Munich Makes the Move to Linux

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One year after deciding to drop Microsoft's Windows in favor of Linux, the Munich city government plans this week to approve a plan for deploying the open source operating system and other open source desktop applications across all departments.

"It has taken some time to develop a migration plan because of our very diversified IT landscape," says Bernd Plank, a spokesperson for the City of Munich. "What the city council will vote on today are the details of how and when we will deploy Linux in our many different departments."

In May 2003, Munich, Germany's third largest city, decided to equip all 14,000 computers in its public administration with Linux and other open source office applications.

Microsoft Reacts

The decision sent a warning shot to Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer who wrote in an internal memo to all Microsoft employees shortly after the Munich decision that noncommercial open source software, particularly the Linux operating system, was a "competitive challenge."

With businesses and organizations keeping a tight lid on IT spending during these tough economic times, "free" software, the Microsoft CEO wrote, is an "interesting alternative" to commercial software. Complicating the situation, he continued, are companies, like IBM, whose support of Linux "has added credibility and an illusion of support and accountability."

Worried about losing other public sector customers, Ballmer has since hired more people to focus on local governments as customers and put Germany on his busy travel agenda. Last month, the CEO paid a visit to German Minister of the Interior Otto Schily to announce an agreement on collaborating in several areas, including IT security.

In an earlier meeting with Schily, Ballmer agreed to provide Germany's huge public sector with favorable conditions for both buying and leasing the company's software products.

Put to the Test

For the past several months, the Munich city government has been conducting Linux tests, according to Plank. "The tests have helped give us an idea of what we need for the migration from Microsoft to Linux and the tenders we plan," he says.

SuSE Linux, a unit of Novell, and IBM worked closely with city government officials on their decision in favor of Linux and hope to supply and maintain the open source software, and possibly hardware, according to a SuSE Linux spokesperson.

The migration program could take between three and four years, during which time the Munich city government will continue to use Microsoft products in some areas, according to Plank. "We can't switch from one day to another," he says, "but we won't be buying any new Microsoft products."

The main reasons for dumping Microsoft in favor of open source products, according to Plank, are lower procurement costs and a higher degree of vendor independence, which encourages greater competition in the software market.

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