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

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.

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.”


  • Why is it sad? The main reason is that in a 10 year effort, the project should be running flawlessly (I mean any project that long). What happened? Is XP better then Linux (any Linux)? Printing drivers are excellent in Linux, so probably they are using special printers. Scanners are not so good, but it can be solved.

    Probably it wasn’t a well planned project from the start, or people left from the project. It should worry us, as there is something wrong with the picture of a desktop Linux as a large scale project. We should, not only thing in technical terms, but also in administrative and user issues.

    • You are right in many respects, but seem to forget that Linux is not a brand. No publicity campaigns on TV or journals. No paid coverage. If we think Linux is going to replace Windows or MacOS, we are missing the point, maybe Linux is not for everyone. I certainly not use Linux because it resembles Windows (nor you), it is because it fills my needs, without having to pay for something I don’t want. If Linux is to become easier to the user, then it will be more like Windows. No thanks!

      • 1. There are millions of FLOSS programmers. Do we want them to stop working to slow down change? FLOSS is a meritocracy. If you don’t like KDE4 you can use something else. I use XFCE4. It’s light, fast and it works well.

        2. The only thing in FLOSS I see mimicing those other OS are in and Abiword. That is appropriate because the target market are the users and potential users of Office. VLC is unique. FireFox is unique, as is Chrome.

        3. Puffery. Programmers are elite by definition. The majority of the populartion does not have the interest, intelligence, or dedication to write software. We don’t have to love any particular programmer and that programmer does not have to produce stuff we want. It is his/her art.

        4. Which is it? We are imitating (2) or bleeding edge (4). Cannot be both? Innovation is good. Copying what works is good and useful.

        5. Growth in utilization is huge, probably greater than 20% per annum. Do not confuse growth of utilization with a stagnant presence on retail shelves. The monopoly prevents growth there. Fortunately we are going around them with Android/Linux and ARM and in 2011 we will see the death of Wintel with GNU/Linux on ARM personal computers of all kinds. Enough people have seen and used GNU/Linux on netbooks and ARMed devices to make growth inevitable. Get used to it.

        6. Games are for kids. I see a lot of games on GNU/Linux and no kid told me they weren’t fun.

  • Okay you hardcore Linux people are not going to like this. So let’s see what kind of flaming I’ll receive for this one. I am a huge and dedicated Linux fan of 10 years myself, yet I am not so blind as to not understand why Linux has and will continue to fail in the desktop arena.

    1. Too many changes too fast. It seems like every time something gets really stable and starts working really well, the powers that be decide it is time for a change. The Linux community NEEDS to look at some HONEST reasoning behind why MS products have have been successful (AND unsuccessful). A great recent example is KDE. It took KDE nearly an entire decade to really get things right, yet somewhere, someone decided it needed a complete workover. People there was nothing wrong with the old way KDE worked, it was productive, fast, and consistent. The latest KDE reminds me of a time a few years back when Gnome was completely rebuilt. It was a pieced together mess for the longest time. Now the tides have turned, Gnome seems to be the only robust and stable system available in FOSS distributions. If you know of soemthign that is as robust and straight forward as the old KDE, please let me know because I am in search of a replacement. Anyhow, my point is about every 12 months or so an average user would have to take a boatload of time to learn all the changes that were made, dig through forums to fix what was broken, and get lambasted by the elitists in the official help channels at freenode. People, XP has had the same damn interface for almost a decade now. People liked it and it worked. If ANY event in recent history has proved this point it was the release of Vista. Tons of familiarity went away and users screamed about the difficulty to deal with it. Not only this but they bloated it so bad (are you listening KDE?) that folks could not run it on their older (yet not THAT old) hardware. Has anyone that developed the latest stable KDE actually tried running it on a netbook in netbook mode? It is simply nearly unusable! Up until recent times, I could boast how powerfull linux was on older, slower hardware, not anymore. On the other hand, average users do not want some stripped down system like blackbox or fluxbox or whatever other flavor you may provide. They want a robust, easy to use, reliable interface they can count on and KDE blew it with the changes. Robust? yes, Easy? not really, Reliable? definitely not! Whomever first brought up the discussion about what is next for KDE blew it on this one. They should have looked and asked.. What are we missing? and go from there. Plenty of stuff an average user would consider missing. Has KDE ever attempted to do any usability tests with average users?

    2. Why is the Linux world constantly trying to mimic Mac and MS products? I find it funny (or sad).. the new KDE is this super bloated and memory consuming POS (just like VISTA) and to be honest looks as though the KDE folks were shooting for the Vista look and functionality when they built the thing, and they got exactly what they shot for, buggy, bloated, crapware. The developers destroyed the only desktop that was even remotely capable of competing (translate:something an average user would WANT to use) with the other operating systems. Thank goodness for the Trinity project. I’m hoping they have the resources to make things happen.

    3. The elitism still exists. I almost believe these folks making these changes WANT the stuff to be broken out of the box in order to (in the words of some elitist Debian users I have talked to in the past) prevent "Joe six pack" from running Linux. This attitude has GOT to stop! People like this will eventually ruin it for everyone and they truly are giving the Linux community a terrible name from the word go. We NEED to invite new users on board and help them as much as possible without belittling or disrespecting them. Not everyone can grasp all this fast, everyone works at their own pace and their own level. I backed away from participating in any form with the Linux community for years now simply because I cannot stand dealing with the elitist jerks that seemed to permeate in every official channel. You know who you are.

    4. The Linux community is constantly fixated on bleeding edge. Even Debian stable is guilty of this (KDE4 in Squeeze is just terrible) and it is usually a year or two behind the others. The truth is the world was happy with XP for SEVERAL years and a large percentage of XP users TODAY are not happy about having to go to 7 soon. Do we really need a new release every year, even every two or three years? Probably not. Concentrating on refining what is there while providing security and bug fixes would probably be a good start.

    5. The gaps that prevent growth are never filled. The Linux community needs to open their eyes to what the world is wanting if they want to continue growing. Linux has consistently been a great hobby OS for the technically adept, including myself, but having to constantly tinker with the thing like it was Windows 3.1 is simply too much for the average user OR IT team. In my opinion there are a few key areas which Linux has lacked in forever, and without these pieces, it will never be taken seriously by the business or personal sector. These things include today and now trends such as Netflix, gaming, and anything multimedia. Without super simple and reliable video editing, dvd authoring, gaming, and streaming media viewing from the world’s largest provider, this operating system will never be taken seriously by average users. Businesses cannot afford to go there with this operating system because the cost of maintenance and tech support for a desktop user is simply staggering. This is mostly caused by, what else, updates. If a company knew that once a year they would have to upgrade Windows 7, it will still (kind of) be Windows 7 but the interface and such has been altered, and things that weren’t broke before will break now, they would NEVER use such a beast. personally, ever since XP the first thing I do is drop the entire desktop into classic mode. I don’t need all the little rounded corners and pillowy bars.

    6. GAMES, enough said.

    If any of the distributions have learned anything in the last decade, I think Ubuntu probably taught us the most important lesson. YES, more people will adopt Linux IF it is easy to install. Ubuntu really doesn’t have any new tricks up it’s sleeve, has bug issues just like any other distribution, yet the world fell in love with it. THINK ABOUT IT, it was simply the installer that did it because beyond that Ubuntu is pretty much a bleeding edge Debian.

    Folks I don’t mean to be so harsh but I am sick of everyone standing around going "Why?" when we all know EXACTLY why. I love Linux, have nothing but gratitude for the entire community and it’s amazing efforts. In fact, I have banked an entire career on Linux and it is finally coming around, and to whom do I probably owe the deepest gratitude for this? The Linux community, all the developers of all the various libraries and software. Without you I would have nothing, be nothing, and I am eternally grateful. To all the elitists that have pissed me off over the years, shove it.

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