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Licence fine forces town to drop move to alternative office tools

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The Dutch city of Arnhem has, for now, given up searching for alternatives for its office productivity tools, after settling a claim with a dominant software vendor for unlicensed use of its office software. To compensate for not having adequately licensed the software used by the town’s civil servant’s who were working from home, Arnhem has paid 600,000 euro for new licences. These allow the use of the ubiquitous proprietary office software for the next three years, says the city’s CIO, Simon Does.

“It makes no sense not to use these licences, so we’ve stopped looking for alternatives”, the CIO told the European Commission’s Open Source Observatory and Repository (OSOR). Possible alternatives would have been LibreOffice or Apache OpenOffice, two closely related open source office suites.

The CIO says that the town uses many applications that depend on the proprietary office suite, making a switch to alternatives difficult. “I would force an ICT supplier offering an open source office suite to include the costs for redevelopment of all those links in the price”, Does said. “They’d never win.”

The ties that bind

The lock-in is compounded by Arnhem’s dependency on proprietary municipal applications for allowances and taxes, that in turn require the proprietary office suite. “The first vendor does not really want to sever its ties with the second, making a switch to alternatives very unlikely.” However, Arnhem is planning to rid itself of the document templates that lock it in to the proprietary office suite.

Moving to an alternative office solution would put enormous pressure on the organisation, the CIO said. “We’re busy enough to prepare for the social services that are handed over by the central government as of January. That precludes a major switch in office tools.” Despite all, the CIO would love to get rid of the proprietary office suite. “It is expensive and offers little added value. I also have some choice words about their claim for unlicensed software.”

The price you pay

The town of Arnhem has been using a proprietary office suite that was released in 2001. “It’s as old as the hills”, said Does. Following its 600,000 euro licence settlement this summer, the city’s PCs will be upgraded.

CIO Does says that he has not fully realised that the city should perhaps have procured the new licence contract. “Seeing the amount of money involved, we probably should have. We never asked our legal department”, he says. “Not that it would have made any difference. There is no competition among the resellers of the proprietary office suite.” Sometime in the next three years, Arnhem will make use of a shared IT services centre, which it is setting up with three neighbouring municipalities. The centre will manage all computer workplaces, starting with an overhaul of the office solution. “We want to be able to consider all options, including open source and cloud-based office tools.”