"We want to decide our IT strategy in Mannheim and not have Microsoft make the decision for Mannheim," declares Gerd Armbruster, the IT infrastructure manager at the German city. For in Mannheim, open standards — not cost — is the main driver of the software strategy.
This does not mean everything has to be open source — though much will be — but it does have to support open standards. "We migrated from Microsoft Exchange Server 2005 to Oracle Collaboration Suite because it [OCS] supports open standards — it is proprietary software but it uses standard protocols," says Armbruster, talking to ZDNet UK about his plans.
Although it has not mandated the use of open source, it has already migrated the majority of its 120 servers to Linux and plans to migrate its 3500 desktops to the open source productivity application OpenOffice.org running on Linux.
The migration to Linux on the server was predominantly driven by the IT department's decision to use open standards — it wanted to use OpenLDAP rather than Microsoft's proprietary Active Directory. Similarly, the migration to OpenOffice.org was driven by its desire to use OpenDocument — a standard file format that Microsoft has said it will not support in Microsoft Office.
Price isn't everything
In contrast to many large-scale moves to open source software, cost was largely irrelevant for Armbruster. Mannheim recently paid approximately €1m to Microsoft to migrate from Office 2000 to 2003 and yet, says Armbruster "it was not important in our internal discussions — we never said to our mayor that if we switch to Linux we won't need to pay €1m to Microsoft."
Although the city will save some money by switching to open source desktops, it is likely to spend a considerable sum migrating desktop applications from Windows to Linux. "We need to change 145 applications so they will work on Linux. This will cost millions of Euros," he says.
Putting your customers first
Migrating those applications will not only take money: it will take time, and because of this, the migration to Linux on the desktop is not due to start for five or six years. But the migration to OpenOffice.org on Windows will begin next year, with 3500 desktops across 40 departments migrated to the open source productivity application by 2009, according to Armbruster: "The migration to OpenOffice has to end when support for Office 2003 ends — so we have about four or five years to complete the migration."
Armbruster believes that one of the most important factors for a successful migration is user acceptance. "It is important for me to have no resistance from users," he says. It is so important that the Mannheim IT department is providing every city employee with copies of OpenOffice.org and Linux for their home PC and will even provide support for home users.
The department is also attempting to engage its users in the desktop migration project by arranging meetings with users where they can discuss their concerns about the migration. Armbruster thinks that the lack of user engagement is one of the main problems that has caused the delay in Munich's migration to open source desktops...