Linux's Munich crisis: Crunch vote locks city on course for Windows return

Munich today backed plans to create a Windows 10 client to replace open source by 2021. Although the final decision could depend on the cost, many think Linux's fate is already sealed.
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Munich mayor Dieter Reiter: "Employees are not satisfied with our IT. More than half are not happy."

Image: ZDNet/Munich City Council

Munich's city council has resolved to draw up a plan for abandoning LiMux, a Linux distribution created especially for its use, which the mayor wants ditched in favor of Microsoft's Windows 10 by the end of 2020.

Despite heavy criticism from opposition parties, the city's governing coalition, comprising the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and center-right Christian Social Union (CSU), has enough heft to push through the plan.

Critics of the decision, which would dismantle one of the world's most prominent desktop Linux installations, reckon this outcome is now a foregone conclusion.

At a Wednesday morning council meeting, the coalition agreed to produce a draft plan for the migration, including cost estimates, before the council takes a final vote on the subject.

"The city council has not fully approved to change to Windows," confirmed Petra Leimer Kastan, a spokeswoman for the office of mayor Dieter Reiter.

However, Matthias Kirschner, president of the Free Software Foundation Europe, said: "They have now stepped back a little bit because so many people were watching, but on the other hand it's very clear what they want."

Little over a decade ago, Munich completed a migration from Windows to LiMux that involved some 15,000 computers, and reportedly cost over €30m. Today, most of the local authority's computers run LiMux, although some use Windows to run certain applications.

According to Munich's current administration, council staff members dislike the software they have to use each day, and the city needs to stick to one operating system: Windows.

"Employees are not satisfied with our IT," Reiter told a council meeting on Wednesday morning, citing a report he had commissioned from Accenture. "More than half are not happy."

Accenture's report, which included a survey of Munich council staff, did not finger LiMux as the main culprit for employees' dissatisfaction.

As council member Florian Roth of the Greens pointed out during Wednesday's debate, the local authority's IT organisational structure was to blame. "68.6 percent said they were completely satisfied with the software," Roth argued.

Peter Ganten, a board member of the Open Source Business Alliance, told ZDNet that the organizational problems date back to around 2003, when Munich took the decision to switch to Linux. In parallel with that migration, the council also tried to centralize its IT support structure, getting rid of a system where each department had its own IT team.

"This centralization was not really done in a straightforward way but in a very complicated way," Ganten said.

"They did not introduce one centralized IT services office but three, with different tasks. From what we heard, it was sometimes very complicated to make decisions and to move things forward."

Ditching Linux is not the only key idea in the current council's IT strategy. As decided on Wednesday, the coalition also wants to set up a "streamlined" IT unit, ideally operating as a city-owned company. Each municipal unit will get to have its own small IT department that will concentrate on its particular needs.

Many assume that the great Windows migration is a done deal. Roth tweeted after the meeting that the CSU and SPD have made their final decision. However, the costs remain to be seen.

Golem.de reported on Tuesday that, according to a non-public part of Accenture's study, the switch would cost €6m plus an annual €1m on licensing costs alone. This figure does not factor in training, new hardware, and other costs associated with a migration that may take years.

"We know all these projects become much more expensive than one thinks at the beginning. I think it will again take years to migrate it back, and that is lost effort," said Ganten.

"There is a theoretical small window that when they discover which costs will be involved, that they might rethink this stuff, but I'm not very optimistic."

Costs are not the only concern regarding the switch to Windows. "This is really a bad day for the data protection of the state capital," said Thomas Ranft, a councillor from the Pirate Party, at the meeting. However, the SPD's Alexander Reissl denied security problems existed, pointing out that Windows is the "market standard".

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