Migration to open source software of the German Monopolies Commission

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Last update: 24/10/2019

After the success of open source software in the server market, the migration of the German Monopolies Commission to open source software has acted as a reference project for the use of open source software on client environments. In the following case study, the motivation behind the migration will be elaborated upon and the relative advantages and disadvantages resulting from the shift to open source applications will be discussed from the user’s point of view.

Introduction

The initiative to evaluate the use of open source software in federal administrations was started on the grounds of the decision of the German Federal Minister. Following this decision, the office of the German Monopolies Commission migrated within 3 months in 2002 to open source software. The commission expected, in particular, positive security effects (less vulnerability to virus and hacker attacks) and lower license costs. 

Case and Migration process

Before the migration, clients and servers were equipped with proprietary software applications. The applications they used are generally in the field of word processing, spread sheets, communication, sharing of information through the internet as well as database applications and file organisation.
The migration to open source was led by external experts. Due to the lack of open source knowledge, employees of the Monopolies Commission were not involved in leading the project. In-depth preparation for the migration made sure that daily work processes were not affected considerably.
Employees obtained training adapted to their fields of applications. Generally the focus of training was based on an introduction of the office application “Staroffice”. External support was also provided after the migration process to compensate for the insufficient open source expertise and to supervise the employees.

Field of application

The following list shows the main proprietary applications that were used before the shift, as well as the open source software derivatives that replaced these applications. The resulting advantages and disadvantages of open source software from the user’s point of view are also included.

Function Proprietary applications before the migration Open source applications after the migration
Window manager Microsoft Windows 2000 Desktop Ice Desktop
+ possibility to use more than one desktop layer
- less user friendly in comparison to Windows 2000
- complicated desktop personalisation
   
Word processing  Microsoft Word Star Office(based on Open Office)
+ direct PDF - export function
- long loading time
- less functions
- incompatibility of macros
- limited format conversion
- formatting limitation
- limited language tools (e.g. spell aid)
   
PDF - creation Adobe Acrobat GNU Ghostscript via Star Office
- less adjustment possibilities
- less user friendly handling
   
E-mail  Microsoft Outlook Stylepheed, Mozilla
No important advantages or disadvantages that speak in favour of  the use of one application    
HTML - Browser Microsoft Internet Explorer Galeon, Mozilla
+ Bookmark organization
- Printing problems
   
File search  Windows search assistant  Gnome Midnight Commander
- less search functions
- less user friendly handling
   
Databases MS Access PostgreSQL, Perl, PgAccess, Star Office, php PgAdmin
Migration to open source could not be realised due to quality of the open source software.    
Image editing Imaging for Windows, Adobe Photoshop LE Gimp, Image Magick
- Printing problems    

 

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Overall impression of the migration

The main impression is that the shift to open source software shows numerous problems that appear in daily use. Users complained about a less user-friendly design and limited functionality in comparison with the proprietary equivalent. Compatibility problems complicate the exchange of files with external institutions that work with proprietary formats and software, although it should be noted that compatibility problems are due to the lack of adequate support for open standards in the proprietary software applications being used. Users perceived that the lack of user friendly aspects increased the time spent to execute the required tasks. Due to the limited open source knowledge of the users from the Monopolies Commission, external support and extended training was needed. However, such training is mainly important at the initial stages and becomes less necessary as users familiarise themselves with the new software environment. Positive effects of the migration were an increased system security and increased server stability as well as some application specific advantages such as the multiple desktop layer feature of Ice Desktop.
After the event, the migration team came to the conclusion that better integration of the employees in the migration process would result in higher productivity and higher user satisfaction. The role of the users was limited to testing and error reporting. Also, numerous initiation difficulties and problems could have been prevented.

Evaluation

This case of migration shows that integration of user involvement, especially at the early stages, a policy of actively disseminating information, and individual training are important. It is import to have discussions and knowledge sharing to convince migration opponents. Moreover, it is important to build up the knowledge of the in-house IT administrators in order to reduce dependence on external persons.

References
German Monopolies Commission
Open Source Jahrbuch 2004
Open Source Software am Büroarbeitsplatz: Erfahrungen der Endanwender aus der Migration der Geschäftsstelle der Monopolkommission - Kerstin Terhoeven; P.59

Paper Versions of this Case Study
German Monopolies Commission Migration to OSS (PDF)
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Open source case study

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