The Greens in the German parliament want the Foreign Ministry to revert back to open source software solutions on its workstations. The ministry in 2010 abandoned its open source desktop strategy, pressured by staffers struggling with interoperability problems. The Greens are now asking the ministry to justify the proprietary licence costs it has made since then.
The Greens question the validity of the main argument used by the Foreign Ministry for the return to the usual proprietary solution - improved efficiency. It seems the costs for the conversion and the cost for licences were higher than estimated, and the expected benefits did not materialise, the Green politicians write on their blog.
They want the ministry to detail its IT security measures. According to the Greens, the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) recommends ministries to avoid an IT monoculture, because this weakens the IT infrastructure and is a potential safety hazard.
In total, the Greens sent a list of 15 questions to the ministry, including on the number and geographic location of servers in the Foreign Ministry that continue to run GNU/Linux. The politicians also hope to find out the costs of running these Linux systems.
Publishing the questions on their website, the Green parliamentarians motivate that they favour the use of free software solutions as safe, economical and sustainable alternatives to proprietary software. They write that they had IT security concerns with the ubiquitous use of proprietary software already before the reports on mass surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden, a former contractor at America's National Security Agency.
Cost? What costs?
For many years, Germany’s Foreign Ministry was one well-known example of a public administration using free software. In 2008, one of its diplomats explained how this strategy kept the costs of running workstations the lowest of all of Germany’s ministries. Annual maintenance costs of a Linux-desktop would be around EUR 1000, compared to the EUR 3000 average, and much lower than the costs reported per workstation by the Interior Ministry’s, around EUR 7000.
Security concerns and lower costs combined, the Greens argue, especially the Foreign Affairs ministry with its many missions in foreign countries, should reconsider, and return to using free and open source software.