Munich fires up Linux at last

Local government launches the first phase of its open-source migration after a year's delay.
Written by Richard Thurston, Contributor on

Munich has started to migrate to Linux on the desktop--a year later than planned.

The local government in the German city has transferred 100 staff members in the Lord Mayor's department to a Debian configuration, and it intends to migrate 80 percent of the city's 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 launch to occur in 2005.

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

"The tests are over. We have fixed the bugs and solved some of the problems," Florian Schiessl, deputy chief of the city's Linux project, told CNET News.com sister site 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 city workers 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," Schiessl said. "There are business applications which run on Windows and hardware interfaces that need Windows operating systems."

Schiessl plans to migrate another 200 systems 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 will be taken at a departmental level, Schiessl said.

Microsoft had fought hard to retain the government's business, with CEO Steve Ballmer interrupting a skiing holiday at one point 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 Linux distributor Suse, which is now owned by Novell. Suse eventually lost out in the tender process.

The costs of the project appear to be rising. Total internal and external costs are now expected to be about US$44.6 million (35 million euros), up from US$38.3 million 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."

Other local governments across Europe are attempting to make a similar transition to open source.

The city government of Mannheim is using Linux on desktops and servers.

In the U.K., the Birmingham City Council is testing open-source desktops, while the Bristol Council is using StarOffice.

Executives at the local authority in Bergen, Norway, have recently delayed their Linux desktop plans for two years.

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