No more desktop Linux systems in the German Foreign Office
In response to a question on "the use of open source software in the Foreign Office and other Government departments" submitted in parliament by the SPD (Social Democrats, the main German opposition party), the German government has confirmed that the German Foreign Office is to switch back to Windows desktop systems. The Foreign Office started migrating its servers to Linux in 2001 and since 2005 has also used open source software such as Firefox, Thunderbird and OpenOffice on its desktop systems. Mobile systems use a Debian GNU/Linux based Linux and office PCs are configured with a dual Windows / Linux boot.
Back in 2007, the Foreign Office's IT department regarded the use of open source software on servers and desktop systems as a success story. IT costs per workspace were reported to be lower than in any other government department, despite the demands imposed by running a high security, globally distributed IT infrastructure. The use of Linux desktop systems in the Foreign Office also acted as a beacon for the use of open source software in other government departments.
Now the Foreign Office is back-pedalling. The government's response to the SPD's question states that, although open source has demonstrated its worth, particularly on servers, the cost of adapting and extending it, for example in writing printer and scanner drivers, and of training, have proved greater than anticipated. The extent to which the potential savings trumpeted in 2007 have proved realisable has, according to the government, been limited – though it declines to give any actual figures. Users have, it claims, also complained of missing functionality, a lack of usability and poor interoperability.
The Foreign Office launched a modernisation process in 2010, one component of which was the pursuit of a new IT strategy moving away from open source software and towards "standardised proprietary client solutions" as used in other ministries. Specifically, this means a return to Windows XP, to be upgraded at some point to Windows 7, Office 2010 and Outlook. According to the government, this will not give rise to any immediate costs, indeed, they expect introduction of these "standardised software products" to produce "efficiency gains". Open source software will continue to be used on servers.
Henning Tillmann, a colleague of Oliver Kaczmarek, the SPD MP who raised the question, and a member of the SPD executive committee's web policy discussion group, told our associates at heise Open that the government's response was not satisfactory. "The reasons given for the return to Windows are implausible," says Tillmann, "We need the figures." The costs of licensing Windows and MS Office throughout the department would cover the costs of programming a hell of a lot of drivers, notes Tillmann. Oliver Kaczmarek has already announced his intention to take the matter further and demand a clear statement from the government.
- Background: German Foreign Office drops Linux, a feature on The H