Munich officials vote to replace city's Linux desktop with Windows

Munich's decade-long love affair with Linux on the desktop is coming to an end.

For years, city employees have used LiMux, a much-lauded customized distribution of Linux and open-source productivity apps, on their desktops.

On Wednesday, though, a majority of Munich's councilors voted to develop a standard Windows client image for the city's computers.

The councilors gave the administration a deadline of Dec. 31, 2020, to deploy a uniform client architecture based on a newly developed Windows base. The council called for basic functions such as word processing, spreadsheets and a presentation program, and said standard products, guaranteeing the highest possible compatibility internally and externally as well as with other software products such as SAP, should be used throughout the city.

It was in 2003 that city councillors chose to migrate its desktops to open-source software. Their goal was to send a message to software monopolist Microsoft, and to save money with open source solutions.

The transition, though, proved to be anything but simple. Some of the city's specialized applications could not be migrated to Linux, and the number of users of such Windows-only applications is increasing. Today about 15,000 of the city's computers run LiMux, with 5000 more still under Windows.

That mix of operating systems has caused anger and criticism in recent years and, as politicial shifts changed the makeup of the city council, the pressure on LiMux has increased. Last year, Accenture recommended a return to Windows in a study commissioned by the mayor, adding that it should use the standard Microsoft Office suite. Parallel operation of open source and new Windows clients will initially cost around €18.9 million (US$ million), Accenture calculated.

The study called for improvements to the LiMux client and a "complete rebuilding of the Windows client," but made clear that LiMux has no future.

Some have questioned the independence of the study, while others have asked whether the move is linked to Microsoft's moving its German headquarters to the center of Munich from its far northern suburbs.

At the council meeting, opposition councillors said the move would cost the city millions of euros, and Green Party councilor Florian Roth complained that the debate had omitted all the facts about LiMux.

Roth questioned whether the Windows Switch is legal under European Union procurement laws without an invitation to tender or a price comparison.

The debate also made it clear that there are many problems in Munich's IT operations, and that these would be brought to the fore in the move to get rid of LiMux. Munich's Regional Administrative Authority, for example, still uses Windows XP, and there are many unfilled IT vacancies -- up to 30 percent in some departments -- because the city is unable to match salaries paid in the private sector. That has forced it to take on consultants at up to €1,500 (US$1590) per day.

To solve some of these problems, the city is also planning to reorganize its IT staff around a new central service with departmental affiliates.

The fact that the councillors allowed almost four years to develop and roll out a new Windows desktop image suggests that the city's IT operation is anything but agile -- and the technical base on which it must build is also outdated.

The fact that change in the IT industry is so fast-paced seems to have councilors wondering what the consequences will be for their own IT systems, but there is clearly confusion.

"Do we even know if Microsoft will still exist in five years?" asked Social Democratic Party councilor Anne Hübner, prompting laughter from her fellow city councilors.

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