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Governments turn to Open Source for sovereignty

The German government has launched a new Open Source software project called openDesk, which aims to reduce the country’s dependency on proprietary software vendors and support transparency and interoperability.

openDesk is a collection of Open Source software modules that are important for day-to-day work in the public sector, such as text creation, file collaboration, project management, email, calendar and messaging.

While the initial focus is on public administration in Germany, The source code is publicly available on a government-provided GitLab called openCoDE, making it available, free of charge, for use by other organizations, industries and geographical location. Discussions are taking place with other European countries; France and Austria in particular have already expressed interest.

Commissioned by the German Federal Ministry of the Interior and Home Affairs (BMI), under the project leadership of a newly created Center for Digital Sovereignty, ZenDiS.

How it works

Here’s how the project might play out on a day-to-day level:

A government employee based in Cologne logs into openDesk where she finds a suite of productivity tools in one integrated solution. To create a document about a new city ordinance, she uses Collabora Online to write and edit the document. This is part of a larger project managed in OpenProject with all its milestones and deliverables. The document is then uploaded and shared with other employees in Nextcloud to get their feedback and directly linked to the respective milestone of the project.

Once the document is final, she uses Open-Xchange to inform other parties via email; important project milestones are also shared in the calendar. For ad-hoc coordination with colleagues, she uses the Element chat or starts a video conference via Jitsi.

What’s inside openDesk

openDesk builds on the idea of Dataport’s Phoenix project (dPhonix suite) but only uses Open Source components.

The project has already attracted a number of Open Source software providers, including Collabora Online, Element, Nextcloud, Nordeck IT + Consulting, OpenProject, Open-Xchange and XWiki.

These software providers are contributing a variety of modules to openDesk, including:

  • Collabora Online: A secure Open Source online office suite
  • Element: An Open Source and end-to-end encrypted messenger
  • Nextcloud: An Open Source platform to securely collaborate and share data
  • Nordeck IT + Consulting: Widgets for collaboration, including video conferencing based on Jitsi and messaging based on Matrix Element
  • OpenProject: Waterfall, agile, and hybrid Open Source project management software
  • Open-Xchange: Comprehensive email and calendar functions
  • Univention: Components for the openDesk web portal and the cross-application management of digital identities and access rights
  • XWiki: An Open Source wiki platform

The first version of openDesk is expected to be released in a basic version at the end of 2023. Until then, you can follow the project and software development on the Git Lab page. Here’s a preview of what the openDesk start page looks like:

Image: openDesk

The openDesk project is a significant step towards digital sovereignty for the German government. By using Open Source software, the government hopes to reduce reliance on proprietary vendors and gain more control over data.

Why this matters

The openDesk project is a significant development in the world of Open Source software. It shows that even large governments — where the public administration is one of the most important sectors — are beginning to recognize the benefits of Open Source, including security, transparency and flexibility.

What’s next

OpenDesk is a work in progress that’s constantly being refined to meet specific needs of the public administration. You can check out the current version of the source code on openCoDe (German only, for now) or the joint platform of the public administration for the exchange of Open Source software.

Know any other examples of Open Source in government? We’d love to hear from you! Get in touch.

Cover image: Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

One response to “Governments turn to Open Source for sovereignty”

  1. […] are opaque and not designed for the average voter to understand. Even if more governments are turning to Open Source for daily work, it hasn’t taken as much root around elections. Del Boca gave the example of […]


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