Deep into Munich's Linux F/OSS migration

Projekt LiMux has embraced Linux and OS development for up to 80% of the city's desktops

The city of Munich got more media attention than respect after it decided on a migration to Linux and open source software on the desktop. After a careful and deliberately open movement towards deciding its IT future, Munich was slammed in the media, then became a target for Microsoft negotiators and a project at risk from a proposed European move to U.S.-style software patents.

A city council concerned with rising IT costs reviewed the black and white of TCO in a myriad of ways. Now, after enormous criticism and a nearly complete halt, it's becoming a successful migration if for very important reasons: it's going well, quietly, and on plan.

Munich has made a mark for itself by embracing Linux and open source development for up to 80% of the city's 16,000 desktops. The remaining user desktops will use Microsoft Windows XP for apps that have no open source equivalent, including AutoCad). Mac OS currently has no future in the city's IT plans. Although seemingly controversial, city officials claim that the arduous process that led to the decision to migrate to Linux was actually based on Microsoft's policies on Windows NT, and a subsequent study to determine the best course of action pursuant to the unexpectedly short life support cycle for NT.

Microsoft announced an end-of-life support plan for NT that would prevent the operating system from surviving through the life cycle than the IT officials in Munich had anticipated. Faced with new, unanticipated licensing costs, the Munich City Council then commissioned a study of returns based on operating systems and applications product cost, life cycle of deployment, and usability for user desktops. The city already ran server applications on Unix, on a Siemens mainframe and Sun equipment, and many of these might need to be changed, too.

The decision could have swayed towards Microsoft infrastructure -- operating system and Office apps -- if the view were taken on a short-term deployment life cycle, said Florian SchieBl of Munich's Projekt LiMux. When the long-term benefits were weighed in, open source was more cost-effective. That's what swayed Munich's city council: a medium- and long-term value and TCO assessment.

The results were tested both critically and vociferously. Political forces, combined with pressure from Microsoft, created a tense atmosphere. An initial contract formulated the migration steps and information that would help construct policy and specifics of LiMux recipes and use. Users were familiar with Microsoft, NT and Office. If a migration were to take place, the knowledge capital, not to mention existing assets in terms of procedures and documents would need parity with a subsequent platform. Documents would need conversion, procedures for exchanging data with Microsoft platforms would change, and all of the chasms of migration would need to be crossed to make the project work.

Munich immediately took a lot of criticism for its choices, but also joined a number of smaller European governmental authorities that either came to similar conclusions, or started based on other values.

Inside Projekt LiMux

Once the F/OSS-Linux decision was made, the city drew up numerous requirements and began a bid process for selection of a distribution. Various applications, Linux distributions and package combinations were considered until a suitable mix of applications and operating system components was found. After testing, these components would be put together for a trial, then an initial rollout would occur. IBM and SUSE/Novell initially helped guide the project's concepts in terms of application examination and migration tasks and issues. In the end, however, the base of LiMux has become Debian as the operating system core, coupled to KDE and OpenOffice.

As SchieBl explains, Munich needed a subset of what commercial distributions offer. Software patents were a great concern if the entire LiMux distribution would be subsequently freely distributed if others wanted to use it. This required examining all of the components for licensing and distribution rights. Clearing the software patent hurdle caused the project to grind to a halt during that phase, and delayed the process considerably. Although software patent issues still arise from the dead in the European Union political process, Munich feels it has cleared them sufficiently to deploy LiMux desktop systems.

The trial was tested and completed, and a first rollout occurred on Sept. 19, 2006, about three years after the decision to make the move towards Linux. The migration is scheduled to take place, subject to development of user applications and other factors, by approximately 2009. More than 170 applications will be replaced with open source.

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