Birmingham considers Linux extension

After the city council spent over half a million pounds on deploying 200 desktops, it reveals further plans for open source
Written by Richard Thurston, Contributor

Birmingham City Council is mulling an extension to its open-source software deployment, which was criticised last year for falling short of expectations.

The council revealed last autumn that it had installed just 200 Linux desktops, while using up over £500,000 of open-source public funding. The project was subsequently mothballed, and some machines in the city's library cluster were migrated to Windows XP instead.

But the council told ZDNet UK this week that there is room for further deployments, though some will not happen this year. Head of IT, Glyn Evans, said: "Following on from our pilot [the 200 desktop deployment] we are keen to keep the community that we established together. There are opportunities to share expertise and issues. It is an important part of our future strategy... open source can offer a lot of advantages."

Evans added: "We are currently rolling out a revised model, and we will continue rollout as appropriate."

One piece of work the council has undertaken since the autumn is to roll out Linux desktops in a number of city community projects. Those projects have also been given free broadband connections by BT to connect them to the internet.

Birmingham is also considering moving to thin client PCs, which would give it another opportunity to deploy open source. But the decision on thin client migration is "at least 12 months" away, said Evans.

Evans argues that he is "not evangelical" about open source and points to several limitations with the software. He says that Birmingham's library-management system and accessibility software are not compatible with Linux, meaning staff use of Linux in the library service is limited. And he added that retraining costs could be considerable in some situations, citing the example of accountants who currently carry out complex calculations using Microsoft Excel.

Aside from the community projects, Birmingham's current open-source footprint covers 200 PCs in the main city library, although some of the implementation work is yet to be completed. Out of those PCs, some are running an entirely open-source desktop and some are running Windows with Open Office.

Birmingham City Council is supporting the National Open Centre, an organisation that was launched this week to promote discussions and policy on deploying open-source software.

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