Iceland swaps Windows for Linux in open-source push

The country is making headway on a pilot scheme to move public-sector bodies from proprietary to free and open-source software, though Oracle and other products could create hurdles
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor

Iceland's push to move its public sector to open-source software has made some headway, with most of the shift seeing Windows swapped for Linux.

Reykjavik, Iceland

Iceland is making headway on a pilot scheme to move public-sector bodies from proprietary to free and open-source software.

However, the scheme faces hurdles with other enterprise software, as some government ministries are firmly locked into a web of proprietary technologies from companies such as Oracle, according to Tryggvi Bjorgvinsson, the project leader of Iceland's open-source project.

"Cost is one thing, one of the prime motivators today, but we also want more equality between software," Bjorgvinsson told ZDNet UK on Thursday. "The government needs to back open-source software, as there aren't that many service providers actively selling free and open-source software."

The hope is that Iceland can, through a series of pilot projects, lay out how a public-sector organisation can move to open source and pass this information on to other organisations and even other countries. Bjorgvinsson is leading the initiative, which aims to analyse migrations as they happen and be a clearinghouse for information on open-source migrations for other institutions.

The scheme has been running for a few months and will continue for a year in total, according to Bjorgvinsson. So far, five of Iceland's 32 secondary schools have moved from Windows to Ubuntu Linux, he said. Some of these have also migrated from Microsoft Word to open-source document software, and from proprietary course-management systems to an open-source equivalent named Moodle.

Along with these, a number of fringe publicly funded institutions have made the jump. These include the country's media commission, which has moved from Windows to Fedora, and the Icelandic Arts Centre, which decided that instead of upgrading its Windows computers it would simply wipe them and install Ubuntu.

"Ubuntu runs better [than Windows] on older hardware, so they saved money and got more lifespan out of their computers," Bjorgvinsson said.

Additionally, Iceland's Soil Conservation Service — an important organisation, as the country has very little topsoil — has moved its PBX phone software to Asterisk. But the transition has not been without problems, Bjorgvinsson admitted.

"The biggest problems come from open standards," he said. "Those who have moved to free and open-source software are sending, for example, ODF documents, which not everyone can handle [when using proprietary software]. There were some schools that couldn't send documents to the Minister of Education."

Lock-in problems

A thornier problem could be moving some of Iceland's core government ministries away from their net of proprietary software.

"The big public institutions are pretty locked in to some systems," Bjorgvinsson said. "The government has set up a pretty tightly interwoven set of proprietary software which will be hard to untangle."

As an example, he noted that in one government ministry, "the mail system is linked to our Oracle databases, which are also linked to our case management system, which is also linked to websites".

Iceland launched its public-sector open-source policy in 2008, just before a financial crisis damaged the country's economy. In the intervening four years, the government has taken steps toward the move, as first noted by the European Commission's JoinUp site. However, the transition will take a long time, Bjorgvinsson indicated.

"I don't have any time estimates. We are doing it slowly, just to be absolutely sure [and] to reduce the risk of migration failure," Bjorgvinsson said. "We're trying to document everything which is being done in order to speed up future migrations."

Iceland's open-source efforts are based partly on the UK government's own open-source strategy, he acknowledged.

"Our policy was based on the UK policy, the only thing we added to it was that students should have the opportunity to learn about [open source]", he said.

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