“Office suite migration remains the most complex”
The Spanish city of Zaragoza continues to expand its use of free and open source software. The city administration now has 1200 of its 3000 PCs running the AZLinux desktop, which is based on Ubuntu Linux. On all workstations, LibreOffice is the default office suite, and the city by default uses the Open Document Format ODF.
“We try to use free and open source software solutions wherever we can”, says Eduardo Romero, the IT specialist who is leading Zaragoza’s desktop transition project. On many workstations, city staff members can now turn to Mozilla Firefox, Mozilla Thunderbird, GIMP, Scribus, PDFSam, VLC, File Roller, Pinta, Geany, Chromium, Filezilla, Solfege and Pidgin.
Romero spoke at the OpenSourceSummit in Paris last week Thursday. “The transition is slow but steady”, he said. “We devote few resources to the conversion, but will continue until it is done.”
Zaragoza’s free software policy also covers its server infrastructure. Most of the city 100 servers run one of three open source distros, CentOS, Suse Linux or Debian. “These servers run all kind of services, including proprietary databases, groupware applications and IT project development tools”, Romero said.
Romero explained that the transition to free and open source software is easier when staff members have a good understanding of information technology. “We’re educating users”, he said. “By making them aware of the capabilities, we optimise our IT solutions.”
The most complex step in the transition is the office suite, Romero explained. Getting rid of the lock-in to the proprietary office macros and its hooks into business applications is complex. In most cases, Zaragoza’s IT department transforms such business applications to web services that can be accessed using any web browser on any computing platform.
In addition, using ODF when all other public administration continue to rely on a mix of proprietary document formats, is hard. “ODF has been made a government standard by law; but one that is ignored by many public administrations”, Romero said.
Courage and determination
An IT infrastructure based on free and open source transfers competitive knowledge and information to the city and the local IT service providers, the IT specialist said. “This is a crucial advantage of open source.” He forewarns others to be prepared for mistakes. “There are big hurdles to overcome.” He also urges not to hurry: “Users will resist changes, unless they are made curious.”
The free and open source software model is a far better model for public administrations than proprietary software is, Romero says. “Sharing and reusing, and taking good care of resources, that is what public administrations are about. We are a community, we work for the community. We contribute our knowledge, our code and our time. What we get in return is at least ten times the value.”