The Big Open Source Vision at Schleswig-Holstein

The Big Open Source Vision at Schleswig-Holstein

A German state made big news recently by announcing that it was shifting to an open source strategy. Press releases focused on the decision of Schleswig-Holstein’s management to replace Microsoft Office with LibreOffice, the most popular open source office suite. But the strategy is much broader than that, and governments everywhere should take note of Schleswig-Holstein’s reasoning.

Schleswig-Holstein is a modest-sized state with about three million residents. Its best-known city is Lübeck, famous among literary circles as the locale of Thomas Mann’s novel Buddenbrooks.

The switch in office suites, first of all, reflects a desire to save money as well as to avoid vendor lock-in. These are common reasons for adopting free and open source software, but any organization taking such steps must learn to think in an open source manner. That’s what “digitization minister” Dirk Schrödter articulates in the press release (in German) posted on April 3.

Schrödter recognizes the importance of open standards to facilitate communication among different groups. The money that Schleswig-Holstein hopes to save from switching to LibreOffice will go toward a strategy of digital collaboration. Further open source moves and training for staff will follow.

Schrödter’s view of open source as a transformation in how people work with technology is similar to LPI’s approach to open source as enabling and empowering the people who learn and run it.

The use of third-party online services (popularly known as “cloud” services or Software as a Service) is another worldwide trend Schrödter recognizes, and he is very alert to the privacy and data risks that the cloud involves. He plans to adopt cloud services run on open source software, intending to make sure that data privacy is protected.

Following the move to LibreOffice, Schrödter intends a much bigger transition away from Microsoft Windows to GNU/Linux. The city of Munich initiated such a move two decades ago, and they ran into enormous opposition. Even though the rationale for the move was carefully researched and documented, resistance from both internal and external actors held up the move for years.

A switch to free and open source software is more than an installation and training task. Thinking collaboratively and in an open source manner behooves anyone who wants to benefit from open source. Schrödter and Schleswig-Holstein seem to have understood this, and the federal state appears to be on a path that is both innovative and sustainable.

About Andrew Oram:

Andy is a writer and editor in the computer field. His editorial projects at O'Reilly Media ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. Andy also writes often on health IT, on policy issues related to the Internet, and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM (Brussels), DebConf, and LibrePlanet. Andy participates in the Association for Computing Machinery's policy organization, USTPC.

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