In a notable U-turn for the city, newly elected politicians in Munich have decided that its administration needs to use open-source software, instead of proprietary products like Microsoft Office.
“Where it is technologically and financially possible, the city will put emphasis on open standards and free open-source licensed software,” a new coalition agreement negotiated between the recently elected Green party and the Social Democrats says.
The agreement was finalized Sunday and the parties will be in power until 2026. “We will adhere to the principle of ‘public money, public code’. That means that as long as there is no confidential or personal data involved, the source code of the city’s software will also be made public,” the agreement states.
The decision is being hailed as a victory by advocates of free software, who see this as a better option economically, politically, and in terms of administrative transparency.
However, the decision by the new coalition administration in Germany’s third largest and one of its wealthiest cities is just the latest twist in a saga that began over 15 years ago in 2003, spurred by Microsoft’s plans to end support for Windows NT 4.0.
Because the city needed to find a replacement for aging Microsoft Windows workstations, Munich eventually began the move away from proprietary software at the end of 2006.
At the time, the migration was seen as an ambitious, pioneering project for open software in Europe. It involved open-standard formats, vendor-neutral software and the creation of a unique desktop infrastructure based on Linux code named ‘LiMux’ – a combination of Linux and Munich.
By 2013, 80% of desktops in the city’s administration were meant to be running LiMux software. In reality, the council continued to run the two systems – Microsoft and LiMux – side by side for several years to deal with compatibility issues.
As the result of a change in the city’s government, a controversial decision was made in 2017 to leave LiMux and move back to Microsoft by 2020. At the time, critics of the decision blamed the mayor and deputy mayor and cast a suspicious eye on the US software giant’s decision to move its headquarters to Munich.
In interviews, a former Munich mayor, under whose administration the LiMux program began, has been candid about the efforts Microsoft went to to retain their contract with the city.
“We’re very happy that they’re taking on the points in the ‘Public Money, Public Code’ campaign we started two and a half years ago,” Alex Sander, EU public policy manager at the Berlin-based Free Software Foundation Europe, tells ZDNet. But it’s also important to note that this is just a statement in a coalition agreement outlining future plans, he says.
“Nothing will change from one day to the next, and we wouldn’t expect it to,” Sander continued, noting that the city would also be waiting for ongoing software contracts to expire. “But the next time there is a new contract, we believe it should involve free software.”
Any such step-by-step transition can be expected to take years. But it is also possible that Munich will be able to move faster than most because they are not starting from zero, Sander noted. It can be assumed that some LiMux software is still in use and that some of the staff there would have used it before.