Publication State / Democracy - City / Municipality / Region - Culture / Media - Digital Transformation - Alternatives to Society - Commons / Social Infrastructure - Digitalisierung und Demokratie Public Money for Public Software

The battle for Linux in Munich



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Markus Euskirchen,

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In 2003, the City of Munich began to change over its administrative software from Microsoft to open sourcesoftware, completed the changeover in 2013, and then decided at the end of 2017 to return to Microsoft. The changeover of the administration of a major Western European city from Microsoft to Linux was the largest public sector open source project in Europe.

Open source or Free Software is quite deliberately used by a few people, but to the vast majority of people – also among left-leaning people – it continues to appear to be an area for techno-geeks, freaky programmers, and pirates at best. In this case Linux – an operating system using open source – is so widespread in 2016 for example that practically everyone is using it, for personal as well as professional use, as the specialist magazine c’t. Magazin für Computer und Technik emphasized on the occasion of Linux’s 25th birthday.

Correspondingly, the Linux in Munich project is also not a passing phase. Instead, those who are in the know about technology policy have been involved in trench warfare with the representatives of this large corporationfor more than 15 years. As proponents of the “Free Software” principle and as such the digital common land, they oppose the representatives of the exclusive digital capitalism that is oriented to maximizing profit. For both camps, Munich’s software procurement embodies the symbol for each other’s superiority. Ostensibly for both it has to do with the common good: the software is to be cheaper, better, more compatible, and more secure. But essentially this unequal battle revolves around the privatization of non-material administrative infrastructure and administrative knowledge because the competitors Microsoft and Linux are not of equal standing. It has to do with systems from two completely different worlds regarding the way in which the software is produced. The example of Munich highlights what we are dealing with when it comes to procuring software for public sector facilities and just how far-reaching the implications are.


  • Introduction
    • Unboxing open source
  • The history of GNU/Linux: Free Software for all
    • Hippies and mainframe computers
    • The PC as a technological expression of the neoliberal response
    • GNU/Linux, the anomaly in the regime of intellectual property
  • Cause and motivations for the change to a Linux-based system
    • Infrastructure sovereignty: Avoiding a lock-in
    • Stability and security
  • User-friendliness and compatibility: weak points to do with the system change in Munich
    • User sensitivities
    • Strategic and tactical problems
    • The discussion: LiMux as a whipping boy for all administrative blips
  • What can be done? How can it be helped?
    • Expanding the menu
    • Making positive impacts visible and factoring them in
    • Making digital administrative practice generally available and not privatizing it
  • Summary