mayor earlier this year to Dieter Reiter but was named Second Mayor in May as part of a coalition government.

The original decision to kick Microsoft to the curb wasn’t based on costs. Instead, according to a 2008 report from the European Commission, the main motive was “the desire for strategic independence from software suppliers”—including a single very large software supplier based in Redmond, Washington, U.S.A. At the time the original decision was debated, there was no shortage of rhetoric from proponents about Microsoft as a monopolist.

In fact, the original 2003 study projected that the “proprietary solution,” based on Windows and Microsoft Office, would have cost 35 million Euro, or about 2.5 million Euro less than the open-source alternative after accounting for personnel and training costs.

A 2012 report commissioned by the city boasted that the migration had actually saved 11.6 million Euro, including 5 million Euro in hardware upgrade costs required for Windows 7 and licensing costs of 4.2 million Euro for Windows and 2.6 million Euro for Office on 15,000 municipal PCs. The city’s report estimated the costs of personnel and training as identical at roughly 22 million Euro in either scenario.

Microsoft disputed those results with a study it commissioned in early 2013 that reportedly showed the LiMux project costing more than 60 million Euro, compared to the 17 million Euro that the company said a Windows XP and Office solution would have cost. City officials said the report was based on “flawed assumptions.”

There’s no question that Microsoft’s licensing costs add a significant chunk of change to the overall cost of a major government deployment like this one when compared with free-as-in-beer software. But as critics have pointed out, there are substantial costs involved with being the outlier when virtually every other government agency in the country uses Windows.

Sabine Nallinger, who ran for mayor for the Greens, noted that data exchange was especially problematic and didn’t work properly. Schmid agreed, telling Munich’s largest newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, that “Linux is very expensive” because of the need for custom programming.

And getting rid of all proprietary software isn’t realistically an option. That 2008 EC report noted that Munich uses 300 “specialised administrative software packages” to perform its official duties. Although the goal was to replace those proprietary applications with platform-independent alternatives, the reality is that most would probably end up running in Windows inside a virtual machine, which of course requires paying Microsoft a license fee.

And so Munich is back to Square One, with a team of independent experts evaluating the alternatives. “If the experts recommend a return to Microsoft, then it cannot be ruled out,” Schmid said.

Topics: Open Source, Government, Linux, Microsoft, Windows

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  • Please play nice

    I realize this is a controversial topic.

    But surely we can all just get along, right?

    (In the movie Mars Attacks, the President, played by Jack Nicholson, gets incinerated by vengeful aliens moments after asking that same question. Oh well.)

    No personal attacks please. Keep the discussion about issues.

    Ed Bott
    • Hope dies last


      • Popcorn?

        Darn...I'm just about out. Have any you can spare? ;-)
        • Microsft or Linux?

          1 - 0 for MS
          • NOPE

            And a couple of days after many similar articles circling the inter-webs with sensationalist headlines, the truth comes out... in english:


            The link text says it all: "... the council's recently elected mayor Dieter Reiter has instead simply commissioned a report into the future IT system for the council."

            Linux is a viable alternative to Windows, period.
            Technical John
          • Says it all. Thanks.

            It's understandable. This is a very dark time for Microsoft and ZDNet is not about computing.

            I think someone constantly coming here for computing news and information is going to get really messed up.

            The truth is not important here, and if you view the article and posts, I imagine, there are still a lot of sincere people posting here.

            But the article is intentionally written to exclude unsavory Microsoft topics, and the flow of the posts mostly follows the tone of the article. So, Linux security and stability vs. Microsoft security and stability is left out in the cold here.

            And as happens at most political propaganda sites like Fox News, the majority of the readers aren't sharp enough to notice the propaganda by omission. Propaganda by omission is the most efficient way to deal with an intelligent crowd.

            Ed is probably very well invested in MS stock anyway.
          • I know about getting custom software written for MS.

            Anyone who needs custom software is going to need it for Windows or Linux. It's expensive either way.

            But, Linux, as an OS is free, no activation, no WGA, no AV, minimal maintenance. No one can argue MS is even in the same league.

            With MS, there is a constant pull to visit other MS sites for "necessary" software and getting a sales pitch along the way for other MS products.

            Linux just runs, there is no commercialism there or desire to sell other products.
      • What are the Germans saying?

        Given revelations of spying on Angela Merkel and Snowdon's leaks, I wonder if the timing of this works for Microsoft. Well, if it doesn't work out for Microsoft, it can apply its right for all of this to be 'forgotten' by
    • Incinerated?

      I think his heart was perforated by the hand of the alien
      • oh right

        They incinerated everyone else.
        Ed Bott
        • How embarrassing, Ed

          Are you aiming to beat Daniel Lyons in not investigating a "story"?
    • Not really

      > "And so Munich is back to Square One, with a team of independent experts evaluating the alternatives."

      There is nothing wrong with a person or organization periodically re-evaluating past decisions. In fact, I'd say it's smart to do so. What would be a shame is if a decision was made in response to kickbacks...sorry, of course I mean lobbying for a desired outcome.

      Regardless of any future decision, Munich still stands a working example that the change away from Microsoft and proprietary software can be done successfully.
      • Similar was said else where

        'So after 10 years, just now there is talk about switching to Microsoft. Something something envelopes of cash?”
        • Here's the reason

          The new mayor is Dieter Reiter:

          "Microsoft announced last year that it was moving its German headquarters to Munich. This move is planned to take place in 2016. While Reiter was involved in the deal that precipitated the move and describes himself as a "Microsoft fan," he says the criticism of LiMux is unrelated."

          "These views aren't held universally, with the City Council defending the "LiMux" project and suggesting that the coalition administration is using the Linux migration as a scapegoat. The Council says the use of open source software has yielded savings of more than €10 million (more than $13 million)."

          • DING SING

            we have a winner!
          • are you use its Daiter Reiter or Data Router?

            With a name like "Daiter Reiter", it is an easy confusion to make !!!
          • I enjoy the reliability and freedom from using any AV.

            I've supported MS for decades and am at a point where I don't want to continue to repair/re-install or even initially install it anymore.

            The GNU/GPL provides complete freedom from cost, infection, activation, AV and even installing drivers.

            The common thread with selling Microsoft is to hype the proprietary features and completely undersell the dismal security and constant need for maintenance. That works to bring in initial revenue, but if this group were to start using MS, they would quickly discover the hidden problems. (i.e. after their checks are cashed) ...and in the end, that is all MS is really concerned about.
        • Right. Because we all can not doubt that the original switch away from MS

          could have absolutely nothing to do with politics, even though from the get go there was talk of money changing hands in Munich's decision to go the "less expensive" open source...
          • Wow, William, bitter or what?

            Was your mother attacked by Linus himself?
            Meanwhile, who are these mystery open-source proponents with the billions to stack against the lobbying power of MS and associates?
          • I think the money exchange he's referring to was...

            ...from Microsoft to continue using Microsoft.