Battle for open source hots up in Berlin

The Berlin city government has been accused of lacking a coherent IT strategy and not being in a position to adequately judge the merits of open-source software.

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The Berlin city government has been accused of lacking a coherent IT strategy and not being in a position to adequately judge the merits of open-source software.

City government officials have responded to several requests for information by the Green Party about the city's IT strategy, software licensing agreements and knowledge of open-source software, following a decision earlier this year not to migrate all its computers to open source, Olaf Reimann, responsible for IT issues in the Berlin wing of the Green Party, said in an e-mail.

The responses show that city government has no way of collecting the data it needs to craft an effective IT strategy and form an accurate opinion on open source, according to Reimann.

"They are nothing but air bubbles since none of the information published by the city is based on exact data," he said. "The inefficiency of IT directors in the city government is costing Berlin millions of euros, which could be more effectively used in a targeted migration to open source."

In its defense, the Berlin city government has acknowledged insufficient data in some areas of its IT activities but pointed to efforts to gather more, particularly in the area of open source.

At a hearing in May, the city government rejected demands by the Green Party to migrate computers in the German capital to free open-source software, and follow in the footsteps of cities like Munich.

City officials reiterated their preference for using a mix of open-source and proprietary software products, for economic and performance reasons, and pointed to issues with the city's public tender policy about mandating a full migration to any one software platform.

According to a study on the use of open-source software in Berlin's public sector commissioned by the Green Party, the city could reduce IT costs by more than 50 percent if it migrated to open-source software. Berlin, which has nearly 60,000 computers, spends around €250m (£168m) per year on IT.

The study also pointed to economic benefits of not being tied into Microsoft's licensing policies and software upgrade strategy.

Ironically, the clash is Berlin comes as the federal government, located in the same city, continues to promote the use of open standards and open-source software in the public sector.

In May, Uwe Küster, parliamentarian head of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the federal government, announced plans to submit a draft bill that will mandate open standards in all future IT public tenders. Küster linked open standards to open source and pointed to the economic benefits of using open-source applications, such as OpenOffice, in the public sector.

In 2002, the German Federal Ministry of the Interior and IBM Deutschland signed a deal that allows public sector groups to receive discounts on IBM computers pre-installed with the open-source Linux operating system.

The federal government has since developed guidelines for the public sector to migrate computer systems to open-source software. The new guidelines, based on several open-source projects, present various steps and measures that ministry IT experts view as essential for open-source software to be deployed successfully in the public sector.

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