German government develops open source guidelines

Germany’s Federal Ministry of the Interior is developing a list of guidelines for federal, state and local governments as well as other public sector agencies interested in migrating their computer systems to open source software, including the Linux operating system.

The new guidelines, based on several open source pilot projects, will present various steps and measures that ministry IT experts view as essential for open source software to be deployed successfully in the public sector, said Interior Minister Otto Schily, Monday in a prepared statement delivered at a conference in Leipzig, Germany.

The guidelines will help IT managers in the public sector decide, first of all, whether to continue with their current commercial software licensing agreements or use both commercial and open source software, or whether it makes more sense, both economically and technically, to abandon their commercial licensing agreements altogether and migrate fully to open source products, he said.

To provide greater flexibility in the choice of software in public administrations, the Ministry of the Interior struck a new licensing deal with Microsoft Corp. in April, allowing public sector IT managers to license the U.S. software company’s products not only at favorable conditions but also without having to commit themselves to using only Microsoft products, Schily said.

The deal came just weeks after Microsoft Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Steve Ballmer paid a visit to government officials in Germany.

Microsoft has been scrambling to find ways to retain huge public sector software contracts in Germany ever since the government, in an effort to lower costs and increase security, agreed last year to a partnership with IBM Corp. for the delivery of computers with the open-source Linux operating system to federal, state and local governments.

Last month, Microsoft was dealt a blow when the Munich city government, after several months of intensive research and debate, decided to migrate its entire computer network to Linux, dropping Microsoft’s Windows system in the process. Munich, Germany’s third largest city, will equip all of the 14,000 computers in its public administration with Linux and other open source office applications, in a move that could encourage other big German cities to follow suit.