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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 25, 2003

German town drops Microsoft for Linux open-source software

By David McHugh
Associated Press

SCHWAEBISCH HALL, Germany — At first glance, there's not much cutting edge about Schwaebisch Hall, a provincial German town of crooked medieval streets whose biggest employer is a savings bank.

But decidedly untrendy Schwaebisch Hall has jumped to the front of a growing technology movement by replacing Microsoft software on all city computers with open-source applications based on the free, unproprietary Linux operating system.

It's the first city in the world to do that, local officials claim, saying the switch will save money, improve security and break their dependence on just one supplier.

Companies such as Deutsche Telekom and 7-Eleven, along with government agencies in Germany, France, the United States and other countries, are increasingly relying on open-source software for heavy data lifting, mostly on servers that do Internet and database work.

But Schwaebisch Hall's decision to adopt it for everything represents a breakthrough, said SuSE, Germany's leading Linux distributor, which swung the deal to help them switch.

SuSE credits its user-friendly Linux desktop products, which make it finally palatable to the average computer user who wants only to deal with a graphical Windows-like interface.

Open-source software is based on the principle that anyone using it should be able to scrutinize the source code, or inner workings, to make changes and improvements, making it, at least in theory, both more transparent and more secure.

By contrast, say open-source advocates, corporations such as Microsoft keep source codes secret so they can sell software at a profit.

The open-source software can be freely copied by the more than 400 new Linux users employed by Schwaebisch Hall, which is encouraging them to copy the software on their work computers for home use.

By year's end, Schwaebisch Hall, working with Nuremberg-based SuSE and IBM Germany, will have switched all 300 desktop computers and 15 servers recording tax payments, business licenses and library checkout records.

City officials say it costs $88 to equip each desktop PC with open-source software, compared to $480 for new editions of the equivalents from Microsoft, by far the dominant producer of proprietary desktop software.

That adds up to a one-time savings of $121,000, they said — a lot for a town struggling with declining tax revenue.