The move by the city of Zaragoza to an open source desktop is making good progress. All of the city's civil servants now use open source tools including Thunderbird, VLC, Firefox and OpenOffice. And this year some seven hundred of the city's 2800 desktop PCs will have seen their proprietary operating system replaced by the Linux open source alternative.
Significant licence savings, technological independence and flexibility are three of the many advantages of switching to an open source desktop, says Eduardo Romero, who coordinates the team of seven IT workers handling the move. "A large organisation like ours will save significantly on licences, both in the medium- and long-term".
The city, which decided to move to open source in 2006, has so far used the savings to pay for the migration process itself, Romero explains.
The open source desktop is making the city administration's IT more flexible. "We are constantly improving and adapting our business processes to meet the needs of our users. On the old proprietary platform, it is difficult to offer new and alternative ways for users to authenticate themselves. However, using open source, this service can be used for instance to manage software configurations determined by the time, the network address, the user, the department and other parameters."
It is far easier to manage open source desktops, Romero finds. "Using an web server and a few other open source tools, we distribute and manage all applications and configurations on all desktops. We have central control over the desktops yet at the same time are able to give each user a personalised system."
The Zaragoza city council is spread out over about a hundred offices. "The biggest handicap for our move to an open source desktop are the widely different business processes in the organisation. We have departments specialising in for instance security, city planning, social services and accounting, each using their own specialised applications and processes."
This has made some of the city's departments locked-in to proprietary software, complicating the move to the open source desktop. It particularly makes the move to OpenOffice complex, says Romero, because of changes to user interfaces, file formats, macros, and connections to other applications and data sources.
"It is not possible to move all applications to the open source platform. For example tools for Computer Aided Design and Optical Character Recognition, can't be replaced by open source alternatives. But proprietary and open source software can live together. And if we really can't find an open source option, we resort to Virtualbox and Wine to provide users their proprietary application."
Romero explains there is considerable resistance to the changes in desktop infrastructure. "We have to explain ourselves to users, technicians, public managers and almost every body else. We discovered that fear, uncertainty and doubt are very effective tools to hinder our progress. Fortunately, our politicians promote and support our IT policies to switch to free software. Obtaining and maintaining this political support is crucial to overcome difficulties in the migration process."
AZLinux website (in Spanish)
Video presentation by Eduardo Romero on Technimap conference, April 2010 (in Spanish, starts at 0:52)