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A Whole GNU World: How Munich Switched from Windows to Linux

In 2001, a movement started in Munich to switch government computers’ operating systems from Windows to GNU/Linux.  The article describes how such an unlikely movement followed through.  Personal computers require an operating system in order to run, and while most consumers are accustomed to using Mac OS or Windows, there are many free, non-proprietary alternatives including GNU/Linux.  By 2004, Munich’s city council decided to make a full conversion to GNU/Linux, abandoning all Windows products.  By 2006, the rollout had begun and, eventually the city government managed to switch roughly 15,000 computers (and their respective users) to use GNU/Linux.

How was this accomplished?  In Networks, we have been discussing how cascades in networks can occur.  When deciding whether to switch to a new service, users will form their own values of the services, taking into account the cost of making a switch and whether the new service will be more valuable to them.  In the case of Munich’s city council, sticking with Windows was actually cheaper in the short run, as converting 15,000 computers to GNU/Linux requires massive amounts of technical support and retraining of users.  However, GNU/Linux is completely free whereas Windows has high costs for obtaining licenses to use its software.  The article also discusses some non-monetary advantages of using non-proprietary software.  Pure GNU/Linux exposes all of its software’s source code whereas the majority of Windows software is obscured to its users.  This meant that IT security teams had no idea how much data was being sent to Microsoft with Windows whereas they could be confident that no data was being leaked with GNU/Linux.   These factors were enough to convince the city council to switch.

Making the switch also required convincing individual users to accept the changes.  In terms of networks, some users valued GNU/Linux highly, so they were easy to convince.  In the article, these were the type of people who did not care how they did their work, as long as they got their work done.  The article also mentions people on the opposite end of this spectrum.  These were the people who put no value in GNU/Linux, and would panic over a change as small as their start button changing color.

In Networks, we have discussed ways of increasing individuals’ valuations in order to make them switch to a new product or service.  Often, strategies to accomplish this involve lowering the difficulty or cost of making the switch.  The article discusses how teams overseeing Munich’s conversion held meetings throughout the city, held question and answer sessions, and introduced “Microsoft-free zones” in order to reassure the users who were more attached to Windows that the switch would not be exceedingly difficult.  Through these efforts, the conversion teams increased individuals’ valuations of GNU/Linux, allowing Munich’s government to completely switch its computers to a free, non-propriety alternative.



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