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Munich City Government to Dump Linux Desktop

By Jack M. Germain
Feb 15, 2017 3:59 PM PT
munich-linux-desktop

Munich city officials turned lots of heads 10 years ago, when they voted to swap out Microsoft Windows with LiMux -- a custom desktop version of the Linux operating system, based on Ubuntu Linux. The current municipal government wants to dump LiMux and replace its 15,000 computers with Windows 10.

The city's general council this week voted to investigate how much time and money it will take to build a Windows 10 client for use by the city's employees. The city spent millions of euros over the last decade on the Windows replacement project.

Now council members want the city to spend millions more, basically to lay the groundwork for the process of migrating back to proprietary software.

The vote this week does more than approve a feasibility study -- it calls for preparing to return to Windows by 2021. After the preparatory phase is completed, the council once again will again vote on whether to proceed with replacing LiMux with Windows.

However, it appears that the second vote merely will formalize the earlier decision. The groundwork already will be done. City officials will have the actual time and cost figures in hand prior to the second vote.

Glancing Blow

One government entity dropping the Linux desktop is not likely to have much impact on overall Linux desktop adoptions, according to Howard Green, vice president of marketing at Azul Systems.

"It is unlikely that this will have much of an impact on other existing adoptions of desktop Linux by governments," he told LinuxInsider, "although there are certainly some issues that have been highlighted by users within the city government that might give pause to net-new migrations from other platforms."

Unclear Objectives

Some of the city officials behind the proposal have blamed LiMux for numerous ongoing IT problems. However, others maintain that the IT disarray resulted from a previous city council decision to fractionalize the staff into different departments.

That reportedly caused organizational problems that slowed down the deployment of upgrades and caused delays in fixing problems.

The city council this week also voted to support a restructuring of Munich's IT department. However, some city officials are not sure that a return to Windows will alleviate IT troubles that aren't directly related to the choice of OS.

The council plans to rely on market-standard commercial software rather than using open source software. Officials hope that plan will facilitate compatibility among internal and external applications.

That move would cause a similar retreat from open source cross-platform applications. City officials would deploy Microsoft Office to replace currently used open source business office suites available for Linux and Windows, such as LibreOffice and the Thunderbird email client.

Still, the infighting and negative comments some Munich officials have made are not likely to have much influence beyond Munich's city offices.

"There is always an impact when a high-visibility adopter of a particular strategy changes direction. However, city governments and their senior IT teams -- like enterprises -- will shift strategy and direction based upon personnel changes as well and technology and market shifts," said Azul's Green. "There are no surprises there. One account allowing platform choice three years from now is not much of a trend."

Possibly Shortsighted

The decision Munich officials made to replace the custom LiMux distro with Microsoft Windows 10 could be shortsighted. It's possible that the dissatisfaction with the performance of LiMux could be fixed by introducing an updated Linux distro.

The wholesale dumping of the open source operating system and open source software was a decision based on politics, according to some Munich officials. Munich was the most significant organization to leave Microsoft for Linux in 2004.

That prompted a visit from Steve Ballmer, who was then CEO of Microsoft, but it was to no avail. The mayor at that time, Christian Ude, refused to stop the migration to Linux.

Microsoft last year relocated its German headquarters to Munich. A new mayor and bickering political parties run the city now.

That history between city officials and Microsoft reflects a more interesting background current, noted Green. The players on both sides have changed.

"The Microsoft that Munich shunned some number of years ago has become far more open and far more Linux-friendly over the past two-to-three years. We have noticed the shift, as have our customers across a variety of sectors," he said.

Times Have Changed

The cultural and marketplace dynamics that caused Munich's initial migration from Windows have changed, noted Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

That makes it unlikely that Munich's latest reversal will have much impact on how other government entities might view adopting the Linux desktop, he told LinuxInsider.

It involves more than whether Microsoft has changed, said King, though he acknowledged that the company is far different today than it was under Steve Ballmer.

How people use operating systems also has changed, he pointed out.

"Operating systems have become a commodity most people use, not obsess over -- except for Apple customers," said King. "The Linux ecosystem is also far different today than it was in 2003-4."

It's doubtful that many governments today would consider doing what Munich did -- that is, develop a Linux distro (LiMux) for its own use.

"They are more likely to adopt a popular distro, like Ubuntu, along with a proven productivity suite like Google Docs," said King. "I do not believe [Munich's latest actions] will have a huge effect, mainly because the momentum behind desktop Linux is relatively modest."

Different Levels of Linux

Desktop Linux mainly has caught on in technically savvy companies and organizations, such as Google, NASA, the U.S. DoD and CERN, King observed, citing a recent report showing the countries currently using custom Linux distros.

Among them are China, North Korea, India, Indonesia, Turkey, Russia and Iran. The countries on the list have a strong authoritarian bent, which is ironic if you consider Linux's traditionally progressive roots, King noted. "The bottom line: The real Linux revolution occurred in the data center, not on the desktop."


Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear. You can connect with him on Google+.


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