The City of Munich is switching to open source with the aim of reducing its dependence on individual suppliers in the largest public sector project of its kind.
Wilhelm Hoegner, head of the information and data processing office of the City of Munich, tells vnunet.com's Manfred Kohlen why the city is embracing open source and how it is coping with all the macros staff have written for themselves.
What were the main reasons for the city's decision to change to Linux?
The key aspect was the ability to control the release policy ourselves; in other words to free ourselves from reliance on the product cycles of a small number of software companies.
Another important point, of course, was licence costs, and security also plays an important part. We are switching directly from Windows NT to Linux, since NT, which is non-secure, was followed by a number of systems from the same manufacturer, which were also open to attack.
How many computers are you switching over to Linux?
About 14,000 clients in total, 12,000 of which are networked desktops and about 2,000 laptops.
What is your schedule?
The pilot project was approved last year and was a success; the official green light for a wide range of tenders was given recently. We would like to have completed all the projects by 2008.
That's a long time. What do you have to do in that timeframe, and what obstacles do you have to overcome?
Taking all of our departments into account, we have acquired 160 specialist applications under Windows NT over time. We have had these applications since 1995; at the time they were put out to local software firms for tender and we accepted the best offer in each case.
Most of these applications now have to be adapted to a large extent, and some of these companies will possibly have problems with the conversion process.
Of course, that will not apply in every case. In the Building Department, for instance, they work with AutoCAD, and AutoDesk is not keen on converting its software to Linux straight away.
Our building engineers also want to stay with the existing solution, and we're happy to let them. We still have lots of other platforms. One thing that has given us a few headaches is the many Word and Excel macros that the departments have written for themselves.
Are the macros essential?
In some cases, yes. However, travel cost accounts or leave applications are the same everywhere; we found many redundancies when we went through the various departments.
We are now putting most of our efforts into web-based services. As far as the rest of the macros go, Sun Microsystems has recently developed tools to enable conversion to OpenOffice.
Which components will you use on the Linux desktops?
The basic client runs using the SuSE Linux Desktop, with KDE 3.1 as interface, OpenOffice 1.1, the KDE applications such as Kwrite to replace the Windows Notepad, and Gimp for graphics. It will be harder to adapt more specialised modules.
A SAP graphical user interface based on Java is planned and, because we still work in some cases with the good old Siemens BS2000 mainframe, we have ordered a Linux-based emulation of it from the Munich company Com2.
Will the BS2000 machines stay?
Yes. We already have a heterogeneous landscape anyway. Unusually for the IT sector, we never relied to any great extent on Microsoft servers and used Novell or Unix systems with Oracle databases, for instance. They will also stay.
Other public authorities will certainly be keeping a close eye on proceedings. Do you know of any other councils that are planning something similar?
Municipal authorities include Treuchtlingen, Isernhagen and Schwäbisch-Hall, and in Bavaria there is the Survey Office and the Audit Office. The Police in Lower Saxony are already using Linux. Our colleagues from Paris, who also want to change over, have already come to observe our progress.
Do you know about France's decision to switch to open source in various public institutions nationwide?
No, that's something new. But I assume that our colleagues from the town hall in Paris will have a certain influence on decisions taken at a national level.
What made you decide to switch to SuSE in particular?
The City Council tasked us to implement pilot projects with a Linux desktop, and IBM and SuSE offered their assistance. We built up examples with the SuSE Linux Desktop and tested interfaces to other applications such as SAP.
That worked very well. But, of course, we have not made a firm commitment to SuSE at this stage. We will have to go through the tender process for the many component projects involved beyond the pilot stage, now that the decision has been made and the project has officially been started.
What about Microsoft?
We have not parted completely with Microsoft. The impression that has been created is totally wrong. We still have 24,000 computers in the schools in Munich, which have now been upgraded to Windows 2000 and will probably continue to use that system.
We are still in contact with Microsoft; in some areas of municipal administration, for example, it makes sense to use terminals instead of Windows desktops to keep costs down. We are still involved in talks in this regard.
However, when it comes to the desktops in the City's various departments, Microsoft has made no further offers and appears to have accepted the decision made by the City Council.
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