Munich's Linux plans attract international attention

The planned migration of 14,000 desktops in the City of Munich to Linux has attracted attention from as far away as Japan and Australia - and so far all they've switched over is the browser
Written by Ingrid Marson, Contributor
Peter Hofmann, the project leader of the Linux migration in the City of Munich, code-named LiMux, told ZDNet UK on Tuesday what it feels like to become a star in the Linux world.

Hofmann's project was on the front page of USA Today when it announces its plans two years ago, and so far all they've switched is their browser.

"Since then we have constantly been getting calls to do meetings and presentations. We have met people from countries including Japan, Korea, Australia, Poland and Denmark, who are interested in our experience of the migration."

Munich's migration to Linux has had a turbulent history. The local government in Munich initially decided to move to Linux in May 2003, despite Microsoft's best efforts to dissuade them -- chief executive Steve Ballmer reportedly interrupted a ski holiday in Switzerland to pay a personal visit to Munich's mayor.

Then a few months ago, the migration was put on hold due to worries about patent issues. But since the end of September it is back on track and around 50 employees at Munich are now involved in the migration effort, with more likely to get involved later, according to Hofmann.  

Media interest in the project can only increase, as the Munich migration project is currently in preparation phase, and won't be completed in 2008. The only application which has been migrated so far is the browser - around 70 percent of the 14,000 desktops have been migrated to Mozilla Firefox, according to Hofmann.

Hofmann said this was not a big step, as half of employees were already using Netscape, a Mozilla-based browser, while the other half were using Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE).

As part of the initial planning phase, Hofmann must win over the16,000 Munich employees at Munich who will be involved in the migration. The team is doing information roadshows in which employees can try out Linux, as well as distributing flyers and putting information on the organisation's Intranet.

Hofmann said that the roadshows are particularly useful for alleviating some of the concerns that employees had about the usability of Linux.

"In the roadshows we are giving employees the opportunity to play with Linux -- so they can see that you can use Linux with a mouse, there is a GUI and that you don't have to use VI [a UNIX text editor] to write letters," said Hofmann. "These were some of the fears that employees had. Acceptance is definitely growing."

So far the main technology issue with the browser migration has been with some in-house Web applications which do not work properly with Mozilla, according to Hofmann.

"Some of the Web applications are poorly designed and don't fulfil W3C standards," said Hofmann. "IE ignores bad designs, while Netscape is not so forgiving. Mozilla is even less forgiving- any application that is poorly designed has problems."

The problem of badly designed Internet pages is one which Firefox developers are aware of, indeed it launched the Defend the Fox Web site last week to highlight Web sites which do not support the browser.

The next step for LiMux is the migration from Microsoft Office 97 and 2000 to OpenOffice, and from Windows NT 4.0 to Linux, which is due to start in the New Year. Hofmann hopes that by the middle of 2005 the first department will be running OpenOffice, in parallel with Microsoft Office. The first departments to be migrated will be those whose users are willing and which have less issues with bespoke applications and macros, according to Hofmann.

According to the cost study carried out by the Munich administration (in German), training and migration are two of the biggest costs involved in migrating to Linux and open source applications, while the personnel, hardware, licences and operating costs were relatively low.

Hofmann said there are various training modules planned, including training on spreadsheets, presentations, word processing, communication applications, internet technologies, and the Linux GUI. Some of this training can be started while users are still using Windows, while others are only useful for users that have already migrated to a Linux workstation.

As well as migrating from Microsoft Office, Munich has around 300 software products which need to be migrated, according to a document on the Munich Web site (in German). One important area of intergration will be OpenOffice.org with SAP. Hofmann said that the team at Munich is already working with SAP to remove some of its dependencies on Microsoft Office.

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