Open source advocates angry at German gov't decision

The reasons to abandon open source don't stack up, say groups

Open source activists have hit out at the German government for its decision to abandon free software in favor of Microsoft.

The German Foreign Office announced it was dropping its policy of using only open source software in February prompting an inquiry by the green Bündnis 90/Grüne party. But the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) said that the government's responses to this inquiry have "led to more pending questions than answers."

"Many replies show that the government either doesn't understand important aspects of free software or is deliberately offending free software in general as well as free software companies in particular," said Matthias Kirschner, Germany coordinator of FSFE.

The German Foreign Office first started using Linux as a server platform in 2001 before making Linux and open source software their default desktop choice in 2005. Most observers thought the move a success. However, the government will now transition back to Windows XP, to be followed by Windows 7, also dropping OpenOffice and Thunderbird in favor of MS Office and Outlook.

The government admitted that the developments in the Foreign Office constitute a "turning away from the policy of exclusively using open source software," but open source advocates are frustrated by the reasons given.

"The statements that free software would be worse to use, would cause additional expenses on hardware, and that a lack of warranty would exist are imaginative perceptions rather than fitting into a serious reply from the government," said Elmar Geese, president of open source group Linux-Verband.

Furthermore, Kirschner pointed out, the German government said that €4.3 million (US$6.1 million) has been spent on a free software federal GNU/Linux distribution which apparently has never been finished. "We wonder what has happened to that project and what the money has actually been spent on," he said.

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