image The city of Munich (where I live) wanted to move 14,000 computers to Linux. Vienna, which is just a stone’s throw away from Munich, has 30,000 PCs. They never planned to move all their computers to Linux though. Their departments are free to choose which OS they want. There was a lot of stir in the media when these cities announced the move to Linux some years ago. Now Vienna has just decided to install Vista on 750 machines. As far as I understand from the news (German) I have read about it, these machines were already running Linux. The reason for the change is that the city needs a language test program for kindergartens which isn’t available for Linux.

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Vienna just moved 1,000 PCs to Linux. Munich was a bit more ambitious, but they also have only managed to roll out 1,000 Linux machines so far. Considering that they made this decision five years ago, this is kind of disappointing in my view. If you only count the working days, then this corresponds to about 1 Linux installation per day. If they continue at this pace, they will be able to finish the project in 65 years. Okay, maybe they won’t, but their grandchildren might have a fair chance of finishing it.

Yeah, I know, such a large project needs a lot of advance planning. However, in Munich there are 12 independent departments which are supposed to manage this transition. This means that each department has only approximately 1,000 PCs, which makes the task much easier.

I suppose, how you perceive the progress they made in Munich depends on your personal attitude about Linux. Glyn Moody from Computerworld UK seems to think that this project is a success. Perhaps, I see this a bit differently because this transition is financed with my taxes.

The reason why I think that both projects will fail is very simple. If you want to manage such a large number of Linux boxes, you also need a large number of Linux geeks. The problem is that those guys are needed in large computer centers and their number is growing faster than ever. This means that you only can get Linux experts if you are willing to pay a high salary. Since I work for the government, I know very well how much they can pay them. And since I also live in Munich, I know how difficult it is to get Linux professionals here. I think, the situation in Vienna is more or less the same.

Both cities wanted to move to Linux to be independent from Microsoft. They just exchanged this dependency for another one, one that is far more expensive. But who knows, maybe in two generations it will be easier to find Linux geeks. It is just a pity that chances are low that I will live long enough to see these projects finished.

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Just for the record, I like Linux. We have a couple of Linux servers in my department and they are doing their job just fine. But Linux on the desktop is just too expensive. If I had an emotional problem with Microsoft (which I can understand), I would prefer to move to OS X. At least, it is cheaper than Linux.

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6 Comments
  1. Lukas Beeler 13 years ago

    I see your point, but i'm not sure if i entirely agree.

    For an environment of that size, you'll need very good professionals, no matter what OS you're using. Yep, Microsoft professionals might be cheaper because the supply/demand ratio is higher than on the Linux side - but you'll still need them.

    And there are a lot of people in both environments without much of a clue. They're dangerous, but the danger is the same on both side.

    One other thing that i'd like to see mentioned:

    Linux environments are more development heavy than Microsoft. If you want to setup central authentication on Windows, you use Active Directory. Every Windows professional knows AD and how it works.

    On the Linux side, this is a bit different. You will probably go the LDAP route, but what kind of Schema will you use? How do you replicate your LDAP servers? etc.

    For a big corporation this might be better because it allows the infrastructure to be developed exactly to business needs, but it also isn't as "proven" as the standardized AD way.

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  2. Christoph 13 years ago

    Sometimes it is not about money. It's about freedom and the right to choose what OS and software we use in our daily life. We, the people of munich will continue our noble fight to secure a propserous long term future for the industry. Do not ask what TvöD can do for you, ask what you can do for TvöD!

    And yes, it's shitty paid 🙂

    Despite that I rather see this as a "let's see if we can do this and how it turns out"-projekt.

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  3. Lukas, my point was just that Linux admins are too expensive for the public sector. They are not only expensive because there is a high demand but because you need more of them for the same number of desktop PCs. Your comparison of Active Directory with OpenLDAP is a good example. When it comes to managing a large number of desktop PCs, the Windows ecosystem has countless highly sophisticated tools to offer which Linux mostly lacks. So Linux admins have to write scripts more often than Windows admins to get the job done and this is very time consuming and therefore very expensive.

    Christoph, “Do not ask what TvöD can do for you, ask what you can do for TvöD!” This will be my favorite quote for the rest of this year. 😀
    I think it is not just that they wanted to see if they can move to Linux. Their main motivation was to put Microsoft in their place. In Munich, the whole thing started when Microsoft ended its support for Windows NT. They were outraged that Microsoft dared to push them to Windows XP. Thus I think this decision was mostly based on emotional rather than technical reasons.

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  4. Ingmar 12 years ago

    I'd have to agree with Michael. Personally, I think it boils down to a few key issues that prevent Linux from gaining a foot-hold in organizations.

    In this particular example, Vienna, they couldn't finish their migration because of a software program that is not available for Linux. So the Linux platform is clearly lacking developers - despite the countless open-source projects that are available at Sourceforge. Microsoft invested into its developer community very early on, and the MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) is a really very good resource for developers. Nothing comparable exists on Linux, and finding information can be quite difficult. If Linux wants to attract developers, then somebody needs to come up with a resource that is comparable to the MSDN. IBM comes to my mind - they already sponsor Eclipse and certainly have the resources and motivation. Yeah, there are thousands of developers that develop for Linux, but they are mostly developing for the kernel, libraries and system software. For the average developer, Windows still seems to be the platform of choice.

    Note 🙂 : I like Linux and have used it since ~2000 - dating back to somewhere around RedHat 5 or so. Windows has been my primary platform over the last few years though, with increasing focus on Linux/BSD/OSX as of recent as we start porting our product to Linux.

    Anyway. Price is another issue. Yes, Linux is free - theoretically. But most companies that use Linux end up buying support contracts from RedHat, SuSe, etc., and if you look at the prices of those, you'll quickly see that it ends up costing the same as Windows - if not more. I'm not taking Office into consideration which could change that balance, but don't forget that Microsoft is giving significant discounts to universities and schools, so the price of Windows is often *significantly* lower than what a corporation would have to pay.

    Stability is not so much an issue anymore either. I remember the Windows NT 4 days very well, when IIS 4 had more holes than swiss cheese. But they have evolved - at least on the server side - and I consider Windows Server a very stable platform. It's also very cohesive, and includes a wealth of services (AD, DNS, Group Policy, Software Distribution, WSUS, Performance Monitoring) by default. Furthermore, all these services can be configured from the command line, with a GUI, or accessed through well-documented APIs. You simply can't do all this with Linux unless you spend a significant amount of time setting it up. Even then, you have separate products, probably with separate interfaces.

    The fact that there are so many Linux distributions available is an advantage considering the many choices, but for the user - especially a new user coming from the Windows world - it can be confusing. With Windows you have Server 2008 with a few different versions that are very similar. It's truly amazing that the distributions figured out how to make all those different software packages work well together. Vista is a whole different story of course, and the many different editions Microsoft is offering are not well perceived in the community as we all know. XP was fine: Home + Professional - they should really go back to that. But anyways.

    There is no question that the Linux kernel is a stable, rock-solid foundation. But the fact that so many components are involved, so many different vendors, makes it difficult to attract developers and sysadmins. The people that use Linux are a whole different crowd than those that use Windows.

    I'm looking forward to the day when Linux will be more prevalent in organizations, and give Microsoft a run for its money. Microsoft is not destined to dominate the market forever, and the recent years have shown that it's somewhat dropped the ball on the desktop front. The latest IE 8 is an inferior browser to Safari and Firefox, and Vista is more or less a failure that even I can attest to. But Apple should not be dismissed either - they conquered the entertainment front with iPods, and are using that as a base to get home users and college users converted to OS X. And it's working. Before you know it, they're going to provide services similar to Windows's AD, and assuming they'll do it right, customers will switch over. They're definitely bridging the gap between Linux and Windows - positioned somewhere in the middle despite being a hardware monopoly.

    To me, initiatives like the LSB are extremely important, and more attention needs to be paid to that. If Linux makes it easier for developers and sysadmins, then half the battle will be won. If not, then Vienna will just repeat itself over and over, because some ABC app will just not run on Linux. The Kernel, X.org and Gnome/KDE are just not enough.

    That's my opinion anyways, and I really should be working 🙂

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  5. Ingmar, thanks for sharing opinion. I agree with everything except the part about Vista. 😉 But there is no doubt that Vista is a failure in the public opinion. What is interesting is that it doesn't really matter. What counts are not the capabilities of the operating system but the capabilities of the whole ecosystem. Many organizations simply can't move to another OS no matter how much they want. This is what we see now in Vienna and Munich. Even if the next two or three Windows versions would be a failure it wouldn't change much. The Windows ecosystem is so big that it would take decades for a competing OS to catch up.

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  6. Arnim Sauerbier 12 years ago

    "The reason for the change is that the city needs a language test program for kindergartens which isn’t available for Linux."(!)

    One could hardly imagine a more loathsome and pithy example for the arbitrary and capicrious means whereby pompous and pampered State bureaucrats throw into the void the money which WE in the private sector work so hard to earn -- by serving the REAL wants and needs of other people, expressed by their voluntary purchase of our goods and services.

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