Anton Borisov interviews Oliver Altehage, Change Manager for LiMux-Project to understand the options and deployment of GNU/Linux and open source in the Bavarian Government of Munich, Germany.
Anton: Oliver, the City of Munich is famous for its open-source initiative, when Microsoft products must be substituted to Linux and open-sourced applications. Could you please shed some light on this idea, because I know it has original roots in 2000's.
Oliver: That is true. First idea was created in 2001, first concept appeared in 2002. Decision for migration of the city parliament was taken in 2004, and migration itself was started in November 2006.
Anton: It could be a naïve question – but why do Bavarians need open-source products? The state of Bavaria is one of the wealthiest in Germany; the City administration is not a commercial entity, but why does it need to cut costs?
Oliver: The cost cutting argument is not valid. It was and is a political strategic decision to get vendor independence, stand up for open standards and spend our money on local IT companies (6.5 Mio € during the last 4 Years). The project scope is defined to migrate 80% of PCs in the administration. This was defined at the project start and it was already foreseen that there will be constraints which do not show a benefit (technical and/or economical) after a migration to open source.
Anton: How was the migration plan composed - what parts have you decided to switch first, and why?
Oliver: From 2007 and till the end of 2009 OpenOffice.org and other software for the normal communication layer (Thunderbird, Firefox, etc.) was migrated to. At the end of 2011 no one will have a MS Office on his desktop (except some desktops). The era of 2009 - 2013 will be a roll-out of 80% of 15,000 clients to Linux operating system. Up to now about 6.500 PCs are already migrated to Open Source. Project plan is to have 8.500 PCs migrated until the end of the year 2011 and will close the project end of 2013 having migrated a total of 12.000 PCs. So overall we are on time, on budget, on quality – on track.
Anton: What were the reasons for choosing OpenOffice?
Oliver: That was the only alternative in 2007.
Anton: Could you describe an average workstation (an operating system, suite of applications), that an employee has now?
Oliver: My place as an example - Linux operating system Release 3.0 (Ubuntu 8.4 & KDE 3.5), OpenOffice 3.01, Thunderbird/Firefox, WollMux 10.8 (inhouse development), OpenProj, Fremind, Kivio, Hourglass, Digicam, Gimp, colourpaint, snapshot, showimg, Javacom, DB visualizer 6, Eclipse.
Anton: Would you tell about LiMux distribution - what is it in the first place? Should LiMux name be referred to Linux distribution that your team installs inside Munich area, or it is also a global name for migration project as well?
Oliver: It is only a local Munich Linux Version. The program WollMux is our gift to the community. But we take the name in two ways: the project called LiMux and the Basis-Client called LiMux too. We use now for our Linux OS Ubuntu LTS 10.4 (distribution) and KDE 3.5. Canonical (http://www.canonical.com/) and credativ (http://www.credativ.de/) are our development partners.
Anton: What open-source applications, tools, suites are currently used in Munich's infrastructure? How much of them are being run in Linux environments?
Oliver: We have up to 1500 "Fachverfahren" at Munich Administration. A "Fachverfahren" is a toolbased process, something like the process for car tax, German ecesis.
Anton: Experts say, that it usually takes from 2 to 8 months to completely convert small and medium-sized businesses' infrastructure to Linux. From your experience, what are the major stumbling blocks an organization like yours could face?
Oliver: We need 3 years for the migration to a OpenOffice Suite. And we will need 4-5 years for migration to Linux operating system. Stumbling blocks are usually: less standardization, less consolidation, less acceptance by the employees. In general we have the usual project challenges that come in projects with 13 organizational departments with 21 IT departments which have an individually grown IT. We mitigate this by focusing on the people, their requirements and mapping them against the e.g. security requirements.
Anton: How many people are busy on developing LiMux project?
Oliver: Our team is up to 20 people
Anton: Are there any ideas so far expressed by German federal government to re-use the Bavarian experience?
Oliver: There exists a lot of communes, small cities as followers: Freiburg, Schwäbisch Hall, Böblingen, Schwäbisch Gmund, Köln, Regional Finance Office Niedersachsen
Anton: What is your opinion about the German Foreign Office going back to Windows from Linux?
Oliver: It is not our behaviour to comment on decisions from other public administrations. Because the German Foreign Office has some problems based on their international structure. Munich has less international net infrastructure. I think in general, perhaps they have focused less attention on the acceptance by the employee. This is one of our main focuses in the project: 0,5 day training for the Linux BasisClient and 1 day training for the shift to OpenOffice.org, 2 people for communication and change, a team with 5 people for locally Migration-Support and latest/freshest version of OpenOffice.org with our own "killer application" WollMux (www.wollmux.org)
Anton: In Germany PCs come pre-installed with Windows, is there any law which gives users the right to buy PC without any OS or the OS of choice? If not, should there be one such law to protect users from vendor locks?
Oliver: I don't know this. But it is possible to buy PC without an OS too.
Opinion, expressed by our German expert:
1. A government should always be independent – in general, and especially when it comes to software and operating systems. Government must be independent. So I prefer Linux as an operating system for governments, and also for the German Foreign Office. Anyway it hits the whole German government. Concerning their weird movement back to Microsoft, it can't be argued without having insider information.
2. Most of the vendors in Germany offer PCs with pre-installed OS's. Microsoft Windows 7, of course, but sometimes it can be Linux.
However, it is possible to buy PCs without a pre-installed operating system for use with your own. Quite possibly this is a marketing strategy of M$ in order to "push" vendors selling their PCs with Windows. At least the devices aren't a lot more expensive than devices without OS. You pay more if you decide to purchase a PC/Notebook without OS and additionally buy Windows license.
There is no law, that allows or forbids it – such a law is an unnecessary thing. The computer illiteracy of human beings is the law – those who build PCs by themselves can decide which OS to install.