New approach sought with open source desktops

Failure of G2009 Microsoft licence deal prompts Horizons Regional Council open source trial

Horizons Regional Council "would be remiss not to investigate alternatives" to Microsoft on the desktop, as it has a responsibility to the ratepayers that fund it to spend their money wisely, says William Gordon, IT team leader at the council.

Horizons, covering a large area of the mid-North Island, has agreed to participate in the Public Sector Remix project, devised by the NZ Open Source Society.

“We’ll be trialling the Ubuntu-based desktop devised for the Remix project, initially on six to eight PCs,” Gordon says.

The council expects to start the trial within the next two months. There is no firm plan for project duration, but it will probably last between four and six weeks, he says. Horizons wants to have a month-end included in the test, to test the open source systems’ ability to handle regular peaks in workload.

The main driver for Horizons to consider open source was the failure of the government’s G2009 negotiations for bulk purchase of Microsoft software last year.

“That caused us to realise that we should be investigating alternatives for the next three-year cycle.”

Only lack of detailed knowledge of Linux-based systems and the way they were likely to mesh with the council’s environment stopped Horizons moving away from Microsoft in the last three-year cycle. Microsoft systems were firmly embedded in the organisation’s computers and processes, and it was clear that the Microsoft direction would have to continue in the short term for Horizons to avail itself of needed upgrades, Gordon says.

After the trial, the council will be in a position to make an informed comparison between proprietary and open solutions, he says.

Gordon expects change management will be the toughest challenge, along with ensuring the consistency of document formats.

“We want to be sure that a document created by OpenOffice in .doc format will be readable by others using Microsoft Office and vice-versa.”

Some commentators at last months annual open source conference in Wellington, which Gordon attended, suggested the necessity to interface to complex Microsoft server-based systems might be the major deterrent to moving away from a Microsoft environment on the desktop, but Gordon does not expect this aspect to loom large. He has for some years successfully run an Ubuntu Linux desktop with Microsoft Terminal Server and that makes the necessary links quite smoothly he says.

At the end of the trial, users’ reactions will be surveyed by a team from Victoria University, alongside other trialists that include the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and NZ Post. VU will then prepare a report.

It looks as though there will be no shortage of volunteers for the Horizons’ trial.

“Already people have their hands up saying ‘pick me’,” Gordon says.

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Tags technologyopen sourceg2009horizons

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