Out of the “proprietary age”: Dortmund largely relies on open source


Microsoft will find it much more difficult to window in administration in Dortmund in the future. As part of a memorandum on digitization from 2020 to 2025, the city council decided to use open source software “where possible”. The paper also states: “Software developed by the administration or commissioned for development is made available to the general public.”

The Dortmund system house (Dosys) should be responsible for the operational implementation of the digitization processes and think about the necessary measures and their implementation. In order to emphasize this responsibility, the IT department will be upgraded to the Office for Digital and Information Technology (DIGIT) according to the plan.

The decision was made on February 11th, and it has been since Tuesday with the minutes of the council meeting available in black and white. Do-FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) welcomed the decision that the city of Dortmund “heralded the political turning point and started the exit from the proprietary age”. The citizens’ initiative campaigns for free and open source software and has paved the way for the new strategy over the years.

For Do-FOSS, the announcement is accompanied by a “reversal of the burden of proof in favor of open source software”. In future, the administration must clearly justify the advantages of a potential use of proprietary programs from Microsoft, for example, compared to free software. In addition, the Council followed the concerns of the Public Money – Public Code campaign. Whatever computer programs are financed with public money should be available to everyone through a free license.

Now According to Do-FOSS it depends, “that the city will find the appropriate means to implement this exit in practice by means of a proprietary exit strategy and to dissolve existing dealer inclusions”. The practical administrative work for free software has the necessary political backing to be able to succeed. The parliamentary groups from CDU, SPD, Greens and Left had jointly submitted the digitization application and voted for it. The FDP abstained because it had called for more external expertise to be included in the Dosys.

Last year the “Free Software” working group of the city of Dortmund had already explored opportunities and risks as well as tasks that would be associated with a migration to open source. A complete “report on results” is to follow on this basis by mid-2022 and serve as a guide for further steps. In 2018, the city administration started setting the course for free software as part of a master plan for digitization. It wants to find “ways to reduce dependencies on individual IT providers” and promote open standards.

As a result of the paradigm shift, “there is now the political backing to gradually dissolve the dependencies on proprietary providers,” emphasized Matthias Kirschner, President of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE). He appealed to other administrations in Germany and Europe to follow the example of Dortmund. The advantages associated with free software allowed state actors to save taxes, promote innovation and put IT security on a more solid basis.

With the groundbreaking decision to give Linux & Co. priority, Dortmund underlined “a future-oriented and sustainable strategy for the digitization of the city”, explained Peter Ganten from the Open Source Business Alliance. The successful cooperation between politics, administration and the citizens involved in Do-FOSS went particularly well. This underpins the fact that “good and sustainable digitization is also the focus of social interest”.

Do-FOSS managing director Christian Nähle explained that the alliance deliberately started small and initially sought contact with the official data protection officer and the staff representatives. “We got assessments from the city’s IT company and checked with other administrations,” reported the activist. In doing so, contradictions have also come to light. It continued with letters to political committees in order to start a dialogue in a democratic way. Perseverance is required for this path.