2020: The Year of Open Source

By Scott Hamilton

This has been a crazy year in the Information Technology industry. Between the mass migration to telecommuter work due to COVID-19 and contact tracking functions added into commercial operating systems, network security has been in an uproar.

There were many security flaws discovered in Microsoft products as people began working from home, allowing people to “Zoom Bomb” meetings. Zoom Bombing is like photo bombing, when you jump into someone’s picture at the last second, only worse. Zoom Bombing can let people listen in on proprietary information, where photo bombing just ruins the photo. The good news is that most Zoom Bombers were teenagers, bent on ruining the experience via being loud and obnoxious during your meeting, making it unproductive.

Patches came out quickly to resolve the issues, but it was too late for some that decided to make a clean break from Microsoft. The city of Munich once again made an immediate shift from proprietary software products like Microsoft Office and Windows to products that follow open standards and free open-source licensed software. The exact wording of the decision is, “Where it is technologically and financially possible, the city will put emphasis on open standards and free opensource licensed software.”

Munich attempted a similar shift in 2004, which lasted until around 2017. They decided in October of 2017 to switch to a Microsoft Exchange server for managing the massive amounts of city email. They spent nine years migrating from a completely proprietary Microsoft city-wide system to mostly opensource. However, a decision was made In October 2017 to migrate back from their recently installed Kolab environment to Microsoft Exchange.

Along with the migration from Kolab back to Exchange there was a massive migration from LiMux, a custom version of Linux designed to seamlessly replace Windows, back to the Windows clients. This migration strategy was a slow migration schedule to complete by 2021. Interestingly enough, the decisions to migrate back towards open source happened halfway through the project.

They hired consultants from Accenture to determine the full cost of migration back to Windows. Surprisingly the firm discovered that a majority of the problems Munich was facing were not related to the use of open-source software. Instead, they were due to the IT organization itself and the distributed structure scattered throughout city departments, rather than having a single, central IT division for the city.

There are two main reasons listed for the migration back to Windows and for proprietary software to be reversed. The first was that the number of end-user complaints and issues increased as users migrated from LiMux to Windows. They found Windows less user-friendly and harder to operate on day-to-day tasks after gaining familiarity with LiMux. The second was the shift in Microsoft licensing from a single-user lifetime license model to an annual subscription model that left the migration too costly to continue.

There are many reasons to migrate from Windows to Linux, but as Munich has discovered, the reverse migration is not so easy to accomplish. After people learn to love the flexibility of open-source, they resist the change back to the locked-down standard of proprietary software.

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