Under pressure

Portugal’s Seixal completes switch to LibreOffice

31/10/2019

The Portuguese town of Seixal has completed its migration to LibreOffice on the workstations across its departments in early 2019. The city administration in 2017 decided to switch to LibreOffice, seeing it the best way to comply with the country’s Law 36, prescribing the use of open standards, including the Open Document Format (ODF), LibreOffice’s the native file format.

Seixal, which lies in the Tejo estuary just east of Lisbon, is a small city of around 184,000 inhabitants.

One of the key points in the city’s 18-month migration was to get everyone involved. The introduction of LibreOffice affected the municipality’s internal work processes, and this in turn impacted Seixal’s public services, including online services. “Seixal has high service-level standards, and so we had to make sure everyone was committed to the change,” explains Rute Solipa, working for the city IT department.

Now that the switch has been complete, the big problem is document interoperability. While the city services rely on ODF, a wide variety of non-standard document formats hinders the exchange of documents.

The brochure (in Portguese) created and used by Seixal to explain the use of Ubuntu in public Internet access points
The brochure (in Portguese) created and used by Seixal to explain the use of Ubuntu in public Internet access points.

The biggest interoperability headaches are caused by documents - from other public services - that include macros and links to spreadsheets, Ms Solipa told the European Commission’s Open Source Observatory. “These are causing problems everywhere, including in some versions of proprietary office applications.”

Seixal resolves internal incompatibilities by converting older documents that include links to spreadsheets, Ms Solipa explains. “We change them to web-based applications developed in PHP and MySQL, and hosted on our own servers.”

“Digital transition in public service is a complex process which will only be possible with a team effort, get together around common guides and good practices,” she says.

Broadband Internet access

The town’s first forays into open source date from 2011, when an IT team began piloting the use of open source on PCs at public access points for Internet access in libraries, youth centres and council offices.

The project team members wanted to bring the free-software philosophy to all public services, so in 2015 they decided to switch all 52 Internet access PCs to Ubuntu Linux, Firefox, LibreOffice and other open source solutions. At the time, this helped Seixal save some EUR 13,300 per year.

The group then approached the town’s elementary schools, again using pilots to gradually increase the number of schools, students and teachers using open source. “It gave us a chance to evaluate the time needed for implementation, make an inventory of anomalies, and try out change management strategies,” Ms Solipas says.

Currently, Seixal has about 300 desktops running Ubuntu Linux. However, the use of Ubuntu is always under pressure, Ms Solipa says. “Reasons include a lack of IT staff, state training centres with no experience in modern, open source technology, and a lack of young specialised IT personal.”

Ms Solipa talked about Seixal’s use of open source at the Ubucon Europe conference, which took place in Sintra (Portugal) earlier this month.

More information:

Portugual’s Law 36 on open standards, including the Open Document Format
Ubucon Europe 2019 conference website

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