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Smooth switch to open source at mental health care provider Rotterdam

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Riagg Rijnmond, a semi-governmental mental healthcare organisation in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, late last year replaced their ageing proprietary desktops by about three hundred thin clients displaying virtualised Xubuntu Linux desktops. The new desktop is easy to use, fast and much cheaper. Says the organisation's financial controller: "Now all we need is for the central government to stop sending and demanding proprietary document formats."

The health care organisation began considering open source in 2009, when it was confronted with substantial fees required to update the licences for proprietary software.

Replacing a proprietary email server with the open source email and group ware server Zarafa was one of the first steps. Looking to replace its existing proprietary terminals, it decided to try using Linux-based terminals. To test the feasibility of using open source on the desktop, Riagg Rijnmond asked three different groups of about fifteen of its staff members to try open source desktops.

The pilots showed that using Xubuntu - Ubuntu with the XFCE desktop environment - was not only very easy to use, but also impressively fast and stable on the lean PC hardware, says IT system administrator Ron Hiensch. "Several staff members that participated in this pilot, refused going back to the old proprietary desktop, which was often failing."

Two-thirds cheaper
According to Nieck Zanen, one of the founders of Ecsys, a provider of open source IT services, the entire migration, including the three pilots and training for the 290 staff members by LibreOffice contributor Cor Nouws and some software licences, costed about 350,000 euro over the past two years. He estimates that is about a third of the budget that would otherwise have been paid to update the proprietary licences.

Edmond Plasmans, the financial controller at Riagg Rijnmond thinks this estimate is roughly correct. "The proprietary vendors meanwhile dropped their prices, but their solution would still be at least twice as expensive."

With three hundred open source thin client terminals, the Riagg Rijnmond is the second largest Dutch semi-governmental organisation that rid itself of IT vendor lock-in on the desktop. The Dutch weather forecasting service KNMI, an agency of the ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, uses about 400 Linux desktops.

Controller Plasmans and IT administrator Hiensch say that the migration to open source was mostly flawless. Hiensch: "We migrated everything in groups and so, during the transition, had both systems running. Each day a new group of staff members would visit the introduction sessions in the morning, and in the afternoon would start with trainings on their new desktops."

Non-Interoperability
The major issue is interoperability problems when exchanging documents with organisations that are locked-in to proprietary document formats. The organisation is using Libre Office and the open document format by default, but, adds Plasmans: "For the annual reporting to the government we still have to fall back to a proprietary document format. But our external accountants now understand what an open document format is and they are trying that out."

More information:
Press statement on the migration (in Dutch)

Information