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Comment: OpenOffice's Tale of Two Cities

The H Open - Failure in Freiburg, success in Munich. Experiences with open source software in the public sector couldn't be more different. If there's a lesson to be drawn from this, it's "go the whole hog or not at all".

At first sight it looks pretty straightforward – a licence for Microsoft Office Professional 2010 costs just under €400. Add that up over 10,000 workplaces (as is the case in Munich's city administration) and it comes to more than €4 million. For open source alternatives OpenOffice and LibreOffice, by contrast, licensing costs are zero, so you've saved at least €4 million. In view of the state of public finances, you'd think that would be the end of the discussion.

But it's not. Companies and other organisations that buy large numbers of licences do, of course, enjoy significantly lower prices, benefiting from Microsoft's volume licensing programme. Specific figures are hard to come by, but if you're paying three figure prices for five figure volumes of Microsoft Office, you probably need to work on your negotiating skills. Licensing costs also need to be seen in relation to overall costs for each workplace. If an administrator earns €25 per hour, just a few hours of lost productivity per year can quickly negate any savings on licensing costs.