The City of Munich has developed impressive systems for rolling out and maintaining Linux desktops for large numbers of users, according to a British developer who had a close-up view of the system.

Munich is engaged in a high-profile project that will replace its ageing Windows infrastructure with a Debian-based Linux distribution called LiMux. The city plans to gradually replace all city workers' desktops, amounting to tens of thousands of workstations.

As such, Munich developers' priority has been developing automated management systems, according to Steve McIntyre, a Cambridge-based Debian developer. McIntyre earlier this month attended a debugging session hosted by the LiMux development team.

"Most of the work has been in configuration and systems... rather than custom packages on the clients themselves," McIntyre said in a blog post last week. "The vast majority of the packages installed come straight from the standard Debian archive."

Because LiMux is open source, the development work will eventually filter back to the community, allowing other organisations to take advantage of it. The lack of adequate management tools is a factor in slowing the adoption of Linux on the enterprise desktop, according to industry analysts.

LiMux developers have automated installation via Debian's FAI (fully automatic installation) system, according to McIntyre, with configuration information stored in LDAP and the database administration program GOsa as a front-end. "They've integrated these to enable some very clever management features so that all aspects of the city-wide system can be maintained from one central point," McIntyre said.

As new machines are introduced to the system, administrators can choose to configure them as clients or "depot" servers, used as seeds for further clients, McIntyre said. Individual user profiles can be adjusted to, for instance, give access to new applications as needed.

Shared resources such as network storage and printers are set up automatically from the LDAP database, and the system can control access to USB storage devices on a per-device, per-user basis, for security purposes.

McIntyre said the LiMux developers are expecting to contribute bug reports and fixes and security development work back to the Debian project. LiMux is planning to devote full-time developer work to security, McIntyre said.

LiMux recently reached its first stable release, paving the way for the first deployments.