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Reality bytes as Munich delays Linux project

In the face of a possible IT migration disaster, it's always better to err on the side of caution. This is exactly what the city of Munich has done.

commentary In the face of a possible IT migration disaster, it's always better to err on the side of caution. This is exactly what the city of Munich has done.

Fran Foo, ZDNet Australia

A few years ago, it embarked on a massive project to switch from Windows to open source. News of the migration travelled far and wide, resulting in front page coverage on USA Today and various meetings with representatives from Japan, Poland, Denmark and Australia.

The move, originally set for this year, was to involve 14,000 desktops from Windows NT 4.0 to Linux, and Microsoft Office 97 and Office 2000 to OpenOffice.org.

Specifically, the free Linux operating system Debian was selected after a tender process.

According to documents released in 2004, the city identified about 300 applications which required migration. Then, project leader Peter Hofmann highlighted the importance of integrating OpenOffice with its SAP products.

To test the waters, Hofmann had his eye on running OpenOffice and Microsoft Office in parallel by mid-2005.

With such a mammoth task ahead, it was expected that LiMux, the project's code name, would face a few bumps along the way.

One of the first setbacks was a postponement in the project in mid-2004 due to concerns over patent issues. But that was resolved within a few months and the migration exercise gained pace.

Obviously, there are several complex components to this project so it came as no surprise when Hofmann admitted LiMux would be rescheduled again -- more time was needed.

"It became clear later in the planning phase that a pilot was more important than we first thought and should last longer," said Hofmann. The Lord Mayor's department will be the first to port to OpenOffice and Debian, but this will only happen in stages starting in mid-2006.

Open source detractors will be licking their lips with glee on news of the latest postponement especially since it was reported that Microsoft has attempted to stymie the change.

But despite all forms of pressure -- including one incident in 2003 where Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is believed to have interrupted a holiday in Switzerland to personally visit the mayor -- the city of Munich is sticking to its guns.

Deciding to delay a project takes a lot of courage. The city of Munich should be commended for its brave and wise decision. After all, there's no shame in being extra patient for the sake of long term gain.

Fran Foo is ZDNet Australia managing editor.