German city says OpenOffice shortcomings are forcing it back to Microsoft

But open source developers say the council should still consider a quick upgrade to OpenOffice or LibreOffice

The city council in Freiburg, Germany, is planning to ditch an open source office suite and go back to using Microsoft Office.

But on Friday, German open source developers reacted angrily, saying that the city uses outdated software and did not consider upgrading to a current version of LibreOffice or OpenOffice.org.

In a draft resolution discussing IT problems, Freiburg's city council said it was in favor of migrating from the outdated OpenOffice 3.2.1 it is using in combination with Microsoft Office 2000 to Microsoft Office 2010,

"In the specific case of the use of OpenOffice, the hopes and expectations of the year 2007 are not fulfilled," the council wrote, adding that continuing use OpenOffice will lead to performance impairments and aggravation and frustration on the part of employees and external parties.

"Therefore, a new Microsoft Office license is essential for effective operations," they wrote.

Freiburg has been using OpenOffice and Microsoft Office 2000 side-by-side since 2007 and has been very restrictive issuing licenses of new Microsoft Office suites. Since then, the city noticed that it has been far from ideal to use only OpenOffice for digital correspondence. Microsoft Office for instance is the standard for external communication, the council wrote.

Employees had trouble with documents that were formatted in a seemingly complete random way when opened in another office suite. There were also conversion problems between the presentation programs Power Point and Impress. And spreadsheet program Calc and Impress were seen as significantly underperforming compared to the Microsoft alternative, the council wrote.

While expectations were that OpenOffice's development would progress and it would be used by more municipalities, government use of OpenOffice is not widespread, the council wrote. Besides Munich, there is no big community that decided to do the same as Freiburg, it said, adding that there are no signs that the use of open source software will prevail in the market.

The council noted that the currently used version of Oracle OpenOffice is not being developed anymore. That left the option of using LibreOffice, an office suite that has its roots in OpenOffice but is being developed independently, or choosing Apache OpenOffice, the relaunched version of OpenOffice from the Apache Software Foundation.

But using OpenOffice for word processing alone is not possible, the council said, adding that they estimated that only 80 percent of the word processing could be done using the open source suite. "With spreadsheets and presentations this percentage is significantly lower," they wrote.

"The divergence of the development community (LibreOffice on one hand Apache Office on the other) is crippling for the development for OpenOffice," the council wrote, adding that the development of Microsoft Office is far more stable. Looking at the options, a one-product strategy with Microsoft Office 2010 is the only viable one, according to the council.

Several open source groups such as the Free Software Foundation Europe, the Document Foundation and the Open Source Business Alliance protested the plans in an open letter to the council on Friday, saying the council compared apples with oranges.

"Numerous statements concerning LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice are incorrect or outdated," they said in the letter, adding that the support of LibreOffice and OpenOffice is at a professional level these days. "The assessment of the evaluation that compatibility to Microsoft Office cannot be reached in the next few years, is also wrong," they said.

According to the organizations, no open source experts were consulted in the process. Therefore they hoped the council would still consider a migration to a current version of LibreOffice or OpenOffice.

The council plans to vote on the draft bill next Tuesday.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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