On 12 december 2013, a full ten years after deciding to move away from the vendor-lock in that is called Microsoft Windows, the german city of Munich has completed the migration to their own Linux distribution called “LiMux“, a brand of Ubuntu with a KDE desktop environment. A full 15,000 computers are running Linux now. What an accomplishment!
The project had its setbacks but I applaud it for its successful ending. I know firsthand how hard it is to migrate institutions (governmental or commercial) to Linux – all my involvements have met with “death from above” meaning higher up in the hierarchy the decision was made to stop the pilots.
It is obvious that the commitment of the city counsil has been the crucial factor here. For the council, cost savings were not the goal, it was the realization that an external entity was able to dictate its terms to the city: to be precise, Microsoft required that all Munich computers would have to be upgraded from Windows NT to a newer version of the OS, and of its Office Suite. At great cost since it affected 14,000 computers. In order to remove Microsoft from the equation, the “LiMux” project was started. During the ten years this project ran, Steve Ballmer visited the city in order to convince the council that they should reconsider and offered licenses for the Microsoft OS and Office suite at ridiculous discounts. But his words fell on infertile grounds.
Munich has calculated that it saved ten million euros by not upgrading their Windows software and instead going for Linux and Open Source. A number that has been disputed by several parties, including Microsoft. And to be honest, licenses are not the only cost factor in a migration like this, if you take into consideration rewriting/porting of critical software, educating people and running two IT infrastructures in parallel for a decade. A rock-solid conviction that freedom is more important than cost is required to stand fast against the big influencers. But Munich has a socialist majority, which has certainly helped to sustain the project through uncertain times. In this regard, when I look at my own dutch government, mostly my representatives are spineless and talking out of their asses. It’s not possible for me to point at someone who will get my vote and is member of a political party I hold in high esteem.
A shining example of the council’s commitment on the other hand, is the story told at LinuxTag 2013 by Peter Hoffman (LiMux project leader) about the time when Bill Gates himself spoke with the Major. At one point, Gates asked the Major what his reasons were for this Linux migration. The answer ‘We want more freedom” did not satisfy Gates, and he asked “Freedom from what?”. The major replied with “Freedom from you, Mr. Gates!'”