Munich begins Linux replacement of Windows

The move comes a year later than initially planned

Munich has begun its migration to Linux on the desktop, a year later than planned and nearly three years since the city announced its move to open-source software.

"There have been some delays along the way, but we're now moving steadily ahead," Florian Schiessl, manager of the city of Munich's "Limux" project, said today in an interview. Limux is shorthand for the "Linux in Munich" initiative.

Since Tuesday, the first 100 of the city's 14,000 PCs have been switched from Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system and Office applications to Linux and OpenOffice.

"Today, we're still working in both the Windows and Linux worlds," Schiessl said. "But over the next two years, the Linux world will get bigger, while the Windows world will get smaller."

A full migration to Linux is "unrealistic," Schiessl said. Some hardware and software products in the public administration will continue to require Windows, and some -- particularly in the area of desktop publishing -- will continue to require systems from Apple Computer Inc., he said.

By the end of the year, Munich plans to have migrated 200 computers to the open-source desktop environment. "Most of these computers are used for relatively simple office communications," Schiessl said.

The configuration is based on Linux Distribution Debian GNU/Linux 3.1, the KDE 3.5 user interface and OpenOffice 2.

The Limux team has established guidelines to help overcome format conversion issues between Microsoft and open-source products, according to Schiessl. "With OpenOffice, we don't have a problem opening and reading Microsoft formats, and with most simple documents, we don't have any processing problems," he said. "But in some cases, there can be format loss, and some documents need to be handled in a special way to avoid format conversion problems. Our guidelines address these issues."

One of the bigger challenges, Schiessl said, will be to migrate some of the public administration's larger departments with more complex processes. "Big departments with specialized processes will be a challenge, but we have a plan to tackle this and expect to achieve our goal of having around 80% of all desktop systems running on Linux by the end of 2008."

Delays in the Limux project began with the dispute over software patent issues, followed by longer-than-expected negotiations with companies bidding for the contract to provide system configuration and support services. On top of that was a one-year extension of the pilot phase.

"Because of the complexity of this migration project, we decided to have a very thorough pilot phase," Schiessl said.

He declined to comment on the decision by the city of Bergen, Norway, to delay its Linux desktop plans by two years, citing a lack of detailed information about that decision.

In September, Bergen decided to focus on building an e-government portal first and later migrate its Windows-based systems to a Linux environment.

Vienna is another big European city with ambitious plans to roll out Linux in its public administration. 

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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