Munich's city authority is a step closer to moving thousands of council computers from Linux to Windows, in a reversal of one of open-source software's marquee successes.
The authority's administrative and personnel committee this week made a long-awaited recommendation for the reorganization of Munich's IT setup, calling for an immediate start to the creation of a uniform, Windows-based client architecture that can be deployed across the council by the end of 2020 at the latest.
The committee said the use of "standard products" was necessary for compatibility with products from software vendors such as SAP.
Just over a decade ago, the Bavarian capital city hall famously ditched Windows for an Ubuntu derivative called LiMux, a portmanteau of Linux and München. The migration, which involved some 15,000 PCs and a reported cost of over €30m ($32m), provided what is still the biggest showcase for a Linux desktop in any German public administration.
However, the 2014 arrival of a new lord mayor, Dieter Reiter of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), spelled trouble for the flagship scheme.
Reiter quickly expressed interest in readopting Windows, although he said at the time there were no plans to have Microsoft's product become the administration's main desktop operating system. Last year, Reiter commissioned a report from consultants, including Microsoft partner Accenture, which said staff should be given the option of using Windows 10 and Microsoft Office.
Now, if the personnel committee wins approval for its proposal next, Munich's desktops will be running Windows all the way. In the interim, the committee suggested, city workers should still be able to run Windows or LiMux as they choose.
"The mayor was against free software from the beginning," said Matthias Kirschner, the president of Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE). "When he was elected, he took pride in getting Microsoft to move their office to Munich [a move that took place last September]. He even gave this study to Accenture, which is a Microsoft partner."
According to Kirschner, Munich's IT problems are not so much down to the use of free software as they are the result of poor management and organizational structure, a view backed up by Accenture's study.
He said the consultants' report was amended following its initial publication to note that "a lot of the dissatisfaction with the software is due to old versions, and they are not rolled out because of organizational problems".
Anne Hübner, a councillor on the personnel committee, told ZDNet that the recommendations do not mean Munich is completely opting out of the wider LiMux project.
"Much of the server structure will remain as it is today. LibreOffice can also continue to be used, but we'll allow our employees to use Microsoft products if they so wish" she said.
"I don't think this whole LiMux-Microsoft thing should be debated on high ideologically driven emotions. In the future, whatever product fits our interests best, will be used. It will take some time to determine what's best and what's best may also change over time, as the digital industry and user requirements are changing fast."
Indeed, the committee's recommendations also note that Munich should have a strategic goal of moving to applications that can run independently of the operating system that is being used, such as web applications, virtualised apps and remote desktop services.
Given this goal, there will no doubt be more questions about the cost of moving everyone over to Windows.
Back in 2014, mayor Reiter said such a move would cost €3.15m ($3.34m) and involve the writing-off of vast investments in Linux. However, that figure was based on buying everyone new Windows 7 laptops, and the cost of a Windows 10 migration remains to be established.
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