Munich embraces Linux at last

Local government has rolled out the first phase of its open source migration after a year's delay

The City of Munich has finally started to migrate to Linux on the desktop, a year later than planned.

The local government in the German city has transferred 100 users in the Lord Mayor's department to a Debian configuration, and it intends to migrate 80 percent of its PCs by mid-2009.

It has not been an easy transition for the government, which first announced its intention to move to Linux in 2003 and which had scheduled the first rollout to occur in 2005.

But the €30m project, dubbed LiMux, hit numerous delays after a dispute over software patents, extended contractual negotiations and a 12-month extension to the project pilot phase.

"The tests are over. We have fixed the bugs and solved some of the problems," Florian Schiessl, deputy chief of the Linux client team, told ZDNet UK on Monday. "Everything we wanted done for the first release is working at the moment."

Schiessl said it would be impossible to migrate all users to open source, but that 80 percent would move across by between late-2008 and mid-2009.

"I don't think that we can [achieve 100 percent migration] because of interdependencies. There are business applications which run on Windows and hardware interfaces that need Windows operating systems."

Schiessl plans to migrate another 200 PCs by the end of the year.

The migration will happen in either one or two stages, with some of the 14,000 PCs running OpenOffice on Windows as an interim stage.

The decision over the use of the interim stage would be taken at a departmental level, Schiessl said.

Debian was chosen after a recommendation from the government's external consultants, which made a proposal based on that particular configuration.

Microsoft had fought hard to retain the government's business, with chief executive Steve Ballmer interrupting a skiing holiday to pay a personal visit to the City's mayor. The software giant also tried to tempt the government with a range of deals and discounts.

Munich was first tempted to open source after an evaluation by IBM and Suse — the latter eventually losing out in the tender process.

But costs for the project appear to be rising. Total internal and external costs are now expected to be €35m, up from a figure of €30m quoted by the government three years ago.

Schiessl refused to make a comparison. "We do not have a goal to compare total cost of ownership. Microsoft stopped supporting NT 4.0, so we must migrate."

Suse is headquartered in Germany, and many German organisations have been looking enthusiastically towards open source software.

The city government of Mannheim is deploying Linux to the desktop and on its servers.

In the UK, Birmingham City Council is trialling open source desktops, while Bristol Council is deploying StarOffice.

But executives at the local authority in Bergen, Norway, have recently delayed their Linux desktop plans for a further two years.