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Public Money, Public Code: Munich one step back - others two steps forward.

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More than two years ago, Munich abandoned their strategy of developing an independent IT infrastructure built with Free Software and the free operating system GNU/Linux and went back to depending on proprietary software. We followed this process closely and like to give an update today about what has happened since then in Munich and in Europe in general. Did we manage to gain more independence and control over our IT or did dependencies on monopolies increase over the past two years?

Retrospect

The LiMux project was started 13 years ago when the city of Munich needed to replace their no longer supported Windows NT4 workstations. In that period, 15.000 workstations were migrated to vendor-neutral Free Software solutions and Open-Standard-based file formats supported by local IT companies. This initiative not only was an example of a successful move to more independence, but also served as a role model of how to strengthen the local IT industry.

Limux Muenchen written with wooden playcards
Picture by Marco Verch, CC-BY 2.0

But then things took a turn for the worse. In 2014, the SPD entered a coalition agreement with the CSU and Dieter Reiter (SPD) was elected new mayor of Munich. The new coalition started to question the LiMux strategy as soon as their term started, and asked Accenture, a Microsoft partner located in the same building as Microsoft, to analyse Munich's IT infrastructure. The report can be found here (German). It is worth noting that, despite their close connection with Microsoft, in their report, analysts identify primarily organisational issues at the root of the problems troubling LiMux's uptake, but no significant technical issues.

Nevertheless, the coalition filed a surprise motion with minimal lead time before the city council, with the goal to end LiMux once and for all.

Back then we, together with other independent parties, came to the conclusion that LiMux suffered from organisational problems, including lack of clear structures and responsibilities, something the Accenture report confirmed. These where independent from the software used on client machines, and switching operating systems alone would not solve them.

Where we are today

Munich is still in the transition back to proprietary software. This whole process will cost the citizens of Munich nearly 90 million Euros in the next six years. Meanwhile, looking at other cities in Germany and all over Europe, we see that many regions push for more independence. Free Software in public administrations is not a short‐term trend. The last few years have seen significant changes in the attitudes of public administrations towards IT procurement, increasingly favouring a strategic, long‐term‐oriented approach.

Free Software solutions are helping governments address different challenges, from democratic governance to natural disaster prevention. Some projects are not only deployed but also developed internationally. Popular projects, such as Consul, GNU Health, X-Road, and CKAN, highlight the potential of Free Software for cooperation across borders. In Germany, the Government decided to run their own, Free Software Cloud Solution, called Bundescloud. 300,000 people in ministries and other federal institutions will use this federal cloud. The Government of France decided to build a country wide messaging platform based on Free Software and many more exciting projects are happening all over Europe in an effort to increase IT independence of public administrations. But Munich, once a spearhead in this modernization effort, is now backpedalling on what the city achieved and, instead of institutionalizing it, they are giving up on the experience and knowledge they acquired with their new software.

To support these activities and in order to convince more administrations to migrate to Free Software, the Free Software Foundation Europe runs the well received "Public Money? Public Code!" campaign. The initiative asks legislators to establish the rule that publicly financed software developed for the public sector must be made publicly available under a Free Software license. If it is public money, it should be public code as well.

Our Brochure summarises the FSFE's long-term expertise with additional knowledge from leading experts in various ICT areas. It helps readers understand Free Software and its benefits for a modern digital public infrastructure. Please help us spread the word about the campaign and share our videos (available in many languages) and - if you haven't already - sign our open letter.