The tax authority in Lower Saxony, Germany is migrating 12,000 desktops to SuSE Linux and the open source KDE desktop.
The project, which is moving the taxmen's PCs onto open software, is "one of the most important in the history of IT" at the office, according to the regional tax office in Hanover. The systems are moving from Solaris x86 version 8, which the organisation has been running since 2002.
The migration process has "entered its peak phase", with 300 systems ported every day, according to Eva Brucherseifer, president of the KDE community in Germany, and managing director of basysKom, the consultancy which configured the desktop.
The project has been kept under wraps till now, although Brucherseifer was able to hint about it to us last year. Planning started two years ago; the actual porting started in April, and should be complete in September.
"The decision made by the Regional Tax Office in Lower Saxony represents an important step towards increased flexibility, enhanced usability and--last but not least--reduced training and support costs," said Brucherseifer.
The change is a big move for an authority where Solaris has been entrenched since 1993, but the reasons are obvious, acording to authority. "Freely accessible sources, no license costs as well as optimum support of current hardware."
The quality of German language support was also decisive; SuSE has strong German support and the development of KDE was part funded by the German government.
Although the wide variety of tools in KDE will be useful, many of the PCs will be run in a "kiosk mode", customised by basysKom and the tax authority's IT department, where advanced functions are hidden from workers engaged in more basic tasks.
The German public sector has embraced open source enthusiastically. Nine out of every 10 German local authorities are using open source software, according to the MERIT survey, and OpenOffice.org is being run on more than 50,000 PCs in the German public sector, according to Erwin Tenhumberg, a product marketing manager at Sun.
A number of German cities are using, or planning to use, open source software, including Schwäbisch Hall, Mannheim, Treuchtlingen, Leonberg and Isernhagen. Schwäbisch Hall switched to Linux on more than 400 workstations and Mannheim plans to deploy Linux on 110 servers and 3,700 desktops.
Some German ministries are also using open source software, including the Federal Finance Office at the German Ministry of Finance, which has shifted its back-office operations to two large mainframe computers running Linux, and the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is using a predominantly open source system for the global German embassy network.
The German government promotes the use of open source through migration guidelines that have been published by the Ministry of Interior. These guidelines are in favour of open source, suggesting that government agencies should consider open source where it is feasible.