German state ditches Microsoft for Linux and LibreOffice

Why? Schleswig-Holstein cites cost, security, and digital sovereignty - though not necessarily in that order.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
The Document Foundation

Thanks to hardware vendors working hand-in-glove with Microsoft, many people never realize there are alternatives to Windows and Office. 

But that's not the case in the European Union (EU) and China, where computer users know all about Microsoft's dominance on the desktop -- and many don't like it. So, when Dirk Schrödter, digitalization minister for the German state of Schleswig-Holstein,  announced the state government would switch from proprietary software "towards free, open-source systems and digitally sovereign IT workplaces for the state administration's approximately 30,000 employees," there was cause for rejoicing among Linux desktop fans.

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Specifically, Schleswig-Holstein is dumping Windows and Office for Linux and the popular open-source office suite, LibreOffice. The Schleswig-Holstein cabinet made this decision not because of Linux and LibreOffice's technical superiority, but because it values "digital sovereignty."

In the EU, digital sovereignty means protecting citizens' data from being vacuumed up by foreign companies and enabling European tech companies to compete with their American and Chinese rivals. 

As The Document Foundation, the organization backing LibreOffice, put it, "The term digital sovereignty is very important here. If a public administration uses proprietary, closed software that can't be studied or modified, it is very difficult to know what happens to users' data."


Although Microsoft is trying to meet the EU's digital sovereignty requirements, European governments aren't -- shall we say -- all that trusting. Schrödter explained:

"We have no influence on the operating processes of such [proprietary] solutions and the handling of data, including a possible outflow of data to third countries. As a state, we have a great responsibility towards our citizens and companies to ensure that their data is kept safe with us, and we must ensure that we are always in control of the IT solutions we use and that we can act independently as a state."

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There are other reasons the state is parting ways with Office and Windows: To save money and increase security. "The use of open source software also benefits from improved IT security, cost-effectiveness, data protection, and seamless collaboration between different systems," Schrödter said."

Going forward, the plan is to replace Microsoft Office with LibreOffice, Windows with a yet-to-be-determined Linux desktop distro, and other Microsoft-specific programs with open-source equivalents. For example, the plan is to use Nextcloud, Open Xchange/Thunderbird, and the Univention Active Directory (AD) connector to replace Sharepoint and Exchange/Outlook.

If some of this sounds familiar, congratulations on having a great memory. Munich, the capital of Bavaria, Germany, switched from Windows to Linux in 2004. That move lasted for a decade before Munich returned to Windows -- in no small part because the mayor wanted Microsoft to move its headquarters to Munich

Also: 5 ways LibreOffice meets my writing needs better than Google Docs can

Other countries, notably China, have proverbs that say they are much more stubborn when shifting gears from Windows to Linux. The last few Chinese government PCs running Windows have been replaced by systems mostly using Kylin Linux. The latest version of Kylin Linux started life as an Ubuntu Linux clone optimized for the Chinese language. 

In China, as in Europe, a large part of the motivation for the move was so that the local governments and organizations, rather than Microsoft, would control their desktop. This may not be why Linux fans wanted to see users abandon Windows, but it will do. 

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