No, Microsoft, open source software really is cheaper, insists Munich

No, Microsoft, open source software really is cheaper, insists Munich

Summary: Which is cheaper - using open source or Microsoft's software? The software giant and the city of Munich have come up with very different answers.


The city of Munich has hit back at Microsoft in a row over whether the city's plan to use open-source software is cheaper than using Microsoft's products.

The city is currently migrating 13,000 computers from Windows NT 4 and Microsoft Office 97 to a custom build of Ubuntu and OpenOffice as part of its 'LiMux' project. A further 2,000 computers will stay on Windows but are being switched to OpenOffice. The move began in 2004 and will be completed in the autumn of this year.

Last year Munich released figures that it said demonstrated the project would save the authority more than €10m by sidestepping the need to license Windows 7 and newer versions of Microsoft Office, as well as associated hardware upgrades.

In total the LiMux project would cost €23m, compared to the €34m the authority estimated it would have cost to stick with Windows and MS Office.

Munich's figures were challenged in a study produced by HP for Microsoft, which claimed the LiMux project would cost €60.6m, considerably more than claimed by the authority. In comparison, the report claimed, migrating to Windows XP and Microsoft Office would have cost only €17m.

Flawed assumptions?

However the costs in the Microsoft/HP report are based on several flawed assumptions, said Stefan Hauf, head of the press office at the City of Munich.

Hauf said the HP study assumes support costs for 12,000 clients running the LiMux OS, Munich's custom build of Ubuntu, since 2003. However the number of clients running LiMux in that period has been far lower, as migration has been taking place gradually since 2004, and will only reach 13,000 this year. He added that the report also overestimated the number of IT staff working on the project by putting it at 1,000, which is the total number of IT staff working for Munich.

The cost of porting other business applications used by the authority to Linux, estimated by Microsoft to run to tens of millions of euros, is also exaggerated, said Hauf, as it fails to acknowledge the extent to which web-based apps can be used on LiMux without significant modification.

The way the study characterises the relative hardware costs of LiMux versus Windows is also inaccurate, he said. By comparing LiMux, which is based on Ubuntu 10.04, with Windows XP, the study is not comparing like with like, as its functionality is closer to Windows 7. Consequently the hardware requirements for LiMux relative to Windows 7 should be used, not LiMux versus XP, as is laid out in the study.

On the basis of the present text of the HP study Hauf said it "cannot be regarded as scientific".

A spokesman for Microsoft said: "The study is reliable from our perspective and backed by numerous sources. The City of Munich will be provided a summary of the study. Moreover, we are available to the City of Munich anytime for talks to discuss the study findings in detail."

Topics: Open Source, Microsoft, EU


Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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  • No big deal

    Sooner or late they'll fall back to Windows to get some software of theirs to work; they always do.
    • wrong, when you get out of MS juggernaut

      you never comes back. Why, you should ever want to come back?
      • Yes -- even if Linux/Open Source didn't save a dime

        Yes -- even if Linux/Open Source didn't save a dime, Munich (like many other forward-looking German and European cities) would still be migrating away from MS Office (and without Office, Windows OS itself is much less "essential").

        This is in many respects (explicitly articulated respects) about "open data", free public access (ie. not requiring private citizens (or corporations, for that matter) to buy proprietary software in order to access public records), and about ensuring reliable long-term access to public/government/legal (and eventually historical) documents and records.

        There have also been concerns here and there about electronic accessibility regarding public/government services (eg. taxes, bidding on contracts, etc) as well.

        In this sense, the cost savings are merely a nice side-benefit of migrating the information structure to open format, open standards and open source.
    • Why would it be a big deal either way ?

      Why would it be a big deal if they didn't ? Are you going to loose sleep over it? Does your heart bleed for Germany? So why would Germany behavior affect you ? Is Bill Gates the Dali Lama to you?
      Tim Jordan
      • Typical U.S. attitude.

        As per usual, "some hicks" think that nothing outside the U.S. of A. matters and that America leads the world. That appears to have been the case in the past, but who could take any country seriously when they are teaching their scientists of the future that the Earth is six thousand years old and that Evolution doesn't exist. Pretty soon the U.S.A. will be the laughing stock of the rest of it's third world friends. lol. Good on you Munich; it's time the rest of the world stopped following the U.S. lead and struck out on their own. BTW, Ubuntu/Linux is a U.K. developed system, financed by a South African entrepreneur/businessman..
        • Do you have a special source

          For all the ignorant things you post?
        • Unix was invented at AT&T Bell Laboratories in 1969

          Unix was invented at AT&T Bell Laboratories in 1969
          Tim Jordan
          • Unix was invented at AT&T Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill New Jersey

            And because AT&T was a government sanctioned monopoly at the time the source code was required to be open to all.
            Tim Jordan
          • AT&T spun off Unix System Laboratories in 1990

            AT&T spun off USL in 1990 and sold USL to Novell in 1992. Novell needed us because with every new release of DOS, the Novell networking software was broke. Microsoft wanted to make their own networking solution so the changed the API with every release to break our software. Novell needed it's own kernel so they bought USL and her programmers. Once they got their own kernel we wer split up to HP, SCO and Novell. I was slated to go to Novell and move to Mormon heaven in Utah so I quit.

            You have no idea of what you are talking about Snoops27.
            Tim Jordan
          • Linux was written in finland

            Linux is almost a clean room implementation of POSIX standard API and was written from scratch in _Finland_ by Linus Torvalds in the 90s. Check the facts.
          • Yes and no.

            Linus started the kernel project when he was a student at the University of Helsinki. I'd say the geographic location of most the kernel hackers is largely irrelevant, with the exception of developers hampered by their local laws.

            "Linux" as a whole, the base system that people think of as Linux, is basically the GNU project with the Linux kernel in place of the microkernel they'd always intended to write (they'll get it perfected someday, really!) GNU was the brainchild of Richard Stallman, at MIT. Again, the project is an international one, so no need for an intercontinental peeing match.
            Shane Simmons
    • Maybe Germany wants to run machine code which does not run as Administrator

      Maybe Germany want to run optimized machine level instructions which does not run as Administrator. You can only do that with a Linux or Unix kernel.
      Tim Jordan
      • Maybe Germany wants full control of it's machines, with no 3rd party kill-s

        Maybe Germany wants full control of it's machines, with no 3rd party kill-switch.
    • cost > than just upgrading OS and document applications

      One thing people are not considering is that a HUGE majority of companies and businesses in general uses Office. That means the people you collaborate with are more than likely to be using Office i.e. your clients and customers.

      I have had this happened where the group is working on a proposal spanning several hundred pages and lots and lots of embedded objects. One brilliant person (apple fanatic) decided he was going to work on it on his mac at home and convert it to whatever junk he was using. He brought the edited document back and we found constant problems throughout the document with missing objects and incorrectly generated table of contents. It was a mess to sort through. Ultimately, that fanatic had to redo all of his work in Word.

      Those costs are not calculated into their estimates I am sure.
      • MS Word vs LaTeX

        Magazines and newspapers use LaTeX for typesetting. One can do a lot more with even a PDF than with a Word document. True there are a lot of people using Word but not in sophisticated professional printing or layout.
        Tim Jordan
      • Your example is flawed

        Your example is flawed. The problems of the Apple Fanatic you mentioned were the fault of Microsoft Office not understanding the formats, and importing improperly. This is a long documented weakness in the Microsoft Office system. MSO is often unable to import even documents done on the same version of Word, if a different version of the OS was used. Again, this is a well documented bug in the Microsoft ecosystem.

        Also, you may not have read the Article carefully enough. The City of Munich is currently using MS Office 97. That's at least a 13 year old version of Office. Microsoft does not keep backwards compatibility with themselves. Munich cannot have the compatibility with outside Microsoft users you tout as an advantage. Open Office, by contrast, can read and if the fonts used are on the system, print properly all but the latest version of Microsoft Office, so this one is a win for Munich.

        On another point, Munich is still running NT 3 on it's systems, this indicates a very slow upgrade cycle. Some of these PCs are going to be close to 10 years old. Windows 7 is not even an option for them, unless they replace hardware on a large scale.

        Linux by contrast only this year finally gave up on support for 386 hardware from 20 years ago.

        As for the rest, I have worked for a municipality. Government bodies are required to keep documents for extended time periods.

        Microsoft products seldom can read their own formats from 15 years ago, let alone 30 years.

        Open Office, with it's publicly documented format promises to be readable in 20 to 50 years as well as it is today, no matter what happens in the market.

        In my work for the municipality I live in, I had to routinely access documents up to 100 years old. Those were film copies, of course. In the latter half of the 1800's and for all of the 1900s, paper was produced using an acid process that means that over 20 years or so, the documents will brown and crack due to oxidation. It is a problem that librarians are well acquainted with. Documents from 200 years ago are frequently in better shape than documents from 30 years ago. for this reason, documents during the 1970s were microfilmed for archival purposes.

        Microsoft with it's constant undocumented format changes has just shortened the time period before the document self destructs. If Munich considered that problem, then Microsoft was a nonviable candidate right out the door.
        • Actually found the opposite in my personal experience.

          I found that, on my previous machine, Office 2003 on Windows XP with the free MS add-on to read the XML formats (*.docx, *.xlsx, etc.) was able to easily convert any Office 2007/2010 documents created on Windows 7 machines with no hassles or formatting issues.

          In contrast, I found that OpenOffice installed on *my* Windows XP machine had trouble converting the Office *2003* files with 100% consistency, let alone the newer file formats.
        • Right on...

          A few weeks ago I had a Word 2003 file that refused to load into Word 10 without trashing the content and layout. In desperation I tried to load it into LibreOffice and it loaded perfectly first time. This on top of problems installing Office 2003 into Windows 7 which won't run without Ms's kind inclusion of a "fix" and a warning not to be so silly in the future loading old apps.
          Go opensource and rid yourself of this foolish Microsoft yoke.
          • Yup

            I've been successful at convincing a number of enterprise users - the "business suit" type folks - to use LibreOffice over Microsoft Office simply because it's more feature rich. LibreOffice will happily import - and enable the editing of - a PDF document, for example; Office 2010 can't. OpenOffice/LibreOffice was also among the first to offer export-to-PDF functionality built-in. The open nature of OpenOffice/LibreOffice makes for a very robust collection of both first/second-party and third-party plugins, which is *very* useful.
      • Can be oversome

        It is true that you are dealing with a Microsoft blinkered world, but these issues can mostly be overcome with some simple strategies. Firstly (for the example given) discourage users from misusing the software with excessive complexities in documents. The problems do not just touch on open source, they also touch on the Apple/Microsoft divide and indeed on Microsofts later versions which (at least used to be and may still be) incompatible with earlier versions. Secondly, you can usually deal with outside documents coming in an unreadable form, by having a small number of Windows machines available to work on them. Any laptop comes with Windows by default anyway.