LiMux: Where the Munich Linux (R)evolution is today

When the third largest city in Germany rebuffed Microsoft, even people in the US were talking about it. The Munich city council’s decision some years ago to gradually banish Microsoft software from City Hall computers made news in American newspapers. In the meantime, while the software revolution has quieted down, the change goes ahead with zeal. And other governmental authorities have now dialed back use of Microsoft software. But Microsoft is not conceding the field without a fight. “We are learning,” says Microsoft manager Andreas Hartl.

“We would do it again,” said the vice director of the Munich project, Florian Schießl. Pictures of penguins, the Linux mascot, adorn the walls of the Munich city IT department. By mid-2012, at the latest, 80 percent of the 14,000 computers in the city administration will be moved to be Linux. Even much earlier, by the end of this year, all City Hall employees will be leaving Microsoft Word, Excel and Microsoft Internet Explorer and moving to free software, such as OpenOffice and the open-source Firefox Web browser.

In the short-term, no money was saved with the change-over. To the contrary, the city had to absorb one-time upfront costs of 13 million Euros for the Linux Munich “LiMux” project, which the city’s IT department describes as an IT evolution, not a revolution, as some observers thought. According to vice director Schießl, an upgrade of the then-existing Windows NT4 operating system to Windows XP would have been as much as two million euros cheaper. The change-over will make financial sense only after several years, by avoiding the payment of on-going licensing fees.

In the meantime, others have followed the Munich example. The Foreign Office and the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), as well as several other cities, have placed their trust in alternatives to Windows, Word and Excel. Microsoft is unexpectedly finding itself out in the cold. “Microsoft certainly must have thought that the city of Munich’s only consideration was how to go about purchasing licenses for new Microsoft software,” says Schießl.

But the city administration had a different question in mind: “How much are we going to allow ourselves to become dependent on one manufacturer?” Echoing the primary concern of the open source community, Schießl explains that free software certainly “Does not mean free as in free beer.” Instead, open source offers programmers the advantage of improving the software and expanding additional applications without having to get permission from a specific company. This advantage also carries weight with other municipal governments. That is why the cities of Mannheim, Schwäbisch Hall and Treuchtlingen in Bavaria are moving at least partially to free software.

“The Munich decision has not led to masses of other city governments following Munich’s example,” says Microsoft manager Hartl, although he concedes that Microsoft has meanwhile been making efforts to open its Windows platforms for free software. Even Richard Seibt, of “Open Source Business Foundation (OSBF) finds that Microsoft is now heavily engaged in open source arenas. “They are serious,” he says.

[Note: this article is a translation of an article written in German by reporter Michael Kieffer and published in Heise On-Line on 2009-06-24. You can read the original article in German here:]

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