CeBIT 2010: Recipe for Office Migration

Mar 08, 2010

In the Open Source Forum at CeBIT, Florian Schiessl of the Munich city council shared his experiences about their migration to OpenOffice.

The city council of the Bavarian capital has more than 15,000 PC workstations in 51 locations across the city that were converted end of 2009 to OpenOffice. The migration was based on a decision the city council made in 2003 to make the desktops independent of particular software vendors by using Linux and open source.

The changeover occurred over a number of years in phases, starting with an analysis (2003-2005), evaluation of the consolidation potentials and definition of the migration methods (2005-2007), and ending with its implementation, training and quality assurance (2007-2009). Among the migration challenges, according to Shiessl, were the more than 21,000 existing Microsoft Office templates and the specialized sofware using the proprietary offices solution just for printing reports alone. Some of the templates could be combined to reduce the overall number.

The city then created its own Wollmux OpenOffice extension for template management that also served for forms creation whereby coworkers didn't need to know any macro languages. The Java software is currently generally available under EUPL European open source licensing

Florian Schiessl, IT manager at the city of Munich, talked about the successful OpenOffice migration.

Wollmux relieved Office of 20% of its macros. It also provided the macros further migration paths such as producing images in Web-based database apps or transforming into platform-independent Java macros. If an Office macro were to remain, it would be moved in a library to prevent duplication.

As Schiessl explained, this all could unfortunately not be accomplished in the normal course of operation. The city therefore created an expanded office support center (EOS) with its own personnel and coworkers from the DBI service provider. In addition, an office working group continues to meet monthly and is one of the measure used in improving the acceptance of the migration process.

A key aspect was training users, added Schiessl. "Handing users a mandate isn't enough." Even standard training wouldn't suffice. Instead, customized training packages for text processing, spreadsheets and presentation programs became the successful solutions, further subdivided into modules and fine-tuned for different target groups such as users, template managers and administrators. An additional adjunct was the "Limux Knowledge World" e-learning module.

Workplace migration occurred in three phases. Installing OpenOffice next to the Microsoft product was the first step so that everyone could read and work on ODF documents. ODF then became the standard in phase two and coworkers were trained in its use. Microsoft Office was only deployed in exceptional cases, such as for as yet unmigrated specialized procedures. Phase two is now the current state of all Munich city council workstations. The third phase is uninstalling Microsoft Office, which already occurred with about half the PCs.

Public documentation exchange proceeds as follows: the city of Munich uses PDF for outgoing documents, with ODF used to process them. Problems are usually resolved by communication between the exchanging entities. Larger software version upgrades can also be resolved in the same way, Schiessl emphasized. He also added that both the EU and the German government accept ODF files as an official standard.

At the end of his talk, Schiessl provided the CeBIT audience with a few tips: they should attend early on to addressing the migration of specialized procedures by providing open APIs and formats. He claimed that some of this could have occurred a bit earlier in the Munich implementation. Planning should take flexibility and buffer time into account, to prevent so-called "U-boats," neglected problems such as leftover templates or processes, from surfacing from time to time even in late project phases.

The city council's conclusion: "We would do it again!" Schiessl: "The office product is a key to independence. Once you've solved the office issue, you're independent of any operating system." Further details on the project are at the official Limux project site and the unofficial blog, Planet Limux (note the "m" for "Munich"). At CeBIT, the project is in the Open Source Project Lounge in Hall 2.

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