Berlin won't migrate to open source, looks to open standards instead

A proposal to switch to open source was denied by the state's coalition

The German city-state of Berlin won't migrate to open source software. Instead, its parliament decided in principle to choose workplace IT based on open standards.

Berlin's Green party had proposed to have 25 percent of its standardized IT workplaces running open source software by 2018, according to the proposal that was voted down by the state parliament on Monday.

It is the second time the opposition Greens had proposed switching Berlin's 68,000 workstations to open source software, and the second time they failed, said Thomas Birk, the party's spokesman for government modernization, on Wednesday. The earlier effort was in 2007.

Switching to open source can work, said Birk. By switching over 80 percent of its 15,500 desktops from Windows to its own Linux distribution, LiMux, and OpenOffice.org software, the city of Munich said it had saved over €11 million (US$14.6 million) by November last year.

"Munich's example proves it is not witchcraft," to switch to open source, said Birk.

Not every migration works though. The city of Freiburg announced in November it would dump OpenOffice and go back to Microsoft because of functionality problems due to a failed migration.

While Birk maintained that with good preparation it can be done, the state's governing coalition of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) decided not to accept the proposal.

Instead, the SPD and CDU introduced a plan to come up with guidelines for a standardized IT workstation for the state of Berlin that "in principle" is based on open standards, according to the proposal that was adopted on Monday. Those guidelines should "ensure a smooth exchange of documents between different platforms at any time," the parties wrote.

The coalition also wants to explore whether the use of a government cloud could reduce licensing costs, according to the document.

Berlin wants to reduce costs and the variety of different IT systems currently used by the government and solve the problem of "island solutions," according to the document. The standardized IT workstation should therefore not only include the same hardware, but also have an identical set of basic applications such as office communication programs, the coalition wrote.

While the proposed IT workstation should ensure the use of open standards and open source software, it was not specified in what way that should be done, due to procurement law that prevents buyers from specifying particular products in advance.

A motion from the Greens to change the IT workstation proposal to make the use of open standards mandatory was also denied, said Birk.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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