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Glasgow City Council’s Budget Cuts: Corporate Profits Or Local Jobs?


The concept of the Linux mascot being a penguin came from Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux. Tux was created by Larry Ewing in 1996 after an initial suggestion made by Alan Cox and further refined by Linus Torvalds on the Linux kernel mailing list.


The Herald reported on Thursday, “Job fears as Glasgow council faces cuts in excess of £100m”. This raises an interesting question, could these cost savings be made at the expense of foreign corporate profits rather than local jobs and investment? We do have options if we choose to consider them. One way might be to follow in the foot steps of Munich City Council.

In 2003 Munich City Council initiated a project to switch almost all the city council’s 15,000 computers away from the U.S. based Microsoft Corporation’s, Windows computer operating system (OS), over to the GNU Linux computer operating system. Although the main motivation for the switch was not cost saving, Munich city council has calculated that moving to Linux has saved it €10m. In light of Glasgow City Council’s huge budgets cuts this year, shouldn’t we consider following suit? Especially because the switch has provided so many other benefits for the city of Munich.

In a May 2014 interview in Munich, project leader, Peter Hofmann, explained, “Migrating workers of Germany’s third-largest city [from Windows to Linux] was no easy task and there were plenty of hurdles along the way, but by and large the project has been a storming success.”
Like Munich, could Glasgow could benefit from a similar transition? And, why would we want to anyway?
There are four main reasons that Hofmann highlights for moving to Linux.

First, supporting the local economy – rather than paying large amounts in software license fees to foreign companies and depending on their expensive support contracts, local IT businesses can be employed to develop, deploy and support Linux-based council IT systems – retaining local control of the system and keeping skills and money in the local economy.

Second, cost savings. Hofmann explains that, ‘While the initial aim of the project wasn’t to save money, it’s still what a lot of people talk about. Today, over a decade down the line, has LiMux [Munich’s custom-made version of Linux] been a good idea in terms of finances? “Yes, it has […] We did a calculation and we made it publicly available on our information system for the city council. We have the exact same parameters for staying with Windows as with the migration to the Linux platform. Based on those parameters, Linux has saved us €10m.”

Third, flexibility – because Linux is Open Source, local programmers can be employed to adapt the system to suit the needs of the council’s various departments and goals. This is vital for enabling the adaptation and development of user-friendly and task specific software.

Fourth, security – because Linux is developed using an Open Source development model any weaknesses found in the source code tends to be fixed quickly. A word about source code here: to use a food analogy, the programme source code is like a recipe; the programme code that you run on your computer is like a meal made using this recipe, served and ready to eat. If there is something not quite right about the meal – i.e., a security weakness is found in the programme – the recipe can be adjusted and a new meal made, in the same way that we need to update to new versions of computer programmes. Changing the programme source code makes no changes to the programme actually running on a computer until the programme is updated. So, to recap, source code is the programme recipe.

The term Open Source means that the source code – the recipe – is freely available for anyone to download and have a look at. Closed source (or proprietary software, as it is more commonly known) means that the source code – the recipe – is not publicly available. All programmes are compiled from source code into computer readable code before they are run on a computer (see: http://opensource.com/resources/what-open-source). Again, because Linux is Open Source – unlike Windows – with Linux it is possible to find out if the operating system is doing what it is meant to be doing. Hofmann explains that “At the time [2003/04] there was a lot of discussion about Windows 2000 and the calling home functionality (i.e., sending information back to Microsoft without the computer user’s knowledge). If you asked Microsoft […], ‘which one of your programmes are calling home?’, they said ‘err, yeah, maybe some, or not’. So we didn’t get a clear answer at that time, and we thought there would be a great advantage from a security perspective to using Linux.” And of course, with the ever-increasing prevalence of computer programmes involvement and influence in almost every area of our lives, and with the new revelations by Edward Snowden about Google, having some confidence that programmes running on our computers are actually doing what we are told they should be doing – nothing more – is an even more important issue than ever.

Westminster has been slow to take advantage of the security and cost saving benefits that come with using Open Source software. Taking our lead from Munich, is it time that Scotland started to take its digital life a bit more seriously? Surely, what’s been a resounding success for Munich could work for Glasgow, Edinburgh or any of our cities and towns.

We would be leading Scotland into a more secure, flexible, needs orientated, local and cost saving digital future.

For more information see: www.linuxvoice.com/the-big-switch

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  1. theeforsakenone says:

    The weakness of that idea that comes to mind is that GCC are tied into a PFI contract for all their IT systems. I doubt that contract lets them change their primary OS.

    Also it’s way too imaginative even if they weren’t bound by a contract.

    1. F Johnston says:

      If another organisation manged their I.T. systems the Labour leaders at GCC wouldn’t be able
      block the Web Cam in George Square every time the Yes Campaigners took it over.
      We never did establish the name of the “fault” that cause these blackouts,
      It only happened when the Square was full of Saltires.
      We could use the name “Lord Provost” until the elections come around?

  2. abesto says:

    This is something which the Scottish Govt could and should be doing

    1. Nigel de Sylva says:

      I suggested this over a year ago when the Scottish office was upgrading their health service computers but they decided to stick to the extremely expensive and not altogether completely functional system instead of opting for a system that was already functional and well accepted in the States.

  3. IAB says:

    I’d be interested in hearing more about data security – are the US less able to monitor users data on a Linux platform? Why isn’t there a Linux type search and news facility to take away the US dominance of the web?

    1. Michael L. says:

      Sorry, but are you under the impression that Google runs on Windows?

      I think you’ll find that Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc. all run Linux in-house. goobuntu is google’s internal version of ubuntu, facebook uses a version of centos and Amazon has so many Linux boxes it sells space on them.

  4. But ….who will provide the free lunches and corporate event ‘jollies’ if Open Source is used?
    Won’t anybody think of the poor commissioning Councillors and Officials?

  5. cynical lowlander says:

    Worth a petition to the Scottish Government, or a letter to regional List MP’s to have it discussed?

    Agree with theeforsakenone though, Local Authorities (and perhaps the Civil Service as a whole) don’t have innovation and imagination in their DNA. (Yet)

  6. bringiton says:

    Android is basically Linux and is used in many smart phones/devices and tablets,so in common use,probably even by many government employees.
    Historically,Linux/Unix platforms have been subject to less viral attacks than Windows but with the emergence of the criminal fraternity on the internet,no longer the case.
    The main advantage of Open source is that what you see is what you get,no hidden code doing things you are unaware of and can be relatively easily customised for your own purposes.
    However,there is an overhead in that you need trained staff to do this and the benefits would have to be weighed against possible increased costs.
    Probably worth the investment in the long run however.

  7. The savings could be useful. It’s not just the operating system costs saved there’s also savings on non MS Office software and reduced costs for PCs since they wouldn’t need to be state if the art or high spec.

    Downside is retraining staff to use the software and ensuring that the back office software could be used without incurring huge costs.

    If you want to see an example of poor IT implementation, planning and use look at Edinburghs experience with BT.

  8. John Moss says:

    Hi, regardless of the PFI IT contract Glasgow Cityn council has, I think it is important to look ahead. These contracts are not going to last forever and we should be planning to move our systems to ‘open’ platforms.

    I think that we should begin by banning spending on ‘closed source’ operating systems from a fixed date to force the change through; i.e no spending on closed source operating systems to take place after say April 2016.

    I used the word ‘force’ and not ‘encourage’ because truthfully public servants, elected or otherwise, will need to pushed into this or they will maintain the same expesive status quo.

  9. johnmoss2014 says:

    HI, the expenisve PFI and other private IT contracts in place withour public services are not going to last forever. I think we should take a long-term view and plan to migrate our systems from ‘closed’ to ‘open’ source systems in order to reap the benefits.

    We can start the process by banning the purchase of ‘closed source’ desktop and server operating systems from say April 2016. This would force our public servants, elected and otherwise, to set things in motion.

    I use the word ‘force’ and not ‘encourage’ as I believe this is going to need to be pushed through and it is up to every one of us to speak up and call for this change. I believe that if you don’t push for and demand the best then you get saddled with rubbish. And I think we all have had enough of that.

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