December 5, 2005 12:32 PM PST

One city's move to open source

In Mannheim, a preference for "open" standards--not cost--is driving the German city's shift to Linux.

The technology decision makers have already moved the majority of Mannheim's 120 servers to the open-source operating system. Next, they plan to shift its 3,500 desktops to the open-source productivity application, running on Linux.

The migration should help the city with its aim of using programs that support open standards, which can be used by any software, whether closed source or open source. Some U.S. states--notably Massachusetts--and local and national governments have been embracing standard file formats such as the OpenDocument format used by OpenOffice, a move that ensures that public documents won't be beholden to a particular proprietary program.

"We want to decide our IT strategy in Mannheim, and not have Microsoft make the decision for Mannheim," said Gerd Armbruster, the IT infrastructure manager at the German city.

"We want to decide our IT strategy in Mannheim, and not have Microsoft make the decision for Mannheim."
--Gerd Armbruster, IT infrastructure manager, Mannheim

The city's IT department changed from Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 to Oracle Collaboration Suite because ODS supports open standards, even though it is proprietary software, Armbruster said. The switch to Linux was predominantly driven by the department's wish to use OpenLDAP, an open-source software package, rather than Microsoft's proprietary Active Directory, he added.

On the desktop, the planned migration to OpenOffice was similarly driven by the city's desire to use OpenDocument, which Microsoft has said it will not support in its Office application. In September, the state of Massachusetts decided to standardize on desktop applications with OpenDocument, a move that has attracted controversy. The decision has come under fire from state officials. Last week, the Massachusetts governor's office said that it is "optimistic" that Microsoft's Office formats, once standardized, will meet the state guidelines for open formats.

In contrast to many other large-scale moves, the cost of the Linux shift was largely irrelevant in Mannheim's decision, Armbruster said.

The city recently paid approximately 1 million euros (about $1.18 million) to Microsoft to migrate from Office 2000 to the 2003 version, but that was not important in internal discussions, Armbruster said.

"We never said to our mayor that if we switch to Linux, we won't need to pay 1 million euros to Microsoft," he said.

Although the city will save some money by switching to open-source desktops, it is likely to have to spend a considerable sum migrating desktop applications from Windows to Linux.

"We need to change 145 applications so they will work on Linux. This will cost millions of euros," Armbruster said.

Migrating those applications will not only take money, it will take time. Because of this, Mannheim's shift to Linux on the desktop is not due to start for five or six years. However, the move to OpenOffice on Microsoft Windows will begin next year, with the aim of putting the open-source productivity application on 3,500 desktops across 40 departments by 2009.

"The migration to OpenOffice has to end when support for Office 2003 ends, so we have about four or five years to complete the migration," Armbruster said.

Talk to customers
The infrastructure manager believes that one of the most important factors for a successful migration is acceptance by the people who actually use the software. "It is important for me to have no resistance from users," he said. It is so important that the Mannheim IT department is providing every city employee with copies of OpenOffice and Linux for their home PC and will even provide support for home users.

The department is attempting to include those employees in the desktop migration project by arranging meetings where they can discuss their concerns. Armbruster thinks that the lack of user engagement is one of the main problems causing a delay in Munich's migration to open-source desktops.

"Most of the problems in Munich are due to resistance from users--they don't want to change to Linux," Armbruster said. "It's important for an open-source project that you inform your users. You need to talk with users and speak about their problems."

CONTINUED: Going into OpenOffice…
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Oh no! Not another CNET open source promotion disguised as a story. Who the hell cares? What about all the cities that tried open source and abandoned it in favor of Windows because thier support costs were too high? Not that MS is always right, but all the pro Open Source stories on CNET are making me susipcious...
Posted by (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I could not agree more.

You got to love the fact that goverment no matter where you live, knows how to waste your money.

Orgnizations that are successful worry about cost and not political agenda's.

Their software was more compatible before the change because the wide spread use of MS products.

What works the best....and cost the least is what is best for the tax payers.
Posted by Lindy01 (443 comments )
Link Flag
It is a little weird
Considering that CNet Networks relies so heavily on coverage of proprietary products and advertising from mainstream companies (like Microsoft) you would think they risk alot by beating the open source anti-proprietary drum so often.

And I assume that most of their readers are searching for mainstream product information when they visit the site. Another story about Linux in Mannheim is hardly going to help there.

I don't get it. One for the media planners to figure out I guess.
Posted by Betty Roper (121 comments )
Link Flag
More than just cost of licenses
The cost of being lock in to one Vendor and as a result letting that vendor dictate your IT strategy and cost is not low cost. Open source software is great precisely because it frees the city from being under the thumb of one vendor.

For example, if it cost you alot of money to go to college and graduate school, would you abandon a college degree...because the cost of not going is much higher. In the end, having intellectual independence and self reliance is cheaper.
Posted by penguinista3 (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The cost of being locked into one vendor.....what is that cost??? I see that all the time.

The only cost I see is being forced to upgrade about 10 years later....much like people being forced off of NT 4.0 to Windows 2003 because they dont support NT 4.0 anymore....even then not everyone is doing it.

You analagy is weak at best.

I could easily point out the cost savings of and support headaches saved by going with one vendor.
Posted by Lindy01 (443 comments )
Link Flag
You are chucklrific
What are you locked down to if not one vendor when going to Open Source? You decide; ok, I will switch. That first decision is the only you don't get when going with Microsoft. Once you've decided... say... SuSe; you're locked into SuSe without the same upheaval you went through with changing from Microsoft. Linux Desktops and UI might all look the same, but everyone is different in some way. You will have to go through the training and the switching and the checking all over again if you wanted to change.

So, with Linux, you are still locked into to one Vendor. How that Vendor, even Microsoft, dictates IT Strategy is questionable. Your IT Strategy could be... we'll upgrade this and this, we'll keep this. Microsoft has no say in this; it is all down to the CIO. Maybe there is a new upgrade all the other cities have! (Giggles girlishly) but ultimately, you don't have to have it unless you decide you want it. What everybody else is doing is dictating IT Stategy more than anything else. Rather, I say, one Vendor who exists and is answerable to you, and gives you all the support you could ever need, than a few Hippie Linux-Folk programmers who don't actually care what you think whatsoever. Because they don't; I know, I was and partly am a Developer, and Developers don't care about customers. They Develop to develop, only the marketting layer of Microsoft wants you to be happy.

"For example, if it cost you alot of money to go to college and graduate school, would you abandon a college degree...because the cost of not going is much higher."
This one made me laugh the most. Ok, so we're a City. The City has been to College and Graduate School and is apparently doing a College Degree. Should it abandon the old thing for a new thing, just because the cost is staying is higher? That is such a dreadful sentance, I take my hat off to you for making it sound like it makes sense.

Intellectual Independence? Self Reliance? How delightfully ridiculuous do you sound. Do you get Intellectual Independence and Self Reliance from Linux?
Posted by Lord Kalthorn (86 comments )
Link Flag
They sound like idiots
Go to open source regardless of the time and money? Sounds like left-wing politicians in action. Let's see how many millions they waste.
Posted by lingsun (482 comments )
Reply Link Flag
They have a limitless supply of both....they dont have to report their earnings and cost cutting measures.
Posted by Lindy01 (443 comments )
Link Flag
Probably cheaper in the long run.
Any migration from A->B costs money, so it's absurd to compare upgrade costs to migration costs. Should compare upgrade costs over the next 20 years between the two platform choices.

Once they step away from Microsoft's high prices and profit margins, seems like their costs should go down. All of Microsoft's wealth had to come from somewhere.
Posted by open-mind (1027 comments )
Link Flag
How Many?
Just curious - how many of the respondents to this thread work,
directly or indirectly, for Microsoft?
Posted by ChasmoeBrown (31 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What if they all do? Statements stand or fall on their own regardless of a person's agenda.

How many people asking about people working for Microsoft work for Red Hat or Novell?

Silly stuff.
Posted by Betty Roper (121 comments )
Link Flag
Considering it's not logical for your average citizen to defend convicted monopolies it's probably not so hard to figure out where the loyalties lie...


Not many people defend oil companies for pollution...

Not many people defend Drug companies for making billions of dollars on flue medication...

No one in their right minds defends a cellular phone company...

...So why would your average citizen ever go out of their way to defend a billion dollar corporation like Microsoft?
Posted by UntoldDreams (91 comments )
Link Flag
Not I
I just think with such a logical type of business (IT) people would make such illogical decisions.

As a systems engineer in a 60,000+ employee company I would not risk my job on something that will take a long time to implement and cost more than a more widely industry supported solution. The true cost of converting documents/data, and re-training everyone will probably never come out.

Even more disturbing was when the facts came out MS cut them a huge deal to stay with them. If I lived in that town I would be exercising my voting rights.

Only a government agency could get away with such waste.
Posted by Lindy01 (443 comments )
Link Flag
Silly comments
Just read all the previous comments with a smile....
What local governments can do is look ahead and plan long term. Business companies can't, because they have to meet monthly, quaterly, and yearly targets (This is why businesses have started to move or outsource their IT to developping countries, are buying each other for consolidation, etc.)
France's railway and road system is second to none BECAUSE of government decision (certainly not businesses). Germany's car industry has become so potent because of government decisions. The Internet came about BECAUSE of government decisions. Cutting gas emission will come about BECAUSE of government decisions. Etc.

How many businesses HAVE TO upgrade their hardware because of software components they have no say or no control about? I know many. How many companies cannot do business properly with other partners because one of them is locked in proprietary applications? I know many.

A piece of news like this is important because it can help businesses, education establishments, and local authorities look around. After all, isn't choice what it is all about?
Posted by (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Political Motivation
If Washington's or New York's government IT was locked-in to a single German corporation as large and influential as Microsoft, I'm sure these U.S. cities would be looking to migrate as well.

Hopefully, when Munich and Manheim and other foreign cities migrate to Linux, they'll go with local vendors. This will probably be the case with Munich, as they're migrating to Debian.

Since "Linux" usually means an open pool of IT knowledge and infrastructure -- like science -- I can see its attractiveness to countries who want to take full ownership of their IT. Even if they migrate to Red Hat or Novell, it's insignificant to move people from Gnome on RHEL or Gnome on SUSE to Gnome on [insert distro here] -- using the same set of apps on either -- than it is from Windows to any Linux distro.
Posted by alucinor (71 comments )
Link Flag
What rubbish. Hardly anyone uses Linux - a few local councils across the whole of Europe - hardly mass market is it. Less then 0.5% of web surfers are running Linux. No signs of any increase in the adoption curve at all.

Actually Windows is still taking market share from Linux in major markets such as web servers - Windows increased market share by 10% at the expense of Linux this year alone - see Netcraft.

These places that are trying to implement a third world IT policy by moving to Linux are all without exception having major issues implimenting this freeware junk. It costs them far more than an integrated Microsoft solution ever would.

It says it all that the users dont want it either.

Whoever lives in those locations should vote these muppets out of office ASAP for wasting lots of money.
Posted by richto (895 comments )
Reply Link Flag

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