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European Commission publishes its guide to OSS migration

Highly detailed how-to and why-to

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The European Commission has published a detailed guide to open source migration, with the objectives of helping administrators decide whether a migration makes sense in the first place, then giving them an overview of the the procedure and a better understanding of the nuts and bolts involved. The publication of the guide is a major achievement for UK consultancy netproject, a veteran of numerous such deployments (particularly in the public sector), and is very much in line with the outfit's own thinking on the subject.

Which is no bad thing, given that netproject's thinking is generally pretty sensible, and tends to be based on real world deployments rather than theory. As the guide notes, there is a dearth of public domain case study material on open source migration that is sufficiently detailed to have any real validity, and therefore the guide has leaned heavily on netproject's own experience. The Commission is at the moment working to change this by collating data on open source projects in Europe, but in the meantime the alternative would have been to produce heavily theoretical and generalised material - much talking, little walking. And we think maybe open source gets quite enough of that already.

Eddie Bleasdale of netproject told The Register that the basic procedure boils down methodically going through applications and groups of users, sorting them into the various categories that need to be dealt with. So if there's an open source equivalent of a Windows applications, the procedure is relatively straightforward, although the guide stresses the importance of dealing with macros and ensuring that data is dealt with and presented correctly, as opposed to 'similarly', or 'approximately.' In cases where there is no equivalent to a critical application, then running the Windows one on a server is a likely possibility, and so on. The guide provides a great deal more detail than is generally the case for such documents, so could easily form the basis of a series of checklists for actual deployments, and perhaps you could describe it as as much an instruction manual as a guide, which is surely A Good Thing.

Nor does it shirk issues - it notes that at the server end "OSS is well understood and is extensively deployed", but that "OSS on the desktop for most organisations offers the largest cost savings." This far more complex task is beginning to attract organisations, so while it's harder to address, it's right that the guide addresses it. It also lists among the usual pre-migration recommendations (e.g. have a clear understanding of the reasons for migration and start with non-critical systems) "make sure there is a champion for change - the higher up the organisation the better", "build up expertise and relationships with the OSS movement", and "ensure that there is active support for the change from IT staff and users." That's real life experience from the school of hard knocks talking, and not necessarily something you'll hear as a matter of course from IBM Global Services. Nor indeed is:

"OSS is a disruptive technology. It enables a fundamental change in the way organisations provide IT services. It is a move away from a product to a service based industry... However if your attitude to IT is 'Who do I sue when things go wrong?' then perhaps OSS is not for you. An understanding of the dynamics of the OSS movement is necessary. Knowing how to relate to the OSS community is advisable."

The guide itself is validated against the migration to OSS of the Schwerin Court of Auditors in Mecklenberg Vorpommern, and was written in conjunction with the Commission's IDA (Interchange of Data between Administrators) programme and several member states. It's intended to be updated with new chapters and when necessary, and looks like becoming essential reading for would-be migrants. ®

Related links:
IDA announcement
The guide
Brussels to spend ?250k on Linux migration studys
Secure Linux desktop begins shipping to UK police force

Reducing security risks from open source software

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