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"Large" public-sector Linux project flops


Here's how the project started in May 2005.

And here's what happened.
Birmingham City Council began the project — one of the largest public-sector Linux projects in the UK — in May 2005 to evaluate the potential of open-source software. The council, the largest local authority in the UK, intended to deploy open-source software on 1,500 PCs in libraries across the city.
I would not consider 1,500 PCs a large number of machines.
But the project has fallen vastly short of expectations, with just 200 Linux PCs being deployed. Even some of those have been migrated back to Windows, council executives have told ZDNet UK.

"We have deployed open source in some libraries. We have worked on the basis of 200 PCs. In some cases, we have migrated back to Windows," said Les Timms, project manager at the city council. "1,500 was the original plan. It was a figure plucked from the air at the time," Timms told ZDNet UK.
A figure plucked from the air? I wonder what else was "plucked from the air"?
Timms said the council had compared the cost of the Linux desktop migration with an upgrade to Windows XP, and had found that a Microsoft upgrade would be cheaper. Most of the difference was made up of costs attributed to "decision making" and "project management", largely brought about because of a shortage of skills in open-source networking and the changes to IT processes that would result.
OK. They thought that "free" meant free-as-in-beer, and thought they could update all their machines on the cheap. And they soaked up the savings with meetings and overhead (decision making and project management). If the software was free, then everything else would be free, right? And to be blunt about it, because they were a Microsoft shop, they failed to realize that setup and management would be different between Linux and Windows. A shortage of skills and a change in IT process, indeed.
The Linux project cost £534,710, while the equivalent XP upgrade would have cost the council £429,960. There were a range of problems with the open-source implementation, Timms said, including desktop interfaces and lack of support for removeable drives.

In the light of the findings, the council has taken the decision to mothball the project.

Timms has now moved jobs to work for Service Birmingham, a joint venture between Birmingham City Council and Capita, which is focusing on increasing business efficiency. Responsibility for the day-to-day running of the council's IT now rests with transformation chief Glyn Evans. Evans told ZDNet UK: "We will continue with a mixed economy [Microsoft and open source]." But he warned, "I'm not an open-source fanatic."
Interesting. Sounds like no real attempt was made to determine if the Linux WIMP would match the Windows experience they were used to, and what, if any, special training would be required. Testing would also have shown the problems with hardware support (or the lack thereof). I can sympathize with their hardware problems. I have also experienced problems with thumb drives and other USB devices. It has only been within the last year with the latest distro releases (Ubuntu 6, Suse 10, and FC5) where plugging in thumb drives even approached reliable detection and automatic mounting.

It's a shame to see this happen, but it's going to have to before we can run off the noisier and more useless Linux zealots and get down to the task of delivering on most, if not all, of the hype.


  1. I really wish there were more efforts to make (and promote) desktop-oriented FreeBSD variants. While that OS may be lagging Linux in some hardware-support issues, they are usually the direct result of a lack of mindshare and inertia for the platform.

    The "little things" like plugging in USB removable media devices, have always "just worked" in FreeBSD for far longer than they ever have in Linux. (but the complete desktop integration isn't there, since FreeBSD makes the desktop environment an external add-on)

    But at the end of the day, a single competent Linux admin could probably have fixed all the problems they were having. I think Windows lulls people into a false sense of administrative ability, to which they are only awakened when a disaster strikes (and sometimes not even then).


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