In association with heise online

19 March 2010, 12:16

LiMux project management, "We were naïve"

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LiMux Project Logo Florian Schießl, deputy head of Munich's LiMux project for migrating the city's public administration to Linux, has, for the first time, explained why migrating the city's computing landscape to open source software has taken longer than originally planned. On his blog, the IT expert admits that "We were naïve," and confesses to a "miscalculation". Following approval of the project in 2003, LiMux was conceived as the sole Linux client, which "fits into every different environment inside the IT units." This may have been "theoretically possible", but, according to Schießl, would have meant failing to unify the existing patchwork of IT applications and essentially continuing to muddle through.

Previously, around 1,000 staff had been maintaining the 15,000 PCs making up the Munich computing landscape in 21 independent IT centres. There was, according to Schießl, no common directory, no common user management, no common hardware or software management. There were more than 300 applications in use, many of which did the same job. On the desktop side, there were 21 different Windows systems with different update levels and security settings.

Consequently, problems were encountered in switching to the new Linux client in accordance with the original plan. Schießl explains that the process ran smoothly in some departments, but failed to progress in others, because the "technical back end structure hampered or even declined cooperation". They found implementation errors in basic server protocols and proprietary tools which were not compatible with any other software-based management solution. "The lack of open standards for interoperability and the domination of lock-in interfaces was awful," bemoans the Linux advocate. He notes that this only becomes apparent when you try to make yourself independent of a single vendor, and stop being a "happy slave".

In an interview with heise online, Schießl has expounded on some examples of proprietary "digital waste". A "classic ActiveX dependence" on Microsoft's Internet Explorer was found in some areas, even in specialist procedures. "We had to either make the specialist software independent in consultation with the vendor or select an alternative product." Also worthy of mention were Microsoft Office macros, written in Visual Basic and present "in large numbers". This dependence was significantly reduced during the switch to OpenOffice by using alternatives such as the in-house, platform-independent WollMux for managing templates, text building blocks and web applications. The use of a range of file and printing services was also an impediment during the consolidation process. Samba, with support for the CIFS protocol, is now operating as the standard file server.

After the difficulties with the first wave of migrations, in 2007 the LiMux administrative team agreed on a new strategy. This involved implementing pilot projects in all departments to convert at least ten percent of existing PCs to the basic LiMux client in order to assess the degree of heterogeneity of the existing organic IT landscape. The city council decided at the same time to comprehensively reorganise its entire computer infrastructure in line with LiMux' "Quality over time" motto.

Since the end of last year, test runs have, says Schießl, shown that the Linux client can be fully integrated into these heterogeneous environments. According to Schießl, the pilot projects have been successfully concluded. A total of 3,000 computers are running open source software, twice as many as planned under the new initiative. Converting all computers to the Open Document Format (ODF) standard has overcome dependency on a single office software suite. The team is now getting down to the optimisation phase, aimed at improving efficiency and supporting "digital sustainability". Schießl is confident that the remainder of the migration will proceed in a similarly smooth and rapid fashion. (Stefan Krempl)

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