Q&A: Italo Vignoli on the Italian Ministry of Defense's move to LibreOffice

LibreOffice continues its march across Europe

italian army
Credit: US Army Africa/Flicrk

On September 15, the LibreItalia Association announced that the Italian Ministry of Defense Information Systems is switching to LibreOffice. The ministry will be installing LO on around 150,000 workstation, that makes it the second largest deployment of LO by an European agency.

I reached out to Italo Vignoli, the co-founder of The Document Foundation (TDF), the nonprofit organization behind the LibreOffice suite, to learn more about the move.

Are there any other cases where any European government or agency made a switch to LibreOffice?

All the migrations listed in the press release are about European government bodies or agencies who have switched to LibreOffice (or OpenOffice in the past).

In France, 15 ministries for a total of 500,000 PCs, in Spain the region of Valencia with 120,000 PCs plus the region of Extremadura with a smaller - but always large - number, in the Netherlands the Ministry of Defense with 45,000 PCs, in Denmark the hospitals of Copenhagen, in Germany the city of Munich with 15,000 PCs plus a number of local governments.

In Italy, Regione Emilia Romagna with 3,500 PCs, Provinces of Perugia with 1,200 PCs, Cremona with 500 PCs, Macerata with 500 PCs, Trento with 4,000 PCs, Bolzano with 6,000 PCs, cities of Bologna with 3,000 PCs, Piacenza with 600 PCs, Reggio EMilia with 500 PCs, Galliera Hospital in Genoa with 2,500 PCs (now at their 10th migration anniversary), healthcare ASL 5 with 2,500 PCs, and many others.

Of course, in each European country there are examples of migrations to free software.

Will TDF be assisting the Italian Ministry of Defense Information Systems in migrating? What software is the agency currently using?

Associazione LibreItalia, the Italian not for profit association of LibreOffice users and advocates, representing TDF in Italy, will be assisting the Italian Ministry of Defense. Of course, there will be "commercial" activities that will be handled by consultants who are also members of the association, and are certified by TDF. The Ministry of Defense is using Microsoft Office.

What do you see will be the biggest challenges in this migration and how long will it take?

As usual, the biggest challenge will be resistance to change, because people have been used to working with Microsoft Office for years and in the process they become almost "addicted" to it. The migration is planned to be completed at the end of 2016.

What’s your ‘best practice’ advice to organizations and business so that they don't get stuck in vendor lock and can freely use mixed solutions or switch vendors easily?

Obstacles to migrations are psychological and not technical, because interoperability problems can be solved while the resistance to change is difficult to overtake. Because of this, communications is key, both internal and external. The Document Foundation has published a migration protocol, which provides a guidance to organizations willing to switch from proprietary to free software. Although based on LibreOffice, the migration protocol can be adopted for any migration project, independently from the product.

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