In June the German state of Schleswig-Holstein reconfirmed its long-term commitment to using free and open source software. In July its neighbour, Lower Saxony, announced it would gradually phase out 13,000 Linux-based desktops, in use by the state tax authority since 2006.
In a resolution adopted in early June, the parliament of Schleswig-Holstein reiterated support for its existing open source strategy to reduce IT vendor lock-in, improve IT security, and allow the administration to take back control over its IT (sovereignty). The motion stresses the importance of adequate change management to support state employees as they switch to alternative software solutions. As well as receiving technical training, the parliament said, staff should also learn the civic reasons for the change.
The resolution also explains that the state should use open standards and open APIs that allow citizens and companies to make their own software choices. In addition, the text urges the state government to create favourable economic conditions for small and medium-sized companies to develop specialist IT services.
The Schleswig-Holstein open source strategy was adopted last summer as part of the coalition agreement for the new government. In October, the German IT news site Heise quoted the state’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Digitisation, Robert Habeck, who explained that governments should be more self-reliant when it comes to IT, and that the market power of a handful of large IT corporations is problematic.
Meanwhile, a decision by the government of Lower Saxony shows how hard it is to get rid of IT vendor lock-in and achieve real interoperability. Lower Saxony will gradually end support for the Linux-based workstations currently used by its tax authority. The state wishes to standardise on a proprietary alternative already used in its other operations. Not having to support Linux desktops will ease both management and software development.
The plan, first reported by Heise, was widely echoed in the German IT trade press and on social media, such as Reddit. On this forum users debated how this would simplify the development of tax software used by all of Germany’s states; only Lower Saxony runs this software on Linux desktops.
The use of Suse Linux in Lower Saxony was one of the earliest case studies promoted by the European Commission’s Open Source Observatory (OSOR). In 2006, the tax authorities switched to another Unix variant, Solaris. By the time of its 2016 IT strategy, however, the state foresaw the end of its Unix strategy.