Barcelona Opts for Breath of Open Source Fresh Air

Barcelona city officials have voted to shut the door on Microsoft Windows in favor of the Linux operating system and open source technology.

The city hopes to save money from proprietary software license fees and to build a specialized library of open source applications targeting the needs of government workers. Its goal is to encourage specialized open source solutions throughout governmental agencies in Spain.

The city last fall unveiled the Barcelona Digital City Plan to improve government-provided online services. The plan also supports urban technology and smart-city projects and promotes open data.

The ultimate goal of the program is to achieve and guarantee “full technological sovereignty” for the municipality through the adoption of open source technologies. This includes the potential to conduct a full public audit of the devices and software city government uses on a daily basis and then extend their functionalities.

City officials hope to push the open source envelope both to save money and improve digital security. They want to make software available in public repositories with licenses that permit third-party use and improvement.

The new technology policy will result in less dependence on external providers and greater diversification in contracting. One goal is to create an administrative network for sharing technology.

“City governments choosing open source for desktop computing is a more specialized case,” said Howard Green, vice president of Marketing at Azul Systems.

Its success will depend entirely upon the open source applications they choose to develop and/or implement,” he told LinuxInsider.

Uncharted Territory

Barcelona is not the first European government agency to migrate from Windows to Linux and open source software. Efforts to dump proprietary software have arisen in other cities.

For example, Rome already has installed the LibreOffice suite to replace Microsoft Office on all of its 14,000 PC workstations across the city, and this year it plans to test a pilot program using workstations running Linux.

Perhaps the most controversial example of introducing Linux to replace Windows is Munich’s years-long experiment, which currently is being reversed. Munich officials adopted an in-house Linux variant called “LiMux” 15 years ago and swapped Microsoft Office for the free open source LibreOffice.

City officials recently voted to return to Microsoft Windows, and later this year will vote on a proposal to return to Microsoft Office as well.

The so-called Munich Fiasco was not an open source failure — it was a political failure, according to Italo Vignoli, one of the founders of The Document Foundation, the home of LibreOffice.

“Linux in Barcelona will be a completely different story for several reasons,” he told LinuxInsider.

That’s in part due to the broad-based recognition that open source is now the driving force for innovation in information technology. Further, the knowledge the open source ecosystem gained from all the migrations to free software will eliminate any duplication of mistakes, Vignoli said.

“Today, Linux on the desktop is comparable to Windows and macOS in term of complexity,” he added, noting that “Windows is not a viable option for stability and security reasons.”

Successful Linux Migrations

Many large organizations successfully deploy free software, such as the cross-platform LibreOffice. The open source office suite runs on Windows and macOS as well as Linux operating systems.

Use of the Linux OS and LibreOffice is gaining popularity among numerous European governmental agencies. For example, 15 French ministries have switched to LibreOffice. The French Gendarmerie, France’s police force, switched 70,000 PCs to GendBuntu, a custom version of the Linux-based OS Ubuntu.

The Dutch Ministry of Defense switched to LibreOffice. Copenhagen’s hospitals switched 25,000 PCs from Microsoft Office to LibreOffice.

The Italian Ministry of Defense will switch some 100,000 desktops from Microsoft Office to LibreOffice by 2020.

The Barcelona Plan

Barcelona’s city government has not disclosed many details about its migration to Linux, but some actions already are under way:

  • City computers are being fitted with Ubuntu preinstalled with Firefox;
  • Microsoft Office and Microsoft Exchange are being replaced with LibreOffice and Open Xchange.

“The Barcelona plan is ambitious, which I find inspiring,” said Molly de Blanc, campaigns manager at Free Software Foundation.

“They are showing dedication to the conversation through their time line,” she told LinuxInsider.

Barcelona officials already have begun developing software to meet their unique needs, and their approach to making systems fully free is exciting, de Blanc said.

Their plan to replace software one program at a time is understandable, given the large scale of the project, she added.

“It is especially nice to see that they are working to create heretofore nonexistent free solutions to software needs. This references the creation of a platform to allow small businesses to participate in public tenders,” said de Blanc.

FSF will keep an eye on Microsoft to see if they attempt to interfere, as they did with Munich, she noted.

“At the same time, we have high hopes for Barcelona’s future in free software and look forward to seeing what they do,” de Blanc said.

Linux, the New Windows

The Barcelona City Council has instituted a migration plan that spells success, according to The Document Foundation’s Vignoli. It began to communicate at the right time, and it has provided the rationale for the migration to all of the council stakeholders. That counters one of the problems encountered with the LiMux project in Munich.

Munich was plagued by a lack of information about the achievements gained in using the Linux OS, explained Vignoli. Munich also failed to explain the huge savings over proprietary solutions.

“Linux in Barcelona will be a success for the city and not for the FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) community,” he said, adding that Munich’s switch back to Windows is a loss for that city but not for the FOSS community.

It’s unlikely that Barcelona’s decision and ultimate success will have any impact on the overall adoption rate of FOSS, said Azul’s Green. “That ship has sailed, and open source software is ubiquitous.”

Jack M. Germain

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.Email Jack.


  • Brilliant news, the more people that do this the better. I went from Windows to Mac, and now to Linux. Raspberry PI is a great machine for backups and VPN access, or to create your own cloud. Ubuntu 17.10 is a great desktop OS. Bit by bit I am removing these expensive controlled systems and going for much lower price things that work great with OpenSource software.

  • Please let’s not get enthusiastic with this. The reason for this change is purely political. Post-communist and anti-capitalists parties, with some support from the Socialist Party of Catalonia, agreed to rule together in Barcelona city. This has nothing to do with what works best for the city, since, unfortunately, 80% of all national governement web sites, including those by the autonomous government of Catalonia, as of today don’t work well with web browsers other than Internet Explorer. It will be interesting to see how productive governement workers become now.

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