The municipality of Rianxo is one of those European public services that deserves to make the headlines because almost everything is done using free and open source software. For other public services, the transition to open source should now be easier than ever, says the town’s pioneering IT administrator.
Rianxo is a municipality with 12,000 inhabitants on the northwest coast of Spain, in the autonomous community of Galicia. The town’s public service, comprising between 60 and 80 staff depending on the season, switched entirely to open source in 2014, over a period of just one month.
Moving to open source was the only option, explains Carlos Ces, the town’s only IT administrator, in an interview with the Commission’s Open Source Observatory: “When I arrived here, all they had was creaking old PCs with lots of outdated or improperly licensed software. I spent nearly all my time troubleshooting PCs that were crippled by malware and viruses. More often than not that would require reinstalling everything, while trying to find other machines to let my colleagues do their work.”
Mr Ces approached the city mayor and one of the councillors to get enough money to buy new PCs that he would set up with modern open source software. Convincing the two politicians was not hard: the councillor already ran Linux on a PC, and the mayor firmly supported the use of free and open source software.
One department after another saw their decade-old PCs replaced by new, fast and beautiful Linux desktops. Mr Ces showed staff members how to start the LibreOffice suite of office productivity tools, pointed them to the Firefox web browser, and off they went. For the IT administrator it meant the end of troubleshooting MS Windows. “Yes, I still get called over every now and then to help with incompatibilities,” he says, “but it’s always a matter of minutes, and never hours or days.”
It’s not just the industrial-grade stability of the Linux desktop that has made life in Rianxo easier. Thanks to general improvements in computer usability, not least through increased adherence to open web standards, it’s also been a few years since Carlos Ces last had to help his colleagues battle with finicky PDF forms, or find workarounds for websites based on Flash or special Java plugins. These days, he says, most online interactions are smooth, whether they are with the province, the region, or most of the national government ministries.
With lots of time freed up, the IT administrator could finally focus on his other main task: implementing new software solutions. For example, the town now runs multiple websites, all based on the community edition of Liferay. In addition, Rianxo now has a decent mail server running Kolab.
The latest addition, unveiled just last week and necessitated by the coronavirus lockdown, is videoconferencing using Jitsi. The service is intended for town council meetings, which involve at most 20 people, Mr Ces says. However, the town is also making this service available to its schools and local associations.
The lockdown is also a good opportunity to refresh all the workstations, Mr Ces says. In the coming days, he and three trainees will upgrade most of the workstations to the most recent version of Ubuntu Focal Fossa, which came out in April.
Although Rianxo does not have an official open source policy, the council gives its IT administrator full support and writes a blog post every time he rolls out a new open source solution.
There is still not much money for IT, so for the foreseeable future Mr Ces will continue to add new services by himself. “For some software implementations, you spend hours online studying the forums,” he says. “In those cases, commercial support would be very nice, but we simply can’t spare the money.”
For a while, Mr Ces and others ran an open source meet-up to talk about open source with school students and citizens. This has now moved to online social networks, and he says there are still many questions from IT administrators in other Galician towns: “Many people are aware of the possibilities of open source, many already run Linux on their servers, and it’s getting easier to switch other systems too.”