More Complete and Final story on the Quest of One City to Linux.

LiMux - the IT evolution - An open source success story like never before


For decades the politicians had been accustomed to agreeing to spend millions of Euros (or Deutschmarks) on some obscure new version of a Redmond product whenever their administrators told them that there was no alternative and that they needed to upgrade. The admins, of course, were simply passing on the same story from their Microsoft account managers.

But with Linux, for the first time, the admins were able to let the politicians do what they love best: make decisions, feel important. And the Munich IT staff could offer a new strategy, something like: “If you choose this route now, in the future we will have true freedom of choice and you will be asked to make decisions more often.” From a non-technical point of view that translates to: “You will have more power to decide.”

This shift of power did take some getting used to. Insiders report that council members' reactions ranged from distrust, through disbelief, to firm opposition. The latter was not really a surprise, given that Microsoft's German headquarters is located in the Munich suburb of Unterschleißheim. Rumour has it that Microsoft's plan to move its office to central Munich in 2015 is motivated by the loss of the municipality as a customer.
Patent issues and the 2004 halt

Technical questions and the problems of change management – both issues familiar to any other migration – were not the only difficulties Munich had to cope with. At various times legal and political matters also played an important role, sometimes to the point of endangering the whole project.

As early as summer 2004, an informal check of the patent situation had revealed that the Linux migration might be violating more than 50 European patents. These included Amazon's “one-click” patent and others covering JPEG, CIFS/SMB and XML, many of them held by Microsoft.

“Friendly” visits

In 2003, for instance, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer even broke off his skiing holiday to visit Munich and try to convince Ude that a Microsoft solution would be better. Though Ballmer offered to reduce licence prices – by 35 percent, from US$ 31.9 million to US$ 23.7 million, according to USA Today – he was obviously not convincing. By that time Microsoft had had to acknowledge the dangers of free software. A few months before, Ballmer had called Linux “a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches”; in the same year his sales representatives told their staff under no circumstances to lose against Linux.

But Ballmer wasn't the only one who tried to persuade Ude of a better solution. When the Munich mayor was at a conference in California, giving a speech about LiMux, Bill Gates was there as well. Ude, who is well-known as a humorist, loves to tell what happened next. Gates asked Ude if he would accept a lift to the airport in Gates's limousine. Wanting to save time, Ude agreed and off they went. Once in the car, however, the mayor discovered that the Microsoft CEO wanted to use the 20-minute ride to talk him out of LiMux. Gates asked: “Mr. Ude, why are you doing this?”. Ude replied: “To gain freedom.” Gates: “Freedom from what?” Ude: “Freedom from you, Mr. Gates.” According to Ude the rest of the ride passed in silence.
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