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Pain and Suffering in Germany, or How Linux Lost to XP

By Katherine Noyes
Mar 3, 2011 5:00 AM PT

With all the world aflutter about the latest "i-thingie" to emerge from the Hallowed Halls of Cupertino, it's been a great week for catching up on Linux news from around the world.

Pain and Suffering in Germany, or How Linux Lost to XP

Expecting the usual assortment of triumphant tales regarding our favorite operating system, however, Linux Girl's jaw fairly hit the floor when she came across something entirely different.

It's the sad, sad story of the German Foreign Office, to be specific, which recently chose to reverse a decade-old migration to Linux. Now, it's switching back to Windows instead.

"Although open source has demonstrated its worth, particularly on servers, the cost of adapting and extending it, for example in writing printer and scanner drivers, and of training, have proved greater than anticipated," explained The H, where the story was apparently first reported.

Claiming that user complaints have been a problem as well, the government has nevertheless declined to provide any specific figures.

'Efficiency Gains'?

The organization's PCs are now returning to Windows XP, Office 2010 and Outlook, and the government reportedly expects "efficiency gains" as a result. Open source software will continue to be used on servers, reports The H, which has since published a second feature as well looking at the story's background.

Now, sad as this story may be, the real tragedy is that it's not an entirely unfamiliar one, as regular readers may remember. It wasn't so very long ago that we heard something similar from Switzerland's canton of Solothurn, in fact.

Either way, tales like this can only make a person wonder -- what in the world is going on? Linux bloggers around the globe were apparently thinking much the same thing.

'Isn't That Their Choice?'

"This is sad news, whatever the reasons," wrote "Mostly a lurker" on Slashdot, for example, where more than 900 comments appeared in short order.

Alternatively: "Look, I understand the passion that people feel for Linux, FOSS, etc., but why is it sad news?" mused kiwimate. "It's supposed to be about choice. If someone chooses to use Windows/other Microsoft products/other closed source products, well then isn't that their choice?"

Then again: "'Choice' is not quite the end all," countered TaoPhoenix. "It's 'Sad' because Linux is clearly in the discussion with much to offer, and the German office tried it, but then went back to the company that caused 20 years of lock-in issues."

'Totally Unnecessary'

Down at the Linux blogosphere's Broken Windows Lounge, bloggers were just as forthcoming.

"Office politics in political office over MS-Office? I'm shocked!" quipped Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site.

"This looks like a top-down decision, the kind that gets made when one or more of M$'s salesmen visit the head-office," blogger Robert Pogson opined. "Previous studies showed the GNU/Linux desktops were economical and effective. Suddenly, with only hand-waving as evidence, a contrary conclusion results."

The decision to return to XP, meanwhile, "is totally unnecessary," Pogson added. "If they intend to go to '7,' why would they not do that immediately? Cost, perhaps? Then where are the savings they see?"

'What Happens When XP Is Buried?'

Indeed, "what happens in April of 2014 when XP is finally buried?" Hudson wondered. "It's not like scanner and printer manufacturers are going to release updated drivers for what will by then be really old printers and scanners."

Therein lies a problem for Microsoft, she suggested.

"When you have to replace both the peripherals and the OS simultaneously, you're no longer 'locked in' by either," she explained. "At the speed with which competitors to Windows are evolving, there's no guarantee that the next refresh will go with Microsoft."

About the only safe bet "is that the servers will still be running linux," Hudson concluded. "Even with office politics, there was never a question of 'upgrading' from linux, and I don't see that changing in three years."

'Designed to Be a Server OS'

For Slashdot blogger hairyfeet, the news came as no surprise.

"The Linux OS is designed to be a SERVER OS, with millions of dollars paid by large companies like HP and Red Hat to ensure it is great in that role, same as there are millions spent making sure Linux is a great embedded OS," hairyfeet explained.

To get Linux to be a great desktop OS, however, "will take many millions of dollars and several shifts of the 'Linux way' of doing things that I simply don't see happening," he added. "Desktop users don't care about source, they certainly aren't writing their own programs, and every minute they have to spend Googling or looking at man pages is money out of the pockets of the owners."

'They Rushed Into It'

Consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack saw it differently.

"I love Linux," Mack told Linux Girl. "My desktops and laptop run Linux, and the only Windows machine I have is for compatibility testing software against Windows."

Mack has "converted friends and co-workers to Linux," he added, "and I make my money running Linux on servers. So what I say is as a dedicated Linux professional: Do NOT rush into a conversion."

Converting too hastily "only causes pain and suffering, and makes Linux look bad," Mack explained. "There are systems I control that still run Windows because they require software that either isn't ready yet or doesn't exist in Linux."

So, the German Foreign Office's problem is fundamentally that "they rushed into it without a full plan in place," Mack asserted. "A much smarter move would have been to start by moving as many desktop apps over to FOSS as possible, and migrate to using only software that also works on Linux; only once that succeeds can they move their desktop over."

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