What happened in Munich
On 15 February 2017, the city council of Munich, Germany convened to discuss the future of their LiMux project. In its public session, the plenary voted to have the city administration develop a strategy to unify client-side IT architecture, building atop a yet-to-be-developed "Windows-Basis-Client". A translation of the complete decision is included further down.
The opposing parties were overruled, but the decision was amended such that the strategy document must specify which LiMux-applications will no longer be needed, the extent in which prior investments must be written off, and a rough calculation of the overall costs of the desired unification.
Since this decision was reached, the majority of media have reported that a final call was made to halt LiMux and switch back to Microsoft software. This is, however, not an accurate representation of the outcome of the city council meeting. We studied the available documentation and our impression is that the last word has not been spoken.
We succeeded thus far in forcing the mayor Dieter Reiter (SPD) to postpone the final decision, and this was possible through the unwavering pressure created by joint efforts between The Document Foundation, KDE, OSBA, and the FSFE together with all the individuals who wrote to city council members and took the issue to the media.
Although the mandate is highly suggestive in that it suggests that the existing vendor-neutral approach is to be replaced with a proprietary solution, it leaves the door open; Or are you aware of a commonly-used software standard that ensures maximal compatibility in all directions?
The new mandate buys us some time. And we will keep going.
What lead to this public hearing on 15 February? In 2014, Dieter Reiter was elected new mayor of Munich. He had referred to himself as "Microsoft fan" even before he took office. He prides himself with having played a major part in the decision to move the Microsoft Germany headquarters to downtown Munich. He started to question the LiMux strategy as soon as his term started, and asked Accenture, a Microsoft partner in the same building as Microsoft, to analyse Munich's IT infrastructure. The report can be found here (German). It's noteworthy that in their report, the analysts identify primarily organisational issues at the root of the problems troubling LiMux uptake, rather than technical challenges.
The coalition of SPD and CSU filed a surprise motion with minimal lead time before the city council, with the goal to put LiMux to rest once and for all.
Given the importance of this matter, an ad-hoc coalition of The Document Foundation, KDE, OSBA, and the FSFE collected questions about this motion (German), as well as the processes that lead up to it. We reached out to all members of the city council prior to the public hearing. Additionally, we sent a call for action (German) to all our supporters in Germany and Austria, asking them to get in contact with politicians on this issue. The reaction was phenomenal. During the public hearing, politicians quoted some of our question, and said that they had never received as much input from the public before.
Thank you everyone who made this happen!
We also generated quite a bit of press coverage this way, not only in Germany, but also in other parts of the world. An incomplete list of press coverage can be found here. Please share with us any additional material you might know about.
LiMux suffered from organisational problems, including lack of clear structures and responsibilities, which the Accenture report also makes clear. These are independent from the software used on client machines, and switching operating systems will not solve them.
LiMux as such is still one of the best examples of how to create a vendor-neutral administration based on Free Software. The project was started 13 years ago when the city had to replace their no longer supported Windows NT4 workstations. Since then, they migrated 15.000 workplaces to vendor-neutral Free Software solutions, and Open-Standard-based file formats, supported by local IT companies. Overall this initiative displays not only a successful move to more independence, but also serves as role model of how to strengthen the local IT industry. By solving the organisational problems only, Munich could continue to successfully foster not only an independent administration but also a strong and healthy IT landscape.
We understand that LiMux has not solved all problems, but we maintain that the root of the problems are of organisational nature, and thus must not be confounded with the technical choices.
Public infrastructure must stay independent of singular commercial interests, that are known to stifle innovation. Free Software provides the unique opportunity to invest into common assets and benefit from everyone else's contributions, while staying in control of what gets deployed, and when. Local service providers operating in healthy competition boost the local economy and ensure best use of tax payers' money.
We also note that the trend moves away from client-side operation to more centralised infrastructures, which operating-system-independent use across multiple devices and users' browsers of choice. It may turn out best for LiMux to adjust its focus, while the vendor-neutral strategy must prevail.
The modified motion, as passed on 15 February
The following conclusion was reached (overruling the opposition by Die Grünen - rosa liste, BAYERNPARTEI Stadtratsfraktion, Freiheitsrechte, Transparenz und Bürgerbeteiligung, ÖDP, DIE LINKE, LKR und BIA):
The motion filed before the plenum by SPD and CSU shall have its section 6b (new) extended, as shown between the *** markers:
"The administration shall without delay propose a strategy how to unify the city's client-side IT architecture by 2020-12-31, building on a yet-to-be-developed 'Windows-Basis-Client'. Baseline functionality (word processing, spreadsheets, presentation software, PDF reading, e-mail client and Web browser) needs to be provided by commonly-used, standard products, which must guarantee maximal compatibility with existing internal and external processes, as well as other software infrastructure (such as SAP).
*** The strategy must be clear on which applications on LiMux-Basis will no longer be needed. The city council is to be informed on the extent that this requires write-offs of prior investments. Furthermore, a rough budget to illustrate the costs associated with the unification is to be presented. The city council will then make a final decision. ***
Throughout the transition, the various departments are free to deploy the new, unified solution building on the 'Windows-Basis-Client', or continue using their existing, multi-tier (Window/LiMux) solution, depending on technical status.
Strategic goal must remain that administrative tools shall be usable independently of the client-side operating system (e.g. web apps, virtualisation, remote desktop services)."