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German city dumping OpenOffice for Microsoft

Freiburg city council called 'clueless'

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The city council of Freiburg, Germany has voted to switch the city's productivity software from OpenOffice to Microsoft Office, reversing an open source software policy that has been in place since 2007.

In a move that angered local open source advocates, including council members from the Green and Pirate Parties, the council voted 25 to 20 in favor of standardizing the city's desktops on Microsoft Office 2010, with two abstentions.

"Here was an opportunity missed to strengthen local economies and business while playing a pioneering role in free software," the Freiburg wing of the Pirate Party said in a (robo-translated) press release, calling the council "clueless."

Although Freiburg had been using the open source OpenOffice suite for the past five years, complaints about the software had been mounting, as ITworld reported last Thursday. Users had trouble maintaining document formatting between the OpenOffice applications and Microsoft Office, and OpenOffice's spreadsheet and presentation programs were said to be "underperforming."

But in its press release, the Pirate Party characterized the vote to return to Microsoft as a foregone conclusion, arguing that many council members lacked the technical expertise to understand the issues in the matter and should therefore have abstained from the vote.

Freiburg's transition to open source software was certainly not without its technical problems. Most glaringly, city employees have been stuck using an outdated version of the software, OpenOffice 3.2.1, which is no longer being maintained by its developers.

Future development of the suite is currently split between the LibreOffice project and Apache OpenOffice, each of which is based on a more mature version of the OpenOffice code base than the one Freiburg is using.

What's more, because of the problems involved in integrating OpenOffice with other IT systems, many Freiburg employees have been using the open source suite side-by-side with the even more antiquated Microsoft Office 2000.

As a result of Tuesday's vote, the city will jettison both packages in favor of deploying Office 2010 as the standard suite for all of its employees.

It's not yet clear how the city plans to license the Microsoft software – or whether its license will allow it to upgrade to Office 2013, which is due in the first quarter of next year – but according to the Pirate Party, license costs alone are expected to reach €600,000. In addition, it said, the city council failed to even consider the training costs associated with the upgrade.

Those are all funds that could have been invested in maintaining Freiburg's commitment to open standards, the Pirate Party argued, including upgrading to LibreOffice and training those users who were more accustomed to Microsoft Office to make better use of the suite.

The council, on the other hand, held that Freiburg's IT needs were typical of other German cities, the majority of which have yet to undertake the move to open source. Although OpenOffice is more popular in Germany than in many other countries, a 2010 study found that only 21 per cent of Germans had OpenOffice installed, compared to 72 per cent for Microsoft Office.

Assuming its budget for the switch is approved, Freiburg's transition to Microsoft Office could begin as soon as the middle of 2013. ®

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