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The State of Munich's Ongoing Linux Migration 203

Posted by timothy
from the es-geht-immer-noch dept.
christian.einfeldt writes "The Munich decision to move its 14,000 desktops to Free Open Source Software created a big splash back in 2003 as news circulated of the third-largest German city's defection from Microsoft. When it was announced in 2003, the story garnered coverage even in the US, such as an extensive article in USA Today on-line. Currently, about 60% of desktops are using OpenOffice, with the remaining 40% to be completed by the end of 2009. Firefox and Thunderbird are being used in all of the city's desktop machines. Ten percent of desktops are running the LiMux Debian-based distro, and 80% will be running LiMux by 2012 at the latest. Autonomy was generally considered more important than cost savings, although the LiMux initiative is increasing competition in the IT industry in Munich already. The program has succeeded because the city administration has been careful to reach out to all stakeholders, from managers down to simple end users."
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The State of Munich's Ongoing Linux Migration

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  • Needs Logo (Score:5, Funny)

    by resistant (221968) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @05:07AM (#28502047) Homepage Journal

    The project will not be complete until they have a logo with Tux the Linux Penguin lofting a good German beer.

  • by GF678 (1453005) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @05:15AM (#28502071)

    Here's the blog from Floria Schiessl, project leader of the LiMux distro and the Munich migration: http://www.floschi.info/ [floschi.info]

    Here's a blog from someone who believes the Munich migration was a failure: http://limuxwatch.blogspot.com/ [blogspot.com]

    From reading both, I tend to gravitate towards the failure side. It's 2009 and only 10% migration? Wasn't this suppose to save money? It's a frigging embarrassment! How are you suppose to point to Munich as an example of free and open-source software working on a city scale when they can't even implement it in a reasonable time-frame?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Daengbo (523424)

      Keep in mind that this is a government project. Not really known for coming in on time and under budget, are they?

      My guess is that it could have been handled better, but they look to be over the hump.

    • by KDR_11k (778916) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @05:45AM (#28502171)

      It's supposed to save money in the long run, of course MS will be cheaper at first because you don't have to cope with defeating the vendor lock-in if you stay with Windows but it matters what happens a few years down the line.

      • by ultrabot (200914) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @06:07AM (#28502245)

        It's supposed to save money in the long run, of course MS will be cheaper at first because you don't have to cope with defeating the vendor lock-in if you stay with Windows but it matters what happens a few years down the line.

        Additionally, the money they use will be channeled to local companies (which means more jobs, improvement of local skill pool, making it cheaper to repeat such transitions in other cities).

        Definitely beats shoveling the money to american robber baron company by any stretch.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by mpe (36238)
          Additionally, the money they use will be channeled to local companies (which means more jobs, improvement of local skill pool, making it cheaper to repeat such transitions in other cities).
          Definitely beats shoveling the money to american robber baron company by any stretch.


          Though the exact effect on Germany's balance of trade depends on other factors, including the EUR/USD exchange rate and global state of the economy.
      • by jeremyp (130771)

        Bearing in mind that the have migrated only 10% of desktops in 6 years, would you like to hazard a guess at how long this long run is?

    • by cryptolemur (1247988) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @05:47AM (#28502175)

      Looks like government job to me:

      • 3 years to plan
      • 1 year to prepare and get selected OS certified
      • 2 years for training, piloting, feedback and revising
      • 1 year for final migration
      • by GF678 (1453005)

        I think it's a bit of a cop-out to just wrap the delay under "Government job", but it does make sense, particularly your time-line. A fair point you make. :)

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 28, 2009 @06:55AM (#28502429)

        You say this as if it's necessarily a bad thing.

        It's a good idea to get things done as quickly as possible, generally speaking, but you should also give them as much time as necessary to do them PROPERLY.

        Munich, it seems, was under no particular pressure to rush the project through and meet and arbitrarily-set deadlines so that shareholders would be satisfied or so that a C*O would be able to collect his bonus. Isn't it better to take a few more years and actually do the job well, in a way that will ensure the resulting "ecosystem" and infrastructure is going to last, than to rush it and have it all fall apart in 5 or 10 or even 20 years?

        Of course, this is Slashdot, so chances are you're the libertarian sort who hates anything that's been touched by the "government". Which is fair enough, but you shouldn't confuse cause and effect: if you want to hate the government, do so because the things it does are objectively bad. If you automatically view everything the government does as bad for no other reason than that it's the government (which you hate) that did it, then you've got it backwards - you've slipped from reason into more or less blind ideology.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by cryptolemur (1247988)

          "Bad thing" was not my intention.

          Perhaps I should have added that to me it looks like they're doing the right way. I sorta figured that claiming it as 'mere' "government job" and then providing their good plan would be enough for people with a sense of irony. In any case it didn't see that anti-libertarian knee jerk aggression coming -- I really don't think libertarianism is worth any attention at all. It's a prime example of dead-on-arrival ideology.

        • Like the article says, âoethey reached out to all stakeholdersâ. I think the amazing part is that they got enough stakeholders to agree to the change. Change is not something that a lot of people âoeembraceâ if you will, especially government agencies that entrenched in their ways of doing things. I could easily imagine them taking ten years just to make a decision never mind getting the project started. I would say that to have gotten as much done as fast as they have would be considere
      • Several big failures of the UK's government's IT strategy has been due to the sheer incompetence of the *private* contractors.

        Or what about train companies in the UK, or highway operators in Mexico. In both cases the original "investors" cashed in on their shares as soon as they could and left a mess behind that the government has had to paid.

        I can also say that, having worked all my life in private industry, your comment, which seems to imply government=ineptitude could easily apply as well to major well k

      • by prefec2 (875483) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @05:51PM (#28507265)

        No. They migrated the applications first. In addition they replaced bad, old applications for administrative processes with new ones, which are designed to work with modern administrative processes. That's what it taking so long. Also they are training their stuff.

    • by jcookeman (843136) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @06:37AM (#28502355)
      I don't think you read the relevant bits. The project was put on hold a few years ago for patent legality research. And, they are doing a "soft migration" in which relevant open source applications are being installed on Windows to gear up the user base for the switch. Just pulling the rug out from under all the users quickly is stupid and will generate nothing but backlash. I read the OSOR page, and it seems they know what they are doing and doing it well. I drive a Mercedes, and I can say that Germans don't half ass things. Speculatively, I would say the cost is so high because the city most likely dug themselves a hole by developing loads of software that is Windows specific. But, they are doing the right thing here by getting their technology independence. In 10 years from now, their operating costs will be amazingly low since they will ditch millions in MS tax, have a user base acclimatized to Linux, flexible applications, and knowledgeable admins. This should be an example and business case to other governments and large organizations that they too can save themselves tons of cash by just going through the pain of undoing "easy decisions".
      • by turing_m (1030530) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @08:29AM (#28502859)

        And, they are doing a "soft migration" in which relevant open source applications are being installed on Windows to gear up the user base for the switch. Just pulling the rug out from under all the users quickly is stupid and will generate nothing but backlash.

        From the article - this is a little more about the actual process:

        To iron out the system's teething troubles, the project team first conducted pilot migrations in three departments that volunteered for the purpose. Before migrating a department, Matthias Braun and his colleagues in the migration support team take a close look at the particular situation in that section, and work out a solution with the local system administrators.

        The LiMux migration itself begins only when the ground is thus prepared. Again, each department can choose which migration path it wants: either moving all services to the new operating system in one bold stroke, or a so-called soft migration in several stages.

        During such a soft migration, the administrators first deploy OpenOffice, Firefox and Thunderbird on computers still running a version of Windows. In a second step, they switch to the new operating system. In order to minimise the impact of any problems that may occur, the first systems to be migrated are those that are not frequently used for contact with other sections of the city's administration, and do not have to exchange documents between different office program suites.

        Until the end of 2008, each of the city's departments will have a "LiMux germ cell". These are groups of 30-50 workstations that will be migrated to the LiMux client. Even in departments that are sceptical towards the migration, this helps the IT staff to become familiar with the software. This approach also allows the LiMux project team to learn about the specific technical requirements of each department, and address them before the full-scale roll-out of the software.

        Color me impressed. They've attempted to head virtually ever issue off at the pass. Migrating to Openoffice, Firefox and Thunderbird on XP was exactly what I did before migrating to Linux, and it's the only time I ever succeeded for more than say, a week or two. I think it's been nearly two years now for me since I began my own "soft migration" and no signs of going back. Another thing that impresses me is their "Linux Germ Cell" idea - get the IT departments up to speed slowly before rolling it out en-masse. Other people here have criticized the "only 10% rolled out" stat, but the last thing you want to do is roll out a mass linux migration without even understanding what the main bugs are or how to solve them, and you can guarantee that there will be a huge learning curve.

        One thing I wonder about though - anyone with the ability to block something will do so if they perceive that their income stream is likely to be lessened somehow, either now or in the future. I hope this was anticipated. I can think of at least two solutions: make sure that these individuals are first identified and then either making sure they end up getting paid as much or more after the switch as they used to (and this is communicated to them earnestly)... or, they get purged right away, before they can block anything.

    • by ReeceTarbert (893612) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @06:40AM (#28502361)

      Wasn't this suppose to save money?

      Not really. From the article:

      "While the proprietary solution was deemed to be slightly more cost-effective over the full period, the strategic advantage of being free to take its own IT decisions led the city council to decide in favour of the migration to GNU/Linux. "

      and also from the same:

      "The Microsoft solution would have made it necessary to introduce an Active Directory system, which would have meant a strong lock-in and would have caused significant follow-up costs.

      RT

      • by AmiMoJo (196126)

        Okay, they want freedom to choose the software they want to use, but considering the state of OS email clients I'm not sure they really have any.

        I'm not trying to troll, in fact we looked at migrating our machines at work from Outlook to Thunderbird or another free app on Windows or Linux, but gave up in the end because none of the available clients could replace what we do with Outlook. For example, Thunderbird does not have any kind of default template support, so our users would have to remember to use t

        • Outlook not so good (Score:2, Informative)

          by Zero__Kelvin (151819)
          So what you are saying is that you want evolution [gnome.org], but that is one of the few options you never explored? ... and don't tell me it doesn't work. It does. I have used it any time I had to deal with Outlook servers. It works fine (i.e. as good or better than Outlook) when configured properly .

          P.S. - Because it is a Gnome project the page makes it sound like you need to use the Gnome Window Manager. You don't. It works great with KDE 3.x and KDE 4.x. I suspect it works with most or all other WMs as wel
        • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @03:02PM (#28506047)

          Okay, they want freedom to choose the software they want to use, but considering the state of OS email clients I'm not sure they really have any.

          I disagree, but let's discuss.

          I'm not trying to troll, in fact we looked at migrating our machines at work from Outlook to Thunderbird or another free app on Windows or Linux, but gave up in the end because none of the available clients could replace what we do with Outlook.

          I'll give you the benefit of the doubt when it comes to trolling. Of course every client will have different strengths and weaknesses. Likely Outlook can't replace everything existing Thunderbird users have either. The difference being, Thunderbird can be altered by individual companies while Outlook cannot.

          For example, Thunderbird does not have any kind of default template support, so our users would have to remember to use the right template every time they write an email.

          The real problem here is familiarity and skill of people implementing the system, not limitations of Thunderbird. In this instance you can use the externaltemplateloader extension to load a default template based upon the user. I'd never done it, but it took me all of 30 seconds to figure out how and a 5 minutes to test it and confirm it works. If you haven't hired someone competent enough to do a Google search to do your evaluations (or better yet someone expert in the field to consult) you are unlikely to succeed in any transition and will always fail back to the status quo.

          We looked at Kmail too (not bad, but lacks group calendaring and is Linux only)

          Kmail is fine for parts of a company standardized on Linux or for mixed deployments where you let users have a choice of clients because you're standardized on truly open and standard protocols. I've worked in such places and found it very liberating.

          For us iPhone and Blackberry integration is important too which makes things that much harder.

          Why? Both have good support for both standard and proprietary e-mail protocols. How does this make choosing a desktop client harder?

          What I'm saying is that unless you are willing to do some coding yourself then the freedom of OSS is not really that liberating if the area you are looking at happens to be under developed.

          Well, due to the nature of opensource and its use of standard protocols, you will tend to gain more choice with it, but then the real strength of opensource is the flexibility and cost savings. The advantage multiplies with adoption rates and the size of the deployment. If you're only deploying to ten users, it makes little economic sense to pay someone to implement a feature and add it to en existing OSS client, when compared to the licensing cost of a proprietary client. When you're talking about a deployment of 100,000 users it quickly becomes cost effective to hire someone to make needed changes or even have a full time developer working on a project and adding features and fixing bugs important to your company.

          ...but there is still a lot of important software we need that forces us to stay with commercial software.

          For some instances this is certainly true, but I find that more often people simply think it is true and don't bother consulting anyone who actually knows. If you're seriously considering different applications for some purpose, don't just talk to closed source commercial companies, talk to open source commercial companies. Ask Redhat or Canonical what they have to offer and what the can do for you. It makes a lot of sense especially for new transitions. If you don't feel like paying them in the long term, you can always go it alone later.

          One of the biggest problems with this sort of adoption is people try to sell it as short term cost saving measure, when transitions will always incur expenses. OSS is abo

    • by Teun (17872) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @07:27AM (#28502575) Homepage
      When you live in this city (Munich) and state (Bavaria) you are immersed in a many centuries old culture.
      Munich might not be Rome but a thousand years old structures are what you grow up with, the same is valid for the continuity of the administration.

      So who is going to complain about a few years of software migration especially when the goal is greater independence?

      • by hughk (248126)

        Munich might not be Rome but a thousand years old structures are what you grow up with, the same is valid for the continuity of the administration.

        You can say that again. I have lived in Munich and was talking to a guy who was working on an authoritative Latin dictionary at one of the universities with full literary attributions. The dictionary project has been running for something like a century and will take some more years before it is finished.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's 2009 and only 10% migration?

      The migration started in 2005 and it is a two step migration:

      1) migrate to openoffice, thunderbird and firefox (almost done)
      2) migrate to linux (just started, 10%)

      they are gradually migrating to linux, applications first, then the OS.

    • 10% have switched to Linux, but 60% have switched to Open Office.

      They are also using a custom Linux distro, which must slow things down somewhat.

      It is not fast, but lots of big IT changes take longer.

    • Then you could not have missed this one:

      http://www.floschi.info/2009/02/great-news-limux-got-its-own-anti-lobbyist/ [floschi.info]

      The most interesting quote:

      "Itâ(TM)s not only a dump troll reservoir, the site owner really tries to deal with facts - of course facts interpreted by him in a very strange manner. He is repeating the same lies again and again, trying to hide them behind real quotes⦠his thoughs have no basis in facts, but who will know this?

      Who is interested in doing this job? I donâ(TM)t k

    • by dbcad7 (771464)

      Well, the execution of their plan in a timely manner is definitely a failure.. the blogs from both sides are also failures in providing any reasons... Mr Limuxwatch hides any information about himself or his motives.. I mean, is he upset because it hasn't progressed to his satisfaction ? .. Is he upset because he doesn't want it done at all ?.. exactly what is his stake in all this ?

      • by ultrabot (200914)

        Mr Limuxwatch hides any information about himself or his motives.. I mean, is he upset because it hasn't progressed to his satisfaction ? .. Is he upset because he doesn't want it done at all ?.. exactly what is his stake in all this ?

        It's obvious that for him, Linux == bad, and he wants Munich to "come to its senses" and cave in.

        It's clear he's a complete shill, and isn't trying to hide it.

    • by prefec2 (875483)

      They did a little more than migrating to Linux. They started by migrating the applications. And while they did it they improved the internal processes. So they used the migration also to improve other parts of the bureaucracy/of the city management. This is why this is taking so long. They rewrote specialized applications, they integrated several small office solutions to city wide solutions. And they said in the beginning they do not want to overstrain the users. So they first give them new browsers, email

  • by 1mck (861167) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @05:56AM (#28502211)
    I'm wondering if they have a percentage of the city employees who, after using Linux at work, have migrated over to Linux at home?
    • by canuck57 (662392)
      Or how many already use Linux at home.
  • by ahodgkinson (662233) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @06:09AM (#28502251) Homepage Journal
    Considering what's at stake for Microsoft, it's amazing that Munich's Limux project continues.

    Over the years I've read a great deal about various efforts to belittle and undermine it. The Munich Limux Watch blog seems like an attempt to systematically discredit the entire project. I'd love to find out who's behind it. I doubt it's directly supported Microsoft, but I'd wouldn't be surprised if there is some business interest, perhaps a disgruntled IT supplier or even a public sector employee who doesn't want their desktop system changed, behind it. Perhaps some clever Slashdot reader can find out more.

    Don't be surprised that there are unexpected costs on a project of this size and complexity. Think about similar projects in the (semi-)public sector, some of which had factor 10 cost overruns and were abandoned (for example: Denver airport luggage processing system). In the end, the ability to actually complete the project, even if years late, and the long-term cost savings will determine its real success. [See my signature below]

    We shouldn't expect Limux to have an instant pay back. Even though the operating system is free, the installation scripting, customization, roll-out, training and support have real costs, which will take years to amortize. The gain will only be in the long-term when the infrastructure to support Limux is in place and saves from not having license costs associated with forced upgrades are realized.

    Further, you must bear in mind that Munich is a pioneer in even attempting to replace a major Microsoft based infrastructure with open source software. They are having to to do everything from scratch, which I'm sure increases the cost.

    Munich's Limux project is a battleground for Microsoft. It it succeeds then it will become the model for similar initiatives. This could make non-Microsoft desktop systems a real alternative for large institutions. This is Microsoft's disaster scenario, and could ruin their monopoly hold on the marker. They might even have to, gasp, compete.

  • Moving target? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gravyface (592485) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @09:43AM (#28503307)

    Making an assumption here, but perhaps Open Office's release of two major versions [wikipedia.org] during the project's lifecycle may have something to do with the delay.

    If I was running this show, I'd have uber-time blocked off for compatibility testing to make sure key stakeholders (see, "important people with important spreadsheets") were happy, even if that meant delaying roll-out for the next major OOo release.

  • by vorlich (972710) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @10:48AM (#28503761) Homepage Journal
    German society and culture is different from the English speaking world. They only accept perfection, anything less is off the radar. They also indulge in Grundlichkeit (excessive thoroughness) which means that everything must be done all out, Unter Voll Dampf (under full steam) and if it costs time or money to do it, they'll take a first class ticket everytime. Not only that but in engineering they test everything to absolute destruction, build it completely new, break it again and then build it completely new and continue this process with the dedication of a Zen master. You just need to take a walk up any mountain in Germany to observe this in action. No one is wearing Jeans and a T-shirt and everyone is toting the sort of equipment required on expedition to summit K2. They even have similar equipment for their dogs.

    So ten per cent success rate considering the incredibly short work week state employees enjoy is not just going well, it's an unprecedent level of efficiency.
    • I'm living in Berlin now and of the things which hits me hard just about every day (literally) are the bloody doors.
      German doors aren't mere convenience items, they are designed to stop tanks. British doors in comparison are made of cardboard, mainly for show, you can swing one open with a flick of the wrist. Attempt that with a German door an you will be nursing a sprained shoulder for the rest of the week. Clearly it's a design intention that going through a door should be something one does with care and

      • by prefec2 (875483)

        If you live in Berlin, then you could see Germany's imperfection. That's what makes that city so enjoyable. However, I have to agree, that Germans tend to seek perfection in their engineering work. Sometimes they over-engineer something.

  • 10% of desktops running Linux 6 years after the migration started?? It's an utter failure.
    • Don't be ridiculous (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ctid (449118)

      Do you think there is a time limit? Munich is nearly 900 years old - what would be the rush? I think they are going about it in an interesting fashion; first transition to open source software that runs on Windows (OpenOffice, Firefox, Thunderbird). Only when people are used to this software do they start transitioning the desktops. Seems pretty sensible to me and it looks like they are playing a long game here.

      • by RWerp (798951)

        Munich is nearly 900 years old

        Why limit ourselves here? Earth is several billion years old! That's a time frame.

    • by prefec2 (875483)

      They changed their processes. And while they did that, they migrated to OSS applications. And as a last step they change the operating system. And do not forget. They are Germans, they have a plan. And they will follow it to the bitter end.

  • by jbolden (176878) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @04:24PM (#28506693) Homepage

    At the start of the early 2000s there was essentially a controlled experiment about implementing Linux on the desktop.

    In the first category we had companies like AutoZone, Burlington Coat Factory and Pep Boys that never had developed a Windows culture to begin with. These were Unix shops (generally SCO or Solaris) and they transitioned quickly (within a year or 2) and easily (say under 100 man years) to Linux.

    In the second category we had technology knowledgeable companies that wanted to transition to all Unix/Linux, and considered it important but not critical. IBM, Oracle, Sun (Sun Java desktop) being leading examples. They failed, believing it was not worth the distraction even though this failure was quite embarrassing. In many people's estimation they gave up much too quickly.

    In the third category we had places that wanted to transition to Linux for ideological reasons. Most of them found the processes daunting and gave up. Munich is a great example of the 3rd category. They have some technical depth but not a technical user base. They have financial resources but are somewhat cost constrained. And they had a Windows culture. That is Munich is sort of a good case study for most companies that are not IT focused. When Munich is successful they will provide a wonderful example that it is possible and how to do it. Right now they provide a caution of the complexities.

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