The city of Munich, which made a big statement by announcing a switch to Linux in city government, is already considering a switch back to Microsoft just a year into their implementation.
Munich decided to start using Linux in some way, shape, or form in 2003, citing the city’s desire to save money that was being spent on Microsoft licensing fees. Nearly all Linux distributions (operating systems) are free and open source, therefore allowing people and companies an option that requires no formal purchase.
While the initial goal was to get things up and running in 2004, Munich hit a ton of delays. It was not until the end of 2013 that their switch to Linux, which ended up being with consumer-oriented distribution Ubuntu, was completed.
Now, according to Ars Technica‘s translation of German reports, the city is already looking into a switch back to Microsoft and Windows.
Munich’s original choice to join the open source movement was a big victory for Linux enthusiasts and open source in general. Big entities like a major city government give a lot of exposure to open source software and make it appear legitimate. Their work on implementation would also likely trickle down into software improvements for all.
But as a big of a boost as the choice of Linux was, a switch back to Microsoft would be a huge loss for open source. While GNU/Linux will never disappear entirely due to its enthusiastic developers and fans, as well as its merits as a kernel and OS, many have long hoped that Linux-based operating systems like Ubuntu would challenge Windows and Mac for average users and commercial/governmental entities.
A move back to Microsoft would confirm the criticisms of open source operating systems, which is that they are hard to use, necessary software isn’t compatible, and more generally that the hassle isn’t worth the benefit.
A report in a German newspaper detailed some of the criticisms, noting that both the former mayor who implemented “LiMux,” the name for the project, and the current mayor from the opposing party have begun to sour on the idea.
One frustration voiced by mayor Josef Schmid is that documents and software are not compatible with groups outside the administration, as everyone else is using Windows. It’s difficult to assess the validity of this criticism; it’s certainly not impossible, but most things like office documents and file types can be used as intended on both Ubuntu and Windows, as that has been the focus of development for a long time.
The other is more legitimate: Schmid and others miss the workflows offered by Microsoft Office. He complained that without “a single program is sufficient to crosslink mails, contacts and appointments, this is all now much more difficult.” Or, put in layman’s terms, the mayor says Munich needs Microsoft Outlook.
Ouch. There really is not a replacement for Outlook and the next best thing, Mozilla’s Thunderbird, has essentially halted development outside of bug fixes and security updates.
Even worse is the claim that Munich is not saving money. How, you say? It seems a bit absurd and Schmid is not providing numbers to back this claim up. Recall that open source software like Ubuntu and virtually all software that one would run on Ubuntu are free of charge.
Well, supposedly the costs of having IT fix problems and programmers recreate software that the city used on Windows for Linux is negating the savings of not paying the licensing fees for Windows. Perhaps even more absurdly, the majority of the administration’s computers are actually still running Windows while using virtualization software to run Ubuntu.
A former LiMux implementation manager rebutted Schmid’s comments, saying that the problems are overstated. The LiMux employee says that you’ll never find a company that is satisfied with its IT department and that most of the complaints are not Linux-specific.
Time will tell as to whether a switch back to Microsoft is truly in the cards, but this is tough news for fans of GNU/Linux operating systems either way.
Featured image by Andy Melton (Flickr).