Triumph and disaster: Two migrations to OpenOffice

Two cities dumped Microsoft Office for OpenOffice, with vastly different results. Here's what went right -- and terribly wrong

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Investing in empowerment
By contrast, the city of Munich's migration was all in, full on, and nonoptional. The city switched to Linux desktops as well as to It hired staff to work in the open source community, developing features and fixing bugs. The government invested in software, helping develop the comprehensive WollMux tool to manage its usage, as well as the LiMux platform. Administrators stayed up-to-date, switching to LibreOffice once it was obvious it was the vendor-supported and active forward path for the productivity suite. The crew engaged expert vendors to improve the open source software for them. As well as investing in IT and technology, Munich's workers invested in the user community, hiring staff to manage communications inside and outside the organization too.

If your primary assumption is that an open source migration saves money, this sounds crazy. Why spend so much money and effort? The reason is Microsoft's desktop environment is largely immune to drop-in replacement. Switching away involves breaking the lock-in and changing the software. This is the big lie of "interoperability." Any time you see that word in the context of a software migration, you can be sure that someone somewhere wants you to believe you can switch suppliers without breaking the lock-in.

Munich realized the importance of open source software came from empowerment rather than license price. Yes, it saved $13 million, with more cash likely to come. But to do so involved using software freedom to break the lock-in holding back the city. Achieving this was a long-term strategy, one that involved learning and course corrections. It also involved investment -- in software, in community, in engagement.

As Munich frees itself from vendor control over its IT architecture, it is increasingly able to prioritize its own decisions and gain greater control over software budgets, eliminating the worry over arbitrary price rises or non-negotiable fees. But that doesn't mean no spending; value always costs money. Freiburg tried to save money in the short term without breaking the lock-in and failed. Munich invested in open source empowerment and created a long-term strategy to break the lock-in. Now it's sitting pretty.

This article, "Triumph and disaster: Two migrations to OpenOffice," was originally published Read more of the Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments inopen source at For the latest business technology news, on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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