Linux-on-the-desktop pioneer Munich now considering a switch back to Windows
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City Hall claims that users aren’t happy with Linux, costs are higher than expected.
by Peter Bright – Aug 19 2014, 1:21am IDT
The world is still waiting for the year of Linux on the desktop, but in 2003 it looked as if that goal was within reach. Back then, the city of Munich announced plans to switch from Microsoft technology to Linux on 14,000 PCs belonging to the city’s municipal government. While the scheme suffered delays, it was completed in December 2013. There’s only been one small problem: users aren’t happy with the software, and the government isn’t happy with the price.
The switch was motivated by a desire to reduce licensing costs and end the city’s dependence on a single company. City of Munich PCs were running Windows NT 4, and the end of support for that operating system meant that it was going to incur significant licensing costs to upgrade. In response, the plan was to migrate to OpenOffice and Debian Linux. Later, the plan was updated to use LibreOffice and Ubuntu.
German media is reporting that the city is now considering a switch back to Microsoft in response to these complaints. The city is putting together an independent expert group to look at the problem, and if that group recommends using Microsoft software, Deputy Mayor Josef Schmid of the CSU party says that a switch back isn’t impossible.
Schmid describes two major problems. The first is the issue of compatibility; users in the rest of Germany that use other (Microsoft) software have had trouble with the files generated by Munich’s open source applications. The second is price, with Schmid saying that the city now has the impression that “Linux is very expensive” due to custom programming. Schmid also appears to be an Outlook fan, bemoaning the loss of a single application to crosslink mail, contacts, and appointments.
In making these criticisms, Schmid is echoing issues raised by Mayor Dieter Reiter of the SPD party. Reiter complained of having to wait weeks for an external mail server to be set up just so that he could get mail on his smartphone, and he has criticized the open source software for lagging behind Microsoft’s equivalents.
These views aren’t held universally, with the City Council defending the “LiMux” project and suggesting that the coalition administration is using the Linux migration as a scapegoat. The Council says the use of open source software has yielded savings of more than €10 million (more than $13 million).
Karl-Heinz Schneider, head of municipal IT services, seems to endorse this view. He says it’s no surprise that a new platform should temporarily generate more support requests, and he wasn’t aware of any particular complaints.
Microsoft announced last year that it was moving its German headquarters to Munich. This move is planned to take place in 2016. While Reiter was involved in the deal that precipitated the move and describes himself as a “Microsoft fan,” he says the criticism of LiMux is unrelated.