Munich has begun its migration to Linux on the desktop, a year later than planned and nearly three years since the city announced its move to open source software.

"There have been some delays along the way but we're now moving steadily ahead," Florian Schiessl, manager of the Limux project for the city of Munich, said.

From this week, the first 100 of the city's 14,000 PCs have been switched from Windows and Office applications to Linux and OpenOffice. "Today, we're still working in both the Windows and Linux worlds," Schiessl said. "But over the next two years, the Linux world will get bigger, while the Windows world will get smaller."

A full migration to Linux is "unrealistic," however, according to Schiessl. Some hardware and software products in the public administration will continue to require Windows and some, particularly in the area of desktop publishing, will continue to use Apple computers, he said.

By the end of this year, the city of Munich plans to have migrated 200 computers to the open source desktop environment. "Most of these computers are used for relatively simple office communications," he said. The configuration is based on Linux Distribution Debian GNU/Linux 3.1, the KDE 3.5 user interface and OpenOffice 2.

The Linux team has established guidelines to help overcome format conversion issues. "With OpenOffice, we don't have a problem opening and reading Microsoft formats and, with most simple documents, we don't have any processing problems," Schiessl said. "But, in some cases, there can be format loss, and some documents need to be handled in a special way to avoid format conversion problems. Our guidelines address these issues."

One of the bigger challenges moving ahead, Schiessl said, will be to migrate some of the public administration's larger departments with more complex processes. "Big departments with specialised processes will be a challenge, but we have a plan to tackle this and expect to achieve our goal of having around 80 percent of all desktop systems running on Linux by the end of 2008."

Delays in the Linux project began with the dispute over software patent issues, followed by longer than expected negotiations with companies bidding for the contract to provide system configuration and support services. On top of that was a one-year extension of the pilot phase. "Because of the complexity of this migration project, we decided to have a very thorough pilot phase," Schiessl said.

He declined to comment on the decision by the city of Bergen, Norway, to delay its Linux desktop plans by two years, largely for lack of detailed information about the decision.