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Pioneering desktop Linux project put on ice

Norwegian city won't make shift soon, but the man behind the plan denies that the project has been canned.

Ambitious plans by the Norwegian city of Bergen to move to an open-source desktop environment have been suspended.

Ole-Bjorn Tuftedal, special adviser on contracts and technology for Bergen, said Monday that the desktop Linux migration would not happen for at least the next two years. Tuftedal, though, is still confident that the migration will happen eventually.

Bergen announced plans in 2004 to migrate its administration and educational servers to Linux--which Tuftedal says has now been successfully completed.

The next stage of the project was to be a Linux migration on the desktop. The suspension of this project has been reported by analysts as evidence that open-source software isn't ready for mass deployment on the desktop.

But Tuftedal claims that the Bergen administration had recently decided to concentrate its resources on an ongoing "e-government" portal, which would give the citizens better access to key civic services. Over the next two years, 50 to 80 services will be made available to the citizens through this portal, which will run on Linux servers. But Tuftedal admitted that the migration has proved to be more complicated than originally assumed.

"We are quite a lean organization, so consequently we cannot easily manage to do major changes to the desktop systems of our employees and do other large projects at the same time," Tuftedal told ZDNet UK. "The services for citizens have to be the priority."

A further complication is that Bergen did not receive government funding to finance an evaluation project for the Linux desktop migration project. One challenge with this migration is that changing the desktop software would involve corresponding changes in the back-office systems as well.

Presently, Bergen's desktop PCs are running Windows 2000 and Office 2000, and may be upgraded to the 2003 versions of the Microsoft software, as the city already own the licenses as part of a former enterprise agreement with the software maker.

The city recently conducted a successful but limited trial of the open-source OpenOffice, but there are advantages in sticking with the status quo until the e-government portal is built.

"We have not got high license costs now. Only if we bought new software would we incur new costs," Tuftedal said.

Over the last few years, several cities have announced plans to test or deploy open-source software. Recently, though, some of these plans have hit problems. Munich was forced to push back its desktop Linux rollout by a year, and the London borough of Newham stuck with Microsoft after a trial test of open-source software.

Graeme Wearden reported for ZDNet UK.