Munich - one of the biggest cities in Germany - has migrated its infrastructure to Linux, a project called Limux. There was a lot of discussion surrounding this project. In the discussion also often costs are discussed. The different sides argue how much the transition to Linux and Open Source Software costs. See for example this news in german (I couldn't find something in english, sorry). There is discussed whether the project costs 23 million or 61 million Euro.

My question is: How can the usage of Open Source Software cost so much? Isn't the software free for download? Which costs are involved in using Open Source Software/Free Software?


4 Answers 4

  1. You write, 'cost of change to ...'. Change has cost. People have to do work. Changing between Linux and FreeBSD would also be costly for a large infrastructure.

  2. The developers of the open source alternative may not have chosen to build facilities that assist in the deployment and management of large numbers of systems -- features that Windows might have. This might have cost implications for both the transition and ongoing operations.

  3. Newspapers are sold by, ahem, focussing. It's possible that Munich adopted Linux for ideological reasons, but more likely they did an analysis that showed cost advantages over the long term. You sell papers by focussing on the transition cost and not mentioning the long term anticipated advantages.


Using software is more than just downloading the program and hitting run.

Migrating a existing infrastructure is a massive operation where you need to ensure no data is lost and minimize downtime. That takes planning.

Doing all that takes people, people want to get payed.

Running the server itself takes electricity. Internet access isn't free either. I could go on...

  • Don't forget the re-training costs. KDE, despite being very Windows-like, is not a drop-in replacement for Windows. LibreOffice, despite being very strongly inspired by Microsoft Office, is not a drop-in replacement. The Linux terminal bears only a passing resemblance to the Windows command line. And so on.
    – Mark
    Jul 14, 2015 at 21:32

Nothing is free.

First off lets split your question(s) up.

1. Isn't the software free for download?

No, not always. As Zizouz212 wrote on a similar question:

You can pay for open source software. With Open Source, the source code must be made available, and provide options for forking and the like. Compiled versions can be paid for.

Like many other programs, open source software is generally similar to proprietary software. For developers, they can get their hands on code, and fork and experiment. For consumers, many might not see much of a difference, except that they may see it as open information.

2. How can the usage of Open Source Software cost so much?

Well, now that you know that you CAN indeed pay to use open source software you can imagine compaines / govenments such as Munich, they wold need to pay for:

  • Changes to the software
  • Bug fixes

Even though they have the source code, they have no one to change / fix it, so they would need to hire experienced developers which would cost money.

Which costs are involved in using Open Source Software/Free Software?

This is a tricky question, mainly because it depends on many things but here are a few just as an example:

  1. Developers (hiring them)
  2. Food for developers
  3. Computers
  4. Internet
  5. Website hosting
  6. Power (electricity bill)

These are just a FEW of the costs that could be involved.

Keep in mind that just because something is open source does not mean it is free, people have to pay for dinner somehow!


The munich city administration has to do business in various areas. Ranging from citizen registration, via building requests, to lost-and-found office and a lot more. Some examples of how a move to open source solutions involves costs:

  1. The migration needs to be planned and organised, which is really a tremendous project on its own.
  2. Running dedicated applications that are "self-made" or at least largely customized. Hence it is not sufficient to download and deploy existing open source software - it has to be adapted to the special needs.
  3. Even if they switch from MS Office to OpenOffice/LibreOffice this cost money in terms of training and adapting additional components needed like templates and interfaces to other parts of the administrative infrastructure.

But on the other hand a lot of costs for licenses are saved and the dependance from single providers is reduced which are very positive factors for a final costs calculation.

A brief financial breakdown is given in a press release:

In his final report, project leader Hofmann explains: “Even though the project timescale was extended by 80 percent from five to nine years, the cost only rose by 44 percent (from €12 million to € 18.7 million).” The distribution of costs reveals some interesting aspects:

costs for applications were far lower than expected, because much more could be done with free software or local solutions (like local virtualisation) than initially predicted

expenses for internal staff were lower than expected, in part because there were not enough applicants for all of the jobs

external consulting costs were much higher than expected, because of both the lack of internal staff and missing technical knowledge within the municipality's administration.

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