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Roundtable: City of Haarlem and OpenOffice.org

2004-12-11

 

Early in November it was announced that the municipal offices of the Dutch city of Haarlem, the capital of North Holland, had migrated to OpenOffice.org. Nederlands Language Project Lead Simon Brouwer and Co-Lead Arthur Buijs met with the persons responsible on 24 November 2004 and discussed the move, motives for it, and effects. The following article is extracted from notes taken at that meeting. Questions were agreed upon by Louis Suarez-Potts, Simon Brouwer, and Arthur Buijs.

Who was present at this meeting? And what are their roles?

Present for the City of Haarlem: Jan van de Straat (Head R&D), Arie Sigterman (coordinator Open Source) and Han Barendregt (migration and training). Present for nl.openoffice.org: Simon Brouwer (project lead), Arthur Buijs (project co-lead).

Jan van de Straat is “Head R&D” for the City of Haarlem. Because Haarlem has its own “software R&D department”, it is less dependent on software suppliers: parts of a software solution can be developed in-house (which was a big advantage in this case).

Arie Sigterman is the coordinator of open-source software application in Haarlem, and he will be managing the OSSO (Open Source Software voor Overheden = Open Source Software for Public Administrations) project that is being set up.

Han Barendregt is a free-lance consultant who is responsible for software training in the Haarlem City offices. He has conducted a detailed evaluation of OpenOffice.org and he wrote much of the training materials.

Why did you choose OpenOffice.org (OpenOffice.org)?

Because (in contrast to MS Office) OpenOffice.org fulfills all open standards. With a view to, for example, digital archiving and municipal e-services, this is a must! The lower cost of OpenOffice.org was a consideration, but by no means the most important one. And in terms of functionality it compared well with MS Office. Finally, with OpenOffice.org you are not dependent on a single supplier.

How did you start with OpenOffice.org?

How the City of Haarlem started with OpenOffice.org: Jan had evaluated OpenOffice.org, the question was whether a free software package could compare with MS Office? If it had compared badly with MS Office he would not have pursued the idea, but his impression was quite favorable. So he asked Han, who has much experience with MS Office training, to make make a functional comparison between OpenOffice.org and MS Office. The conclusion of Han's detailed report was that, on the whole, OpenOffice.org is somewhat superior to MS Office 2000. Of course in some areas MS Office is better, but in other areas it is worse. The main shortcoming of OpenOffice.org regarded its incompatibility with VBA macros and the integration with third party software used by the City. For this reason the “huisstijl” (“House Style” document generator) project was started, which made the migration technically feasible. A breakthrough was a political agreement in the City Council which provided a clear “go ahead”.

What problems does OpenOffice.org solve?

Well, see above. Also, in conjunction with the new “huisstijl” system that was developed in-house, considerably less maintenance is required.

What problems does it create?

More effort is required to overcome user resistance to having to use new software. A number of years ago the City of Haarlem migrated from WordPerfect to MS Office, and many users balk at having to change to yet another word processor. Fortunately, once they start using OpenOffice.org they quickly discover that the differences with MS Office are not that big. Also, there is much resistance from software suppliers who have a commercial interest in providing MS-based solutions. However, because the City of Haarlem was able to develop part of the solution it was not so dependent on external suppliers.

Who will be using OpenOffice.org? How many users?

The City of Haarlem has about 2000 seats of which currently about half use MS Office 97 and half have MSO 2000 (w/o Access). The first 100 users have already migrated and the migration of the rest is being prepared. A relatively small number of “power” users who depend on specific features will continue using MS Office.

Under what circumstances will OpenOffice.org be used?

Office environment, most users making relatively simple documents.

How much do they envision this migration costing?

The investment for the “huisstijl” system was about 50.000 Euro, and the training costs are another 50.000 Euro. Note that the previous “huisstijl”system based on MS Office had cost 450.000 guilders (about 200.000 Euro) and required 7 servers to run on. The new system runs on a single server and is expected to require much less software maintenance. These amounts don't include internal personnel costs. On the other hand it is expected that part of the expenses can be recovered, e.g., by offering elements of the solution and OpenOffice.org training materials to other cities and organizations.

is that cheaper or more expensive than staying with MS Office?

Upgrading to MS Office XP would have cost 350,000 Euro a year in licenses, and would have required additional investment to replace older computers.

Did MSFT lower their prices?

Yes.

What support are you using?

Support is mostly in-house, Han Barendregt plays an important role in this. Also, Sun is very cooperative although they don't have a formal support contract [with us].

Have you considered Star Office?

We use the standard Dutch version of OpenOffice.org, in combination with the “huisstijl” system. We might have considered Star Office if it was available in a Dutch version; a consideration would be that there is a big company standing behind the product. However, a Dutch version of Star Office doesn't exist, and using an English version is out of the question for most of the users.

More about the “huisstijl” system: This web-based document generator system was developed in-house. It is a solution for the incompatibility of OpenOffice.org with MS VBA macros and provides integration with third-party supplied software. There are two major companies in the Netherlands which supply such software solutions, each to about half of the cities in the country. One of these was slow to implement OpenOffice.org support, and the other has been very reluctant to do so. They are both working on OpenOffice.org integration support now, but using the “huisstijl” system much of this is actually not needed anymore. The system is being re-implemented in Java and will eventually be made available as open-source software (OSS) through the OSSO project. Much interest has been expressed, both in the Netherlands and in other countries.

 

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