Germany's ministry of Foreign Affairs is planning to switch to proprietary operating systems and proprietary office suites, citing interoperability issues with other ministries among other reasons, according to sources close to the ministry.
A group of fourteen members of the German parliament, led by Oliver Kaczmarek (SPD, Social Democratic Party of Germany) last week Wednesday filed sixteen question to the government, asking it to detail the changes to the ministry's open source strategy.
The SPD for instance wants to know what the costs are to replace the free and open source system by proprietary alternatives. It also wants to know what the long-term financial impact is of the ministry becoming dependent on the proprietary software vendor's release cycle.
In the introduction to their questions the members of parliament refer to information provided earlier by the ministry, showing that managing its open source desktops, 80 percent of which are managed in consulates and embassies abroad, costs far less than the desktops in any of the other ministries. "In 2005 the ministry spent 1190 Euro per desktop. Other ministries spent at least twice that and sometimes up to 5,000 Euro on desktop maintenance."
The parliament members also point to estimates that relying on a proprietary server infrastructure would have costed more than five times as much. All servers, both in Berlin and in the 230 missions, operate with free software, for about 17 million Euro. Had proprietary software been used, this structure would have costed 100 million Euro."
The Foreign Ministry began moving all of its 11.000 desktops to GNU/Linux and other open source applications in 2002. The replacement was planned to have been completed in 2009. Half of the embassies and consulates had been switched over in late 2008, according the former head of IT at the ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a speech on the Open Source World conference in the city of Malaga in October 2008.
The ministry of Foreign Affairs did today not respond to phone calls seeking comments.
In a statement, Matthias Kirschner, German coordinator at the Free Software Foundation Europe, today labelled the decision by the Foreign Ministry 'utterly wrong-headed'. "Citizens have a right to know why the previous Free Software strategy is being discarded. We welcome the parliament's initiative to shed some light on these intransparent proceedings. Closed IT systems have no place in a democracy."
MP Oliver Kaczmarek on Wednesday called the ministry's plans a 'big setback for Germany's reputation in free software markets and research'. "Moving to proprietary software would "cause high costs, instable security systems and make the ministry dependent on major corporations."
The MP added: "The Foreign Office has been a role model in terms of using free software for ten years."
Parliamentary questions (pdf, in German)
Netzpolitik news item (in German)
Henning Tillman blog post (in German)