German state gov. ditching Windows for Linux, 30K workers migrating

Mike Powers

German state gov. ditching Windows for Linux, 30K workers migrating

Schleswig-Holstein, one of Germany’s 16 states, on Wednesday confirmed plans to move tens of thousands of systems from Microsoft Windows to Linux. The announcement follows previously established plans to migrate the state government off Microsoft Office in favor of open source LibreOffice.

As spotted by The Document Foundation, the government has apparently finished its pilot run of LibreOffice and is now announcing plans to expand to more open source offerings.

In 2021, the state government announced plans to move 25,000 computers to LibreOffice by 2026. At the time, Schleswig-Holstein said it had already been testing LibreOffice for two years.

As announced on Minister-President Daniel Gunther’s webpage this week, the state government confirmed that it’s moving all systems to the Linux operating system (OS), too. Per a website-provided translation:

With the cabinet decision, the state government has made the concrete beginning of the switch away from proprietary software and towards free, open-source systems and digitally sovereign IT workplaces for the state administration’s approximately 30,000 employees.

The state government is offering a training program that it said it will update as necessary.

Regarding LibreOffice, the government maintains the possibility that some jobs may use software so specialized that they won’t be able to move to open source software.

In 2021, Jan Philipp Albrecht, then-minister for Energy, Agriculture, the Environment, Nature, and Digitalization of Schleswig-Holstein, discussed interest in moving the state government off of Windows.

“Due to the high hardware requirements of Windows 11, we would have a problem with older computers. With Linux we don’t have that,” Albrecht told Heise magazine, per a Google translation.

This week’s announcement also said that the Schleswig-Holstein government will ditch Microsoft Sharepoint and Exchange/Outlook in favor of open source offerings Nextcloud and Open-Xchange, and Mozilla Thunderbird in conjunction with the Univention active directory connector.

Schleswig-Holstein is also developing an open source directory service to replace Microsoft’s Active Directory and an open source telephony offering.

Digital sovereignty dreams

Explaining the decision, the Schleswig-Holstein government’s announcement named enhanced IT security, cost efficiencies, and collaboration between different systems as its perceived benefits of switching to open source software.

Further, the government is pushing the idea of digital sovereignty, with Schleswig-Holstein Digitalization Minister Dirk Schrödter quoted in the announcement as comparing the concept’s value to that of energy sovereignty. The announcement also quoted Schrödter as saying that digital sovereignty isn’t achievable “with the current standard IT workplace products.”

Schrödter pointed to the state government’s growing reliance on cloud services and said that with related proprietary software, users have no influence on data flow and whether that data makes its way to other countries.

Schrödter also claimed that the move would help with the state’s budget by diverting money from licensing fees to “real programming services from our domestic digital economy” that could also create local jobs.

In 2021, Albrecht said the state was reaching its limits with proprietary software contracts because “license fees have continued to rise in recent years,” per Google’s translation.

“Secondly, regarding our goals for the digitalization of administration, open source simply offers us more flexibility,” he added.

At the time, Albrecht claimed that 90 percent of video conferences in the state government ran on the open source program Jitsi, which was advantageous during the COVID-19 pandemic because the state was able to quickly increase video conferencing capacity.

Additionally, he said that because the school portal was based on (unnamed) open source software, “we can design the interface flexibly and combine services the way we want.”

There are numerous other examples globally of government entities switching to Linux in favor of open source technology. Federal governments with particular interest in avoiding US-based technologies, including North Korea and China, are some examples. The South Korean government has also shared plans to move to Linux by 2026, and the city of Barcelona shared migration plans in 2018.

But some government bodies that have made the move regretted it and ended up crawling back to Windows. Vienna released the Debian-based distribution WIENUX in 2005 but gave up on migration by 2009.

In 2003, Munich announced it would be moving some 14,000 PCs off Windows and to Linux. In 2013, the LiMux project finished, but high associated costs and user dissatisfaction resulted in Munich announcing in 2017 that it would spend the next three years reverting back to Windows.

Albrecht in 2021 addressed this failure when speaking to Heise, saying, per Google’s translation:

The main problem there was that the employees weren’t sufficiently involved. We do that better. We are planning long transition phases with parallel use. And we are introducing open source step by step where the departments are ready for it. This also creates the reason for further rollout because people see that it works.

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