Local, national and European governmental dependencies on proprietary software continue to hinder municipalities that try to get rid of vendor lock-in by switching to open source. Recent examples include the municipal governments of Freiburg in Germany, Miskolcs in Hungary and Schoten in Belgium.
The main problem in these three municipalities is document interoperability. The aggravation is making the German city of Freiburg reconsider its current use of the open source office suite LibreOffice. It is studying a return to the ubiquitous proprietary office suite. A spokeswoman for the city said earlier this week that a study on the office suite problems will be shared with the city council in September.
The reliance by all other public administrations on proprietary document formats and proprietary office suites is also causing headaches for the city of Miskolcs. This city in Hungary is using OpenOffice, an alternative to LibreOffice. In a case study that will be published on Joinup in the next few days, city officials say that in a few cases, the administration is forced to revert to the proprietary suite, to make sure the documents and embedded macro's are handled correctly: "We wish we could ask our partners to stop sending us documents containing macro's. The lesson we learned here is that external factors make it impossible to fully migrate to open source software."
The same problems hinder the Belgium city of Schoten, confirms Jan Verlinden, head of the city's IT department. "The majority of public administrations take the easy way out and continue to use and upgrade their proprietary software. The responsible civil staffers at these IT organisations don't seem to care that this is an expensive decision. Apart from the immediate costs, it also forces their organisations to pay for the subsequent upgrades."
However, public administrations are gradually becoming aware of the costs of vendor lock-in, says Verlinden. "We are approached more and more by other government officials that also want to use open source to solve this problem."
Verlinden: "But in effect, administrations that do not use open standards are working against those that do."
"Moving to a document format which is not dependent on a single IT vendor would be a excellent first step. It does not even require that much changes to the software applications." The Belgian federal government in 2006 mandated the use of such a format, the Open Document Format for document exchange between public administrations "In practice, it is hardly used", says Verlinden.