FFII’s coordinator for Switzerland
Berner Zeitung on a slander campaign against the Canton Solothurn
The Berner Zeitung currently appears to be on some sort of crusade against the Office for Informatics and Organization (AIO) of the Canton Solothurn. The subject is the Linux strategy of said canton.
(Please note that not all comments in the referenced articles are referenced below since there are so many of them, and most of them already falsify themselves.)
Back in 2001, the Canton Solothurn decided to migrate their entire IT infrastructure to a Linux desktop and Linux servers. Nowadays, most of the migration is complete and the old Windows NT terminal server farm exist in downsized form for legacy reasons.
Some applications still aren’t migrated, as evidently specialized applicatons aren’t always available initially for Linux.
A crusade against the strategy
The Berner Zeitung, however, is attempting to draw an entirely different picture of the migration. They recently published articles like «Kritik an der Pinguin-Strategie», «Wieder Ärger mit dem Pinguin» and others, all bashing the Linux strategy of the canton. Most of the articles mention complaints of users of the platform that they cannot do their work reasonably with the new platform.
One problem mentioned in such an article was, for example, that the office of justice received a PowerPoint presentation for some event and had to lend a laptop from the cantonal police to display it. This story is quite evidently nonsense, since the document could easily have been opened with OpenOffice. The other stories aren’t any better though.
Anonymous astroturfing site
The articles frequently cite a web site named Linux Windows, whose URL is not being linked to here in order to not affect the page rank. It is hosted at npage dot ch, which should help people to find it for reference.
This site is of really questionable quality. It is hosted with a hoster who refuses to provide any information about the people hosting sites using their services, and the site does not give any hint about the identity of the operator, who describes himself as a government employee.
The welcome site states explicitly that everybody who has something to contribute to the web site is allowed to publish to the guest book. However, all of the more insightful comments submitted in favor of the strategy, correcting statements about prior postings et cetera are never passed while some of the more superficial ones are permitted to simulate openness.
The entries posted to this site are then alltogether terrible. The issues mentioned are mostly minor temporary issues or general comments deprived of any basis. One comment claims for example that Open Source per se was bad because hackers have built backdoors into it, an argument which can be falsified easily by browsing through the FSF web sites or typing the claim into Google. Also, it neglects the fact that initially, all software was free software.
Instead, the owner of this site could have provided something constructive like a bug tracker, where fixed issues could be marked as such. This would have allowed constructive cooperation between the cantonal employees and the AIO.
Official «media management» by UDC
The conservative party UDC also published an article on the news site SOaktuell.ch mentioning the debate and taking sides heavily against the Linux strategy. The article states that the canton is facing expenses of several hundred million swiss franks — mentioning farther down that these expenses occur in the event that the strategy is changed and new Windows and Office licenses would have to be purchased. Under these circumstances it appears to be a good argument for keeping the strategy.
Another argument mentioned is that «the canton is sending out documents that its citizens cannot read». Were this the case, then at least there is a way out for the citizens which is free of charge: the installation of the OpenOffice suite, which can be done in only a couple of clicks.
However, the comment completely ignores that starting from Office 2007, Microsoft Office users have been sending out documents in the new OOXML .docx format by default. Reading these files requires a current version of MS Office, which has to be purchased. But even without this, reading newer Office files with older Office versions has always been a problem.
Mr. Bader from the AIO has been interviewed by various newspapers about the raised issues; his comment was that no such deterring problems are currently known to them. Most of the cantonal employees I’ve been in contact with also confirm that there are only occasional issues with the system which are usually fixed quickly. (This would probably also be the case with a Windows environment.)
It seems not to be a coincidence that these articles all appeared after the appeal to the decision of the Federal Office of Construction to grant a CHF 42 Mio contract to Microsoft without a tender, because the Canton Solothurn has been mentioned in the reasoning of the appeal as an example that alternatives to the Microsoft solutions exist. It is not known who is directing this slander campaign against the canton, but either way this person is mostly raising the ridicule of the community, rather than having a real effect.
Other renowned newspapers are already reporting that the Canton Aargau is considering to follow the good example of Solothurn and to migrate their IT to open source software. This makes it pretty clear that Open Source is indeed a viable alternative.
As a closing note, it should also be mentioned that our company is working with an exclusive Open Source environment and has been doing so since its early days in 2000. We have yet to encounter serious difficulties.