By Mike Edwards
The Herald reported on Thursday, “Job fears as Glasgow council faces cuts in excess of £100m”. This raises an interesting question, could these cost savings be made at the expense of foreign corporate profits rather than local jobs and investment? We do have options if we choose to consider them. One way might be to follow in the foot steps of Munich City Council.
In 2003 Munich City Council initiated a project to switch almost all the city council’s 15,000 computers away from the U.S. based Microsoft Corporation’s, Windows computer operating system (OS), over to the GNU Linux computer operating system. Although the main motivation for the switch was not cost saving, Munich city council has calculated that moving to Linux has saved it €10m. In light of Glasgow City Council’s huge budgets cuts this year, shouldn’t we consider following suit? Especially because the switch has provided so many other benefits for the city of Munich.
In a May 2014 interview in Munich, project leader, Peter Hofmann, explained, “Migrating workers of Germany’s third-largest city [from Windows to Linux] was no easy task and there were plenty of hurdles along the way, but by and large the project has been a storming success.”
Like Munich, could Glasgow could benefit from a similar transition? And, why would we want to anyway?
There are four main reasons that Hofmann highlights for moving to Linux.
First, supporting the local economy – rather than paying large amounts in software license fees to foreign companies and depending on their expensive support contracts, local IT businesses can be employed to develop, deploy and support Linux-based council IT systems – retaining local control of the system and keeping skills and money in the local economy.
Second, cost savings. Hofmann explains that, ‘While the initial aim of the project wasn’t to save money, it’s still what a lot of people talk about. Today, over a decade down the line, has LiMux [Munich’s custom-made version of Linux] been a good idea in terms of finances? “Yes, it has […] We did a calculation and we made it publicly available on our information system for the city council. We have the exact same parameters for staying with Windows as with the migration to the Linux platform. Based on those parameters, Linux has saved us €10m.”
Third, flexibility – because Linux is Open Source, local programmers can be employed to adapt the system to suit the needs of the council’s various departments and goals. This is vital for enabling the adaptation and development of user-friendly and task specific software.
Fourth, security – because Linux is developed using an Open Source development model any weaknesses found in the source code tends to be fixed quickly. A word about source code here: to use a food analogy, the programme source code is like a recipe; the programme code that you run on your computer is like a meal made using this recipe, served and ready to eat. If there is something not quite right about the meal – i.e., a security weakness is found in the programme – the recipe can be adjusted and a new meal made, in the same way that we need to update to new versions of computer programmes. Changing the programme source code makes no changes to the programme actually running on a computer until the programme is updated. So, to recap, source code is the programme recipe.
The term Open Source means that the source code – the recipe – is freely available for anyone to download and have a look at. Closed source (or proprietary software, as it is more commonly known) means that the source code – the recipe – is not publicly available. All programmes are compiled from source code into computer readable code before they are run on a computer (see: http://opensource.com/resources/what-open-source). Again, because Linux is Open Source – unlike Windows – with Linux it is possible to find out if the operating system is doing what it is meant to be doing. Hofmann explains that “At the time [2003/04] there was a lot of discussion about Windows 2000 and the calling home functionality (i.e., sending information back to Microsoft without the computer user’s knowledge). If you asked Microsoft […], ‘which one of your programmes are calling home?’, they said ‘err, yeah, maybe some, or not’. So we didn’t get a clear answer at that time, and we thought there would be a great advantage from a security perspective to using Linux.” And of course, with the ever-increasing prevalence of computer programmes involvement and influence in almost every area of our lives, and with the new revelations by Edward Snowden about Google, having some confidence that programmes running on our computers are actually doing what we are told they should be doing – nothing more – is an even more important issue than ever.
Westminster has been slow to take advantage of the security and cost saving benefits that come with using Open Source software. Taking our lead from Munich, is it time that Scotland started to take its digital life a bit more seriously? Surely, what’s been a resounding success for Munich could work for Glasgow, Edinburgh or any of our cities and towns.
We would be leading Scotland into a more secure, flexible, needs orientated, local and cost saving digital future.
For more information see: http://www.linuxvoice.com/the-big-switch