20 Apr 2005 mbanck   » (Journeyer)

Munich chooses Debian, talking to the people involved

Although most people suspected SuSE would win the europe-wide bidding for the City of Munich's migration from Windows to Linux, it got announced last week that two local german companies using Debian as the base for their client have been awarded the tender. The bigger company of the two, SOFTCON, is located in Munich and has around 120 employees. It is 20 years old, and thus not a Linux-specific company, but rather a general IT service provider. The other company (GONICUS) is located in Arnsberg and much smaller (15 employees) and more technically oriented on the migration to Linux (it also a member of the Linux-Verband). A quick googling for its name on debian.org reveals that GONICUS employs at least one Debian Developer, Cajus Pollmeyer (cajus at debian.org), so they are giving back a lot. Congratulations to everybody involved.

As it turned out, we rather accidently had one of the irregular Debian meetings in Munich organized for yesterday, so I decided to invite the people from the city hall involved with the so-called LiMux project to join us in light of them choosing Debian, and they did.

This time, we did not meet at our usual location (the Augustinerkeller), but rather at the Pasta & Basta at the M√ľnchner Freiheit. We ordered a table for ten people, but I counted 18 people attending, so we had some logistic problems (and the waiter really was "italian-simpatico-rude" as one of the comments at the above link indicates). Out of those 18, three of them were from the LiMux project and I had a nice chat with them. They were in their beginning-to-mid twenties and really nice and friendlypeople. These are some of the points they told us:

  • They are a group of around a dozen people, some of them working for the city for several years already, some of them being employed since the beginning of the year. They seem to be determined to largely conduct the migration themselves, and only rely on the two above mentioned companies for initial bootstrapping and training.

  • Contrary to what I thought, the servers were never at stake, the migration only covers clients, as they do not have any Microsoft servers in the first place.

  • They do not have a complete picture of how the client is going to look yet (e.g., will it include OpenOffice 1.x or 2.0?), but they hope to migrate the first productions systems by the end of the year. Partial migrations like switching people from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice while still letting them keep Windows temporarily are also considered.

  • The biggest hurdle (besides training the personnel) is the large variety of custom Windows software for individual departments. They said they wrote to almost 300 software companies they got programs from about their plans with Linux, but only a tiny fraction of them responded, and even less saying Linux was on their radar. Things seems to be getting better though, as a couple of companies have contacted them lately. In general, they try to get as much as possible done via platform-independent web clients.

  • Despite the sometimes slightly bad public image of bavarian politics, the process seemed to have been conducted very objectively. They said each submission got scored by a lot of factors, and finally the one with the best overall quotient got chosen. However, they also mentioned that they had to slightly steer the negotiations subtily from time to time, as the less tech-savy city officials were sometimes deluded by marketing speak. All in all, it really sounded that the best contender really won.

  • The software patents issue dragged them down for longer than I thought, as it took them a while to get legal advice.

Besides the LiMux people and the usual suspects, there were also a couple of other people attending, most notably a guy who built the world's smallest Linux box (he told me he even got a mail from NASA saying something literally similar to 'This is Houston, Mission Control. We like your device.' after being slashdotted), Murray Cumming (of GNOME fame) and Holger Blasum from the FFII (who reported that the crucial second reading of the software patents directive in the European Parliament will most likely take place in early July and that former french minister Michel Rocard has published a good position statement on the software patents directive).

In summary, it was a really nice meeting (or rather, Stammtisch) again, we just have to manage the growing popularity (probably by moving outside to a Biergarten next time).

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