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"Linux switch saved city millions and reduced user complaints" (computerworlduk.com)
209 points by EdwardQ on Apr 2, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 135 comments

Doubtlessly, this successful migration to desktop Linux must have been very difficult, costly, and disruptive. The upfront costs of migration surely exceed what it would have cost the city to stay on Windows for one or two more waves of upgrades. The important question is: were these upfront costs & multi-year effort worth it?

The data presented in the article provides compelling evidence that the answer is yes -- i.e., the migration's recurring savings exceed its upfront costs:

* The city no longer has to pay for license upgrades, thereby eliminating a major recurring cost forever -- savings of nearly 3 million pounds every three to four years, according to the article. That's huge.

* The city no longer has to upgrade desktop software or hardware as frequently, reducing another recurring cost forever -- also huge.

* Most surprisingly, the city claims its IT department is fielding considerably fewer user complaints with Linux than with Windows, reducing another major cost forever. Labor-intensive IT support is always the costliest component of operating a corporate desktop, so that's also huge.

If the recurring cost savings claimed by the city of Munich are accurate, every budget-strapped city in the planet should be seriously considering this kind of migration to desktop Linux. It makes a lot of sense purely from a financial standpoint.

[UPDATE: I toned down the language and corrected key figures, which were off by an order of magnitude due to an incorrect reading of the article. I also materially changed the bullet point regarding support costs, as the article itself was slightly misleading on the matter. THANK YOU Xylakant and luser001 for pointing out my errors!]

It's good for them that they haven't caught the "SharePoint" (and soon, InfoPath) wave yet cause if they do, the migration cost will rise quite significantly.

Most offices these days do use SharePoint heavily and some of the BAs started their hands on InfoPath to make forms for data entry to SharePoint.

To make matter worse (or sweeter, depending your POV), these whole thing can be acquired cheaper by using Office 365 (their cloud version of Office) plus certain Office 365 offerings automatically gives you Office 2010 Professional Plus for free. Sweet deal if you ask me.

Some of us would like to see Linux to win the battle especially when it comes to cost perspective. Unfortunately, Microsoft took notes and they had adjusted their licensing cost as well.

For example: in the K-12 sector, I heard schools are getting 90% discounts. Ninety percent discounts.....

> It's good for them that they haven't caught the "SharePoint" (and soon, InfoPath) wave yet cause if they do, the migration cost will rise quite significantly.

You must not forget to factor in the huge pain of living with SharePoint. A good friend of mine, heavy Microsoft user (and advocate) regularly complains about downtime and data loss because of their SharePoint install. They were forced into it because Microsoft is one of their most important clients and demanded that they use it (or they'd move their business to a competitor)

I've worked with corporate SharePoint and never heard any complaints about downtime; I've even manage a messy SharePoint environment that was left to "rot" with insufficient maintenance (both on SharePoint and on the servers) and it never went down.

Where we did have big problems was finding developers to work with it; we actually found a few that had worked with it but deliberately avoiding listing it as a skill because they did not want to ever work with it again. (in Sydney a few years ago)

Most of our clients are using SharePoint and while I'm not working in SP-related projects, I have not heard complains from them regarding downtimes or data loss so far. In fact, they're all happy using SharePoint.

I can't comment on that particular issue.


You're absolutely right about Microsoft Sharepoint (and InfoPath): it makes switching away from Windows much more painful and costly. FWIW, I have no doubt there are a lot of smart people at Microsoft thinking 24 hours a day about how to increase switching barriers for customers.

As to Microsoft's licensing discounts in key markets, they're not new. Ballmer traveled personally to meet with Munich's mayor and reportedly offered similarly crazy discounts to prevent them from switching to Linux. (See http://www.infoworld.com/t/platforms/microsofts-ballmer-figh... and http://translate.google.com/translate?u=http://www.heise.de/... for some details.)

Regardless, the important question (for budget-strapped cities and governments) remains the same: can they save a lot of money by switching to desktop Linux? If the savings claimed by Munich are accurate, the answer is a resounding yes.

"For example: in the K-12 sector, I heard schools are getting 90% discounts. Ninety percent discounts....."

That makes plenty of a sense. If you force people to use Microsoft products while they're young they are much less liable to switch to another platform while they're older. They're use to their tools and people are lazy. So heavily subsidizing educational uses of software makes plenty of sense.

God forbid we ever lived in a hacker culture where kids in K-12 were forced to learn how to code and actually understand how computers worked as part of the curriculum, then Microsoft would be in real trouble.

"Forcing kids to learn how to code" is a sure way to make them hate coding. But I'm sure you meant "encouraged" instead of "forced".

Just like forcing them to learn how to read is a sure way to make them hate reading? Forcing them to learn history is a sure way to make them hate history?

Would forcing them to learn how to drive be a sure way to make them hate driving?

Same with the MSDNAA project. As a student i was able to download almost every software from MS for free (even Enterprise versions, etc.). Since many people start to learn coding in university, you catch them with Visual Studio, perfect timing..

For example: in the K-12 sector, I heard schools are getting 90% discounts. Ninety percent discounts.....

If I recall correctly, according to the director of IT of a large, local non-profit, they get access to the full suite of enterprise Microsoft products for something on the range of $1000 per year.

At that price point, saying 'open source can save you money' is meaningless, because they have already made investments in Microsoft IT expertise.

While I support the general notion of your statement, I have to correct some facts:

- The recurring costs for licence upgrades are said to be 2.8 Mio Euros every 3 - 4 years. However, there are other cost factors that need to be taken into account: migration and training costs for the new windows and office versions and cost that are now saved since they took the opportunity to unify some of their document management. That's not 10 mio pounds per year, but still a sizable amount.

- In the original document, no amount is given for the cost savings for the hardware that's not replaced.

- There are no statistics given for the number of support queries in terms of linux vs. windows. There is anecdotical evidence but they response explicitly states that full and valid statistics will only be available in two years. The number cited is the total number of support queries for the linux workstations over time. It is cited as proof that the pain points from the beginning of the migrations have been resolved and that the number of support queries is dropping sharply even though the number of linux workstations is rising. The number is also said to include all kinds of errors, including network, server and database errors.

Still, the cost savings are totalled at somewhere around 3.8 Mio Euro for the whole period and since most of the up-front investments have been done now the number can be expected to rise. It's not as huge as you make it sound, but it's still big. And most importantly its a proof that this can be done without disrupting everything.

(most numbers taken from the original statement at http://www.muenchen.de/rathaus/dms/Home/Stadtinfos/Presse-Se...)

Don't forget to add the man-hours related to the licenses:

1) Navigate the licenses

2) Talk to the 3rd-party re-sellers (their response time varies)

3) Approval to purchase

These are "hiccups" that will slow down all projects were you had to go through them (and it is uncommon situation in Microsoft shops).

Maybe I read the article wrong, but my spidey sense went off when reading the article. They're comparing the maximum_complaints_per_month quantity before and after switch. i.e., the peak value of complaints_per_month. Not average or annual.

I agree with your other points.


    The maximum number of complaints was 70 per month
    before the beginning of the switch to LiMux. After the
    number of LiMux workplaces increased from 1,500 to
    9,500, the maximum number of complaints per month
    dropped to 46.

Actually, that's a misinterpretation in the article. The original document mentions those figures, but in a different context: Those are the total number of complaints for limux workplaces in the beginning and in the end and it includes all kinds of errors - application errors, user errors, database and network connectivity so it's nothing but a rough upper bound. It's given as rough indicator that most problems have been solved.

"Most surprisingly, the city claims its IT department is fielding HALF as many (!) user complaints with Linux than with Windows, reducing another major cost forever."

Uh, what? Complaints can change at any time and due even to "small" changes. Also, there could be changes in the opportunity cost of running Linux vs other operating systems in the future which could be realised/visible to ordinary users and thus cause a rise in complaints. But yes, for now, if the facts are right, they have saved themselves significant support cost.

Rest of your summary deductions are sound.

"... and reduced user complaints"

When I hear that metric I think of a homegrown app that was supposed to upload files from PeeCees to the company's mainframe. At the annual IT meeting ...

"And since implementing change foo and bar in the system user complaints to the special helpdesk have declined 90% .."

My boss stood up [1] "That's because the users got tired of calling and not having anything fixed. It's still broken."

The manager/presenter shot daggers at Eric [1]. Cross-hall verbal sniping started. Entertaining.

[1] He was retiring in a few months.

I had some colleagues use the alpha of a new shiny thing the company was building. But none of them ever reported bugs to the bug tracker, because it was "too complicated and nothing ever happened". So the company had someone flying down to our offices and do a presentation on how the (homegrown) bug tracker works. It was a simple, 18-step process just to file a bug... turned out, it was even worse for developers handling those bugs. Yet, people pointing that out where looked at like the were from mars :/.

Your boss had a good point. At some point, users become savvy to the whole thing and stop complaining and start trying to fix it on their own.

It starts with 'Bobby in accounting told me to X when Y happens' and snowballs from there.

It's horrible on productivity and when IT finally does try to fix it, it's often much, much worse. (Though, when the user gets it right, IT doesn't have to fix it after all.)

It's also horrible on morale.

Or they will stop using the system altogether and that's when you start having these unofficial shadow systems spring up, developed by someone who read Access For Dummies in 7 Days, and next thing you know you've got 250,000 credit card numbers posted on pastebin.

that's when you start having these unofficial shadow systems spring up

Exactly what happened to me today.

An engineer [1] opened up a ticket because some java code he was developing to insert attachments to our BOM system was returning funny errors.

Which is fine except he'd somehow gotten credentials for my production system and was testing his code against live bits.

Hooray for initiative, but good lord, fella: how would you feel if I ran out on the floor and started testing new widgets on equipment we're building for customers?

[1] Not software but electrical.

You take the good with the bad. This is one of the markets that startups can serve.

There is a correlated phenomenon that might be at work: many help desk calls are a result of what happens after a user tries to "fix it" themselves. Users may be sufficiently ignorant under Linux that they've reduced the number of steps they take "outside the box".

With these kinds of `hooray linux´ articles, I always wonder whether they included the cost of reduced productivity they included when moving everybody from MS Office to LibreOffice and stuff like that. The difference in quality, stability and features is pretty big. I've worked with LibreOffice only for about 8 months, and I can tell you, it's not just a matter of "getting used to". There's simply a whole bunch of bugs (layout screwing up in Writer, Ctrl+Z not perfectly going back to the previous state, etc) and limitations. The time wasted fighting these tools costs a lot as well.

Take 12000 civil servants losing one hour a week on fighting the tools, and you get to 11.7 million pretty fast.

You seem to neglect the fact Office users routinely experience problems with their own documents and programs. Who never had a Word document that, after some heavy editing, refused to load? I have, many times, since the first version of Word for Windows. I've abandoned Office between 2002 and 2008 and, to my surprise, I still had those problems with Word, Project and Outlook (when I had to clean PST files more than once).

At least with Outlook I solved the problem backing up via IMAP to my own server, who kept the mailbox in a very easy to manage maildir folder. The usual Office workaround - opening with OpenOffice and saving back to Office format - never worked for me after 2008 and backups had to be used.

When speaking from your experience its easy to say 'many' users have had problems, just like how I can say I've never had a problem with a word document therefore 'many' users have never had a problem with a word document. :) Not sure what kind of editing you do. haha

In 2008 I was creating a lot of PowerPoint presentations with embedded Excel spreed sheets, and either PowerPoint or Excel crashed on average about every 2 hours. Everyone else in the office had the same problem so it was a huge productivity black hole.

It's not that you could not get it to work, just there was a vary small 'happy path' and doing just about anything else caused something to crash. EX: Open Excel, if Excel is not opened PowerPoint will crash when you try and edit one of these slides.

PS: I suggested just using images and attaching the originals, but the client wanted to be able to resize things / change the graphs titles etc.

Hmm, i don't use many images for Microsoft Word. It's unfortunate that you had problems with it. Word crashing for me is very very rare, but most of what I do is typing and little bits of graphic art, but I think Office has gotten better lately. Just contact that Splines guy with your issues if they still persist.

Most are documents with inserted pictures, pieces of spreadsheets, Visio and Project charts. Insertion and deletion of the non-text elements appeared to significantly increase the chances of creating unreadable documents. Workarounds includes saving under different formats and removing history. I am counting my own problems as well as my closest coworkers.

As with Outlook's PSTs, there were no apparent cause for the corruption - it just happened.

I work at Microsoft on the Word team. If you have a problem with a Word document, shoot me an email (it's in my profile) and I'll see what I can do.

I no longer use Word (back to Linux and LO for work), but I'll keep an eye on the Windows and Mac coworkers and reach you if I hear anyone experiencing these kinds of problems. We also have a consultancy working on a large project with lots of documentation and specs being generated as Word documents with Excel, Project and Visio elements embedded. I'll get in touch with them as I suspect they are the most likely to be hit by problems like the ones I had.

As for the other projects and teams, we have significantly reduced the use of Project as we moved our tracking to Jira and use Confluence to keep almost all project artifacts. Despite the fact we still use Exchange for e-mail, I dropped desktop software and moved completely to OWA, with Evolution doing backups over IMAP into a local maildir rsynced to a durable datastore.

I agree. The FOSS office tools are simply not in the same class as Microsoft Office. Anyone who has worked extensively with Excel will acknowledge there really is no true competitor out there.

Frankly, I would go so far as to say that a Linux desktop OS is really only appropriate for enthusiasts or those with minimal needs (e.g. email). For just about anyone else, there is simply too much potential hassle involved in getting the basics to work (external displays, anyone?).

Frankly, I would say just the opposite. If your needs are minimal, go with windows. If you need more, linux is a good choice. You will never get a decent terminal in windows or good support for some programming languages (such as python).

You are right with Excel although. However, much of the "power" of Excel is really just needed because people are overusing it. Stop making "databases" out of Excel sheets and implement good data analytics system on the server and you'll see that libreoffice is more than enough.

Sorry, but LibreOffice (on OSX at least) has been horrendous for me. When scrolling, cells get repainted in adjacent cells, borders don't show up... There are so many display-related bugs that the entire program was rendered completely useless for me. It has nothing to do with making "databases" out of spreadsheets (I was only using 30 rows!), and everything to do with crappy, buggy interface code.

Never had this problems on linux. Actually I was pleased to have a decent csv support in libreOffice.

I did state that Linux was appropriate for enthusiasts as well as those with minimal needs.

The reason I feel Linux to be appropriate for novices with bare-minimal needs, is that when operating within very narrow constraints the most popular Linux distros are both efficient and safe. For basic functionality, the price can't be beat.

However, hassles really do begin to manifest themselves once users begin to really engage their PC in any number of ways. The vast majority of PC users fall into this category. In other words, they have non-minimal needs but are neither enthusiasts nor developers or otherwise employed in IT full time.

WiFi, external displays, software limitations (e.g. video editing) are only a small number of issues that can and will manifest themselves. For the vast majority of PC users, this constitutes an unacceptable hassle.

Enthusiasts, on the other hand, know what they need and how to fix the above if necessary. I personally think OSX is a superior choice. I value productivity, and don't consider (for instance) mucking around in xorgs to be a good use of my time. However, I respect and understand those who choose *Nix over OSX.

edit : Can one of those who felt this was worthy of downvotes explain what they felt was factually inaccurate?

I didn't downvote but I generally dislike these types of comments:

> The vast majority of PC users fall into this category.

This comes up all the time on HN. "The vast majority of users think X", "the vast majority of users live in Outlook", "the vast majority of users only need an iPad", etc. etc. The reality is that you have no idea what the vast "majority of users" want or need, you are projecting your own biases and micro-observations onto the world.

Actually I think we need to get over the idea that there is some 80+% of users who all need/want the exact same thing. Seems to me that there are probably a lot more categories out there than the black/white you're either a total novice or a power user world that is constantly constructed here.

FYI, I upvoted even though I disagree with much of what you've put.

A number of these issues that you mention are only present with a lack of planning. If you go out and buy a computer with the intention of running Linux on it, you plan and you pick a computer with good compatibility. With each release of popular distros such as Ubuntu, compatibility improves massively. My Dad's laptop used to have issues with WiFi a few years back, now it connects fine (faster than Windows too) in Ubuntu 10.10.

External displays? I've never had an issue with this and I'm actually typing this on a dual-monitor Linux setup. If you have an Nvidia graphics card then this should be fine. Again though, if you plan this isn't an issue.

Software limitations, granted. Just like for OS X, there are professional wine layers which offer Windows software on Linux. But sure, that's not perfect. There is quite a bit of good quality software (plus, obviously, web applications work fine) and especially for development work. But this is definitely an area that needs improving.

Personally I'm waiting on Canonical to release their own computer (or partner up with a hardware provider) for then there will be no issues with hardware compatibility or many of the problems you mention, for that is the reason they exist: attempting to run Linux on a device that was not designed specifically for it.

Just my $0.02 anyway.

I'd add that when you install a Linux distro (at least a good one like Ubuntu, OpenSuse, CentOS), you end up with a working environement with all your hardware recognized at once (except ATI issues). You just can't do the same with Windows. You have to download every part's driver and install them one by one before you got something working. Linux distros have come a long way and now they are simply amazingly easy to setup.

attempting to run Linux on a device that was not designed specifically for it.

Couldn't have put it better. Those who complain about how linux doesn't "just work" often overlook this point.

Personally though, I don't think Canonical coming up with their own computer isn't really going to help; I wish that there were a hardware vendor that designed really beautiful computers so that I could run linux on it (Currently, the best design is by Apple)

I think you'r missing out on another large group of users: Those in a large organization that need a defined set of features, often provided by a custom application under control of the given organization. Those users have well-defined requirements and do have an IT department backing them. Pretty much all of the administration falls into that category: They're not supposed to go wandering off changing config settings or downloading and installing software. They have a handfull of programs that they need, nowadays often server-based, and if those programs can be made to run on linux, they couldn't care less about the underlying OS.

You got downvoted because you included some traditional anti-Linux troll subjects with nothing to support those points.

> However, hassles really do begin to manifest themselves once users begin to really engage their PC in any number of ways. The vast majority of PC users fall into this category. In other words, they have non-minimal needs but are neither enthusiasts nor developers or otherwise employed in IT full time.

The vast majority of PC users do not fall into your category. They will be people who need to read email, do a little bit of simple web-browsing, create and open simple office documents (the vast majority of which would be fine with Libre-Office) and maybe run some awful accounts / stock / ordering software.

> WiFi, external displays, software limitations (e.g. video editing) are only a small number of issues that can and will manifest themselves. For the vast majority of PC users, this constitutes an unacceptable hassle.

WIFI is fixed in Linux and has been for a while, you don't want to run wifi in a business, and if you are using it anyway you'd have it set up by IT.

I'm not sure what you mean by external displays. If you mean dual monitors than very few people need two monitors, and those that do would have them set up by IT, and they'd work with whatever software being used. If you mean projectors then I have no idea what the Linux situation is. I accept it might be a problem, but that's a problem faced by a very small number of people.

A tiny number of people need to edit video. In the context of a local authority we can say that almost no one will be editing video.

OS X, in the context of local governments trying to save money, is - and I say this as politely as I can - a stupid suggestion. The hardware is much more expensive, is a lot more desirable to thieves, it has similar (or worse) dual monitor problems as you suggest above, it has similar (or worse) lack of software as you suggest above.

>> You got downvoted because you included some traditional anti-Linux troll subjects with nothing to support those points.

I only mentioned the items I have personally had issues with. If these are in fact "troll subjects", there's probably a good reason for it.

>> OS X, in the context of local governments trying to save money, is - and I say this as politely as I can - a stupid suggestion. The hardware is much more expensive, is a lot more desirable to thieves, it has similar (or worse) dual monitor problems as you suggest above, it has similar (or worse) lack of software as you suggest above.

Maybe you're upset because you are purposely mis-reading what I wrote. My choice of OSX over Linux specifically referred to enthusiasts, and had absolutely nothing to do with the Munich local government.

> Stop making "databases" out of Excel sheets and implement good data analytics system on the server

Note this is largely procedural. Employee can play with a spreadsheet 'for free', but a database requires finding budget for Business Analyst, DBA, Java Programmer, etc.

In many cases, Excel or Access functions as the prototyping tool for the ultimate real application.

Are you completely ignoring SharePoint integration with Office?

SharePoint is what happens when you force a paradigm (the idea of files) to the limit of good sense. Why do we need Excel sheets lying around in SharePoint? Why not just a decent web interface connected with the databases (external and internal)?

I just today discussed with my boss a proposal from some finance guys of a "dashboard" in power point that will take half day to be manually updated every month. Come on... nobody sees this is plain wrong?

Hang on...


SharePoint is a CMS mixed with Document Management Systems with a sprinkle of Workflows plus a platform for small (but limited features) web-apps.

Some companies chose SharePoint because of the features and the idea of avoiding "NIH" or writing web-apps from scratch.

I think this is where the "hackers" (or geeks, whatever, hackers aren't hackers anymore these days) mindset don't jelled well with internal IT systems: we all want to develop something from scratch the way we want it, the way we know, the way we hope it will be.

Once your users are asking features of Excel to be implemented in your web-apps that use Ext-JS GRID as front-end you'll know what you're signing for...(and at that point pulling a 37signals makes you look...let's just say less useful...)

What features of excel? I work with Excel everyday (I'm a finance, not a hacker) and I can't really see what features, besides filters and pivots, you may want to implement in an app. The best piece of software I worked with is "Hyperion", which great just because limits the "Excel power" so that nobody feels entitled to creativity every time there is report to do.

Didn't know of the web apps in SP, would like to see some examples although, don't trust it just yet...

Here's an example of a web-app (web-parts) built in SharePoint:


Sharepoint also does Workflow, good for companies that have red-tapes.

Not everybody have red-tapes but for some that do have them, Sharepoint is there to red-taped-taped you :D

Oh and excel in the browser: filters, pivots, formula, sorting, etc.

Also, Excel for data entry! (Excel to Sharepoint List).

Don't forget InfoPath forms to fill out expenses!

SharePoint also solves the problem (depending on how you look at it) with business people not wanting to use Subversion or version control system. It has "Check in" and "Check out" features.

At the end of the day, you can't replicate Sharepoint features with scrappy web-apps. I know it's enticing, but it's a very very super hard sell because the numbers don't add up.

I hear you and nice web app too, but basically you are telling me that Excel and SP are more cost effective than a good app made for the specifics of your needs.

I don't know, in finance at my company with put huge ammounts of man hours in crafting, correcting, dealing, with tons of excel files. There are analysts that spend most of the time putting data in Excel sheets from the data warehouse system and shipping in outlook or uploading on SP. Is this cost effective? I doubt it. It is also an horrible way of working, you have no programmatic/easy way of comparing data: start trying to understand where a certain variation from the forecast, from a certain account, came from out of 30+ entities. It just drives people mad.

I think that some way in the middle is the solution...

Personally I find that techies are the hardest to rip away from Office, as they can see all the little bugs, etc. Non-technical people seem to - somehow - overlook these.

I've introduced a number of people now to OpenOffice and they've much preferred it as it has given them back a somewhat familiar interface, after the widely-despised change to ribbon (a UI I actually prefer but it was a shock to many).

I agree that LibreOffice is not an equal to MS Office, but I wonder how many civil servants are doing a lot of original work in an office suite. Seems to me that most of what they would be doing is filling out forms and using other standard templates. Given a suite of working, debugged templates (which seems to be what the "WollMux" extension supplies) I'd be surprised if there'd be a lot of need to go outside that.

The layout issue is really an intrinsic problem with almost any word processor. Primarily because such programs are not made for page layout work. I've had just as many issues with transferring word files between various platforms ( win <-> mac). If you want your layout to be accurate, only transfer files in PDF with the fonts embedded or just create them in indesign or some other application that is actually designed for layout work.

Most civil servants use Excel more than Word, and I think that scalc is way easier to use than Excel, precisely because it doesn't try to be helpful. Excel has so many stupid rules about auto-correct and special paste that I just can't get what I need to done.

Word is still better than swriter, but not by a margin that I care about, and the fact that I have one-click PDF generation by default is a pretty killer feature, in my eyes.

I get layout screw-ups between versions of word, especially mac->win and vice versa.

This 'getting used to' phase also applies to the Microsoft ribbon[1]. And all the differences from NT-XP-Vista-7.

Moreover, it's more likely that the GUI can be forced to be stable on Linux, while the underlying system receives security updates, because of the separation of components.

[1] Right now, the keystrokes I know for Microsoft Excel still work, but they bear no relationship to the UI at all.

On a parallel anecdote. Installing Ubuntu on my parents PC sure did reduce the amount of assistance they needed from me with crashes and malware. I'd recommend it to anyone who needs to spend some time helping non-tech friends with computer problems :)

My parents use my old PC with Athlon 2000 and 512 MB RAM, I've instaled last Kubuntu with KDE 3.5 a few years ago, and never needed to touch it since then :)

The only problem so far is - once a year they need to use free windows-only application, that doesn't run in WINE, to calculate taxes. They just go to neighborns for a few hours.

My sister also has Kubuntu on her laptop, but she knows how to update it, so I don't know which version she runs now :)

If your relatives only use computer to browse web and write simple documents - linux requires less maintanance. At least that's my experience.

Interestingly, as more government entities adopt linux and foss in general, they have a lot more incentive to provide support for that. So maybe in a couple years these government-issued software will target linux distros.

In this case this isn't government-issued software. It's just some free(as in beer) software attached to law newspaper. They attach it each year with updated forms and formulas to calculate tax.

In Brazil, you can submit your tax return forms using applications that run on Windows, Linux and Macs. They probably run on anything with a J2SE runtime.

There's always VirtualBox for such things, but it might perhaps not run well enough on a slow, old PC.

That CPU doesn't have hardware virtualization. Emulating a PC with Windows would be very slow.

> The only problem so far is - once a year they need to use free windows-only application, that doesn't run in WINE, to calculate taxes. They just go to neighborns for a few hours.

If you're in the US, I've been using the web app tax software and it's been great. Nothing to install locally and my progress is always saved. Maybe not for you if you are in a complex tax situation, but if your life is simple doing it online is incredibly easy.

Just a random thought: as a German I have the impression that people here would be much too paranoid to do something like that over the internet, even with SSL.

The German variant is aptly called "Elster" and while it uses ssl it lacks authentication. I could file a bogus tax return for you if I know your tax number. It's also mandatory for businesses when you need to file a VAT statement. Oh, and last time I checked, the client software required windows - there's a less comfortable online version though.

You can file a bogus tax return for someone in the US just as easily. I'd be surprised if that weren't the case in most countries. I believe there have been occasional incidents of people doing so to collect other peoples' tax refunds, but I don't hear about it very often.

While tangential to the issue discussed here, one example of siphoning tax refunds http://www.cringely.com/2012/03/the-30-billion-hack/ (i think that was linked on HN last week)

VAT statements in Germany are a bit riskier though: If you give the Revenue Service permission to withdraw money and I file a VAT statement for you which shows a large income they'll just go and collect 20%. It's a bit an edge case but that's the reason I manually send the VAT collected each month. I'd feel much safer if the interface was authenticated in some way.

This mirrors my experience. I was really surprised with my parents reaction to Ubuntu. They found Unity easier to understand than Windows. It has opened up a whole new world to them. Before they barely touched the PC, now they email relatives on a regular basis and have switched over the using government and banking services online. As an added bonus I now rarely get calls for unpaid tech support.

Agree. I Installed Ubuntu to my girlsfrind and it was running 1 year without destruction. On the other hand I've taken away administration priviledges from my dads windows 7 and its holding pretty well ...

For my wife, I advised a move to Mac. She needed perfect MS Office compatibility for professional reasons and the computers are much prettier.

And much more expensive :-) and if you want 100% Office comapatability for work by a PC.

Could you show how a DELL or HP is much cheaper?

I did a calculation in 2006, comparing a Lenovo T60p to a MacBook Pro, it was roughly the same. Things did not change since then to my knowledge.


It isn't a matter of comparing like for like; that isn't the problem. The problem is that the single cheapest Mac laptop is $1000. If all you're doing is web and email, you may not need a Core i5 or SSD. You can get a PC laptop which is more than fast enough for Mom usage for less than half that price, especially if you put Ubuntu on it and don't have to run antivirus.

"It isn't a matter of comparing like for like; that isn't the problem."

Never heard that in a discussion. I thought it was all about comparing like to like. The OP didn't say "for reading emails". Especially as he gave the example of 100% Office compatibility (Office 2011?).

Or you could compare live time value. I've broken several Thinkpads in a small amount of time, my wife uses a MacBook for more than 5 years with the newest operating system and applications.

Or, if you need email, only use a phone. Or if you only surf the web, buy a tablet. Or if you only do small amounts of web and email, don't buy anything at all and go to a free library. It depends.

But the argument was that a Mac laptop is much more expensive than a PC laptop for working with Office. Which it is not to my knowledge.

If you don't need it, don't buy it - no argument there.

Is your premise that you need a Core i5 to use Office? That seems like a stretch. You can get Core i3 or AMD A-series laptops in the $500 range which are more than fast enough for Office and still half the price of any Mac laptop, e.g. this one:


I only can repeat myself. "If you don't need it, don't buy it - no argument there."

A PC of equivalent power and build quality has a roughly similar cost to a mac.

If you're willing to cut back on the quality and capabilities there are very cheap PC options, but no very cheap Mac options. For someone who just wants to browse the web and edit occasional documents there is a lot of cutting back that can be down.

And don't forget to factor in the anti-malware package, the extra gigabyte of memory it'll take, the beefier processor it will demand and the beefier battery you'll need to run the whole thing.

No. The Mac is cheaper in the end.

> and if you want 100% Office comapatability for work by a PC.

I also wanted her to be safe from viruses and malware. I think her time is well worth the price difference.

If you really want it, doesn't linux run windows applications in some compatibility mode? Wine?

Linux is definitely cheaper than Apple.

I did the same thing on my mothers laptop a couple of years ago, but switched back to Windows a few month later after far too many complaints of "I can't view this document/power point someone emailed me" and "people can't view the document/power point I e-mailed them".

Interesting... My mom seems perfectly happy with LibreOffice. I also set her up with Gmail, so she can view the PowerPoint files without launching LO.

The formatting itn't always preserved perfectly when going back and forth with presentations. Text moves or runs off the bottom of the slide, etc.

Also need to make sure to explain about file formats, or chances are pretty good that they'll try to send a LibreOffice file to a MS Office user.

Office can open Open Document types pretty much universally. More complex formatting is generally screwed up though, just as it is when opening MS types in LibreOffice.

Did Office 2003 get the ODF plugin pushed to it over Windows Update? It's on the oldish side, but there are still a lot of people using it.

I remember Office 2007's ODT support being rather poor, too. Most documents I tried to put through it only came through with minimal formatting preserved.

I didn't start using Linux (and therefore LibreOffice) until after I stopped using Office 2003 on any computers, so I don't know about its support for ODT.

2007 did do fairly poorly from what I remember as well. 2010 though is much better; I go back and forth between those fairly regularly. Fonts are obviously an issue, and complex formatting isn't quite right all of the time, but each suite seems to open most of the other's file types fairly well.

I imagine this is exactly how it would go down if I installed Linux on my parent's computers. I think the key here is administration (at least until Linux is supported by 3rd party consumer companies). You can't move a company to a different OS without great IT support.

Until they call up asking how to get netflix to work

I'd then buy my mom a more modern DVD player. Watching movies on the computer is not for my mom at least and her TV is 9 times larger than her current computer screen (sadly, her 21" Integraph started to misbehave after 15 years)

If they've got a monitor/TV that's compatible with a Roku, just spend the $60 for that.

They moved from Windows NT to Linux in 2006. No wonder it reduced complaints. I'd be far more interested in a migration from Win 7 or Win XP to Linux.

I think the main reason was independence from vendors - since they were based on NT and Microsoft just pulled the support - ouch!, not necessarily nicety or features of a desktop. The whole infrastructure was changed and not just some frontend.

Microsoft didn't "just pull support" from NT. The lifecycle was pretty well defined.

"Pulled support" may be a bit hyperbolic, still, microsofts announcement to EOL Windows NT was a major point in the decision making. There's an interesting detailed document here http://joinup.ec.europa.eu/software/studies/declaration-inde... that talks about this and other aspects of the Limux project.

> Until 2003, the city was using Microsoft Windows NT 4 across the board, and was by and large satisfied. When Microsoft decided to end the support for this operating system, this meant that hardware and important procedures would eventually stop working. “It was from this experience of being totally at the mercy of an external party that we wanted to take the road to more independence”, Schießl (ed. the deputy project manager) says.

So having seen the effect of a vendor lock-in, the conscious decision was made to move to an environment where vendor lock-in can be avoided. It may take considerable effort to support a linux distribution after its official EOL but it certainly can be done - unlike any other closed-source OS.

I can't find a reference right now, but in 2003-2006 there was a huge jump in license costs for Microsoft customers.

Have they actually saved anything when you take into account nearly a decade (so far) spent on doing this migration?

The Munich migration is pretty much the canonical example of how to botch a Linux migration.

The original document has the hard facts: Until 2011 they spent 11.7 Mio Euros on the migration and another 2.08 Mio Euros on workflow optimizations that they tackled at the same time. The calculated cost for a migration of the Windows NT environment to a newer windows version including support and the same workflow optimizations are at 15.52 Mio euros. That's a saving of 1.74 Mio Euros or roughly 11.2%. This is taking into account that most migration costs now have been paid, and savings will subsequently will rise. They also have anecdotical evidence that error rates and ongoing support costs have dropped. It's certainly anything but a canonical example for a botched project.

That's a saving of 11.2% comparing an actual cost to an estimated cost; if the estimated cost blew out (which seems to happen a lot in migrations) then the savings could be even bigger.

Yes. And 6 years (2006 the migration started) is far from "nearly a decade" if I can trust my math. The Munich migration has been attacked, downplayed, doomed for as long as it is running. The article here gives some hard data based on a reply to a request from the opposing political party in Munich that hoped to get some ammo to attack the migration. Instead they got well researched data that shows the opposite - so far they are absolutely in budget, saved 30-60% of costs (as planned), reduced support costs (as hoped) and created a side project called WollMux that tremendously helps in migrating the VB cruft and macro ridden templates that accumulated over the past 10-15 years into a reusable library of centralized functions.

They "deduplicated" a lot of redundant forms (one little example: The act of asking for PTO was implemented in 45(!) different forms depending where you work in Munich - now it is one single unified service for all) and by centralising stuff they can now do useful statistics that simply didn't exist before.

The focus on Open Standards starts saving a lot of time and money in the archives already.

(Disclaimer: I work for Red Hat, have been involved privately in the migration a bit since 2005)

Disclaimer: I'm not a programmer and have been a bystander in medium sized IT projects.

Does anyone think that large organisations will tend to move to Web-browser based business applications over the next few years?

If so, will that make it easier to switch the client device without major change in the central plumbing?

Does anyone think that large organisations will tend to move to Web-browser based business applications over the next few years?

Yes. We're upgrading (slowly but certainly) JDE and it gets rid of all the fat / skinny clients in favor of Web. Which has been the trend in ERP for a few years now.

I don't know if it's a good idea or not - people (coughmanagement*) seem to underestimate the amount of resources ops needs to maintain large farms of web servers in the enterprise.

On the other hand, for a few years I was responsible for a bar-code server, which had it's own client to install and that was a white-line nightmare, let me tell you. I don't miss it at all.

An accountants firm I was working for 7 years ago was moving that way. It started when they had to upgrade their time and fees software to being browser based. It was far from perfect, but it logically made so much sense. Once they thought about it, it seemed the logical way to go for everything, so they set it as a long term goal. Dunno how far they got, I packed in working at that time. (nothing to do with any of that)

My employer thinks that lots of people will switch to using remote `cloud-based' applications. Including web-browser based, but also using custom-clients. But then, they are in the business of selling those remote app software.

Even in small organisations, at least two projects I have now been involved with have been migrating legacy desktop applications to rich HTML/XUL websites. It's definitely where the smart money is in terms of accessibility.

Maybe interesting as well: Dave Richards is aggregated on planet.gnome.org with his work blog [1] about running the infrastructure of the city of Largo, Florida [2] (granted, far from the size of Munich). Time frame seems similar (since 2006) and his blog contains quite a bit of technical information about the challenges of running a city wide thin client network and the custom software they create for their users.

Its a fun read to learn about how many instances of Firefox you can run on a single machine at any given time as well..

1: http://davelargo.blogspot.com/

2: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Largo,_Florida

The article says it's based on Ubuntu, but the LiMux page linked by it says it's based on Debian (Sarge, no less, which is ancient nowadays).

Since LiMux 3, its Ubuntu.


They are now on 10.04.

Should be fun when they upgrade to 12.04. And I say that as one who quite likes Unity

Its not a standard Ubuntu. For example, they use KDE 3 :).

Well, they'll have to change that for 12.04 unless they compile their own!

Well, they do have an IT department with staff competent enough to make a linux migration. I guess they do have an appropriate rollout management to compile and deploy KDE without much hassle. I wouldn't worry about that.

I'm sure they do, but isn't KDE 3.5 obsolete? They would have to take on the maintenance and security updates themselves...

You don't have to use unity on ubuntu 12.04, for instance, I tend to use LXDE.

It would be interesting to measure the number of complaints that were based on experimentation due to users' familiarity with Windows. Since the LiMux environment is probably more restrictive, is it possible some folks just gave up on some features, e.g. "How do I attach my Excel doc to an email?" because there is no Excel, for example. It's great that they are saving the tax-payer , though.

For counter arguments there's some fascinating stuff at http://limuxwatch.blogspot.co.uk/ although it hasn't been updated for a while, so maybe they've finally succeeded?

Hardly the most reliable or even useful of sites.

1. Completely anonymous - who is this person who has dedicated a site just to this topic?

2. Clearly neither German or even speaks German (using Google translation!) - so, we can rule out an insider or even a user.

3. Railing on all topics relating to Linux for government use anywhere on the globe without giving reasons other than quoting other sources.

As I said, not reliable and someone clearly disgruntled with no independent information or expertise (technical or managerial).

"Watching the city of Munich fail to convert to Linux" At least they post their bias upfront.

Sounds like a disgruntled vendor.

Yeah, if you read that site you'll see that the Munich switch was really mismanaged and underestimated. This press release sounds more like pr spin then anything, since they we supposed to be done a very long time ago

If every large IT project would be regarded as failed because it was delivered late, the chances of a successfull project would approach zero.

My understanding is that Munich had a lot of issues which were orthogonal to Linux - decentralized support, lack of inventory, lack of standards. Of course, it didn't help that the original proponents were of an 'ideological' bent and perhaps bit off more than they could chew.

Either way, a 9 year IT project is really dismal.

There's some misunderstanding here. The migration did not take 9 years. The project itself started in 2003 but was put on hold in 2004 or 2005 due to the legal worries surrounding Linux and software patents. It was resumed after some decision of the European high court. Still, the first years up to 2006 were spent on evaluation and planning and political board games.

Measuring the success of an IT project in years is wrong in any case. Success is defined in meeting your goals at the required time. Munich is a little late and they have had their own share of issues and roadblocks, but all in all they met their goals. Considering that this was the first large scale migration of a city administration in germany, that's not dismal.

In 2003, Munich publicly gave the finger to Steve Ballmer himself and declared they were moving to Linux. If they really needed 3 years to think about it, perhaps their PR was all wrong, because all eyes were now on them as the Linux test case.

And perhaps you would work through this sort of multiyear migration plan, but I certainly wouldn't. From what I can tell the project was driven by feel-goodisms and not at all properly scoped.

The original decision was made in 2003, however if you know how german administrations work its not surprising that things took another year until the final go was given. This is in no way an uncommon time if you're dealing with any (german) administration - vendors need to be selected by a certain prescribed process, then vetted, contracts need to be made and approved. Then came legal issues which took more than a year to resolve. So all in all I'm not much surprised by the timeframe.

Added to that is the fact that the migration happened department by department in multiple steps, one done, next started. So yes, it's a multiyear plan and I do agree, I would not have planned and gone through that plan but calling it a failure because someone actually had the guts and vision and pulled it off is a bit far fetched.

Actually, the article is not based on a press release. The original document is a response of the cities administration to a question brought up in the cities council chamber. The question was brought up because Vienna obviously stopped its WieMux migration.

Linux? Seriously. A PDP-11 with ed is more than enough. Linux is overkill.

"[...] €2.08 million (£1.73 million) for optimisation and test management that ended up on the balance of the LiMux project [...]"

Does anyone know details of this? Any ideas on what type of "optimisation" was done?

Lived in Munich for a good while so I know some of it. Most of the optimization and test went on working with documents. They had a lot of excel/doc stuff which was programmed in VB so they had to migrate, reproduce and test them in OpenOffice ( well, now LibreOffice ). Rest went in intregration and desktop.

I recommend reading this: http://joinup.ec.europa.eu/software/studies/declaration-inde...

Replacing MS Office with Libre Office, especially based on comments so far seem to be not that great choice. People not calling support, it might be tu number of reasons. I bet if they did survey on what people think about impact on their work, they would get different results. I was thinking and Google Docs would probably be better choice as alternative to MS, however, this is just another provider ie. you don't get open source.

I am all for open source, and cities like Munich getting into it is welcome news, and will influence improvement in apps, however I suspect there is a lot of negativity pushed under the rug here.

The subheading of the linked article, "Monthly IT complaints dropped from 70 to a maximum of 4" is contradicted in the article text. The text of the article says that the "maximum number of complaints" per month dropped from 70 to 46, not 4.

(Also, the maximum number of complaints is irrelevant, but I guess complaining here about people not understanding statistics is pointless.)

Looks like a very-likely spelling mistake, someone probably just forgot to type the 6.

They should have called it Munix :P

I love Linux myself, and I have no doubt that they've saved money, but the following makes me a little concerned about how they are going about Service Management:

"Ude said it was impossible to be exact about the amount of complaints the help desk gets about LiMux, noting that most problems are a combination of several causes. The software is not always the problem, since often there are problems reaching a server, or Internet connections might be malfunctioning."

My concern here is that they aren't logging incidents via some sort of appropriate iTSM framework (MOF, ITILv3, etc.) Even the most basic Incident Management setups would allow them to perform basic analysis of the incident data to work out where there issues are coming from.

I'm afraid I just don't buy the argument that it's impossible to know for certain where the city's problems are coming from :(

I'm speculating a little here, but there might be legal restrictions keeping them from reaching that goal. The basic argument is that any tool that may be used to track work performance (such as a tool tracking user errors) may be abused to control the employees work and thus may need union approval. I've run into this issue multiple times when doing work for government or government-like institutions in germany, once in pretty much the same constellation: A tool for defect tracking in IT was shot down because the union was afraid that it might be used to single out low-performing employees by tracking their computer problems. (sounds silly, I agree, but we're talking germany and we do have our own standards of sillyness.)

It seems to me that some Microsoft (and maybe Apple) marketing people are hard at work at every discussion about this topic, even here.

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