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27 June 2009, 18:02

LiMux: Munich Linux (R)evolution has its Imitators

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LiMux logo When Germany's third largest city gives Microsoft the brush-off, it excites comment in the USA. Munich got itself into the American newspapers a few years ago when the city council decided to initiate project LiMux, aimed at gradually banishing Microsoft programs from the town hall computers. While talk about the software revolution has now died down, the changeover is being enthusiastically pursued. Other local authorities have now followed suit. Microsoft, however, won't leave the field without a fight. "We are able to learn", said Andreas Hartl, Director Platform Strategy of Microsoft Deutschland.

Florian Schiessl, the acting head of the Munich LiMux project, says, "We'd do it again". Pictures of Tux the penguin, the Linux mascot, adorn the walls of the Munich city council's IT department. The target is to convert 80 per cent of the city council's 14,000 computers to Linux by mid-2012 at the latest. Even earlier, by the end of this year in fact, all the town hall staff are to drop Word, Excel and Internet Explorer and use free OpenOffice software and Firefox, the open-source browser, instead.

However, the switch won't help save any money in the short term. Quite the reverse. The city had to pay 13 million euros for the LiMux project, which the city's IT department web site calls an IT evolution – though many observers would call it a revolution. Schiessl says upgrading the former Windows NT4 operating system to its successor, Windows XP, would have been up to two million euros cheaper. The changeover to free software will take many years to show a financial gain, in that no recurrent licence fees will have to be paid.

Other authorities are now following Munich's example. Like many cities, the German Foreign Office and the Office for Information Security (BSI), are putting their trust in alternatives to Windows, Word and Excel. The Americans will have to pay close attention. "Microsoft no doubt thinks the city of Munich only wants to avoid paying licence fees for the next version", said Schiessl, but another question was more important for the city council: "To what extent are we making ourselves dependent on just one manufacturer?" Here, Schiessl touches on the key concern of the Open Source Community. The council's attitude to free software is unambiguous. "We don't mean free in the same sense as free beer", explains Schiessl. He says with Open Source, programmers can improve software and extend it with additional applications, instead of having to rely on a specific company. This benefit carries weight for other city councils as well. Mannheim, Schwäbisch Hall and Treuchtlingen, Bavaria, for example, are relying at least partially, on free software.

Microsoft's Hartl says "The Munich decision has not caused masses of city councils to follow its example", but he admits that Microsoft is now endeavouring to open up Windows platforms to free software as well. Richard Seibt of the Open Source Business Foundation (OSBF) says Microsoft is now heavily committed to Open Source. "They mean it seriously", is his verdict.

(Michael Kieffer)


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