The rise of the Sovereign Workplace: openDesk – Your open source alternative to Microsoft and Google

Temps de lecture estimé: 9 minutes

Data privacy matters – we all know that and still, we send E-Mails with Microsoft and upload files to Google. Free and open source alternatives are sometimes simply not attractive enough in their standalone-version. This is about to change! A group of open source software vendors are currently collaborating to offer what people are missing: A Sovereign Workplace – the open and free alternative to hyperscalers like Microsoft, Google and Co.

Concentrated facts about the Sovereign Workplace project
What: A digital workplace offering a bundle of free and open source software
Main target group: The public sector in Europe
Accountable: The German Federal Ministry of the Interior and Home Affairs (BMI), represented by ZenDiS
Vendors: Univention, Open-Xchange, Nextcloud, OpenProject, Collabora, Nordeck, Element and XWiki
When: Release of the first version is planned for end of 2023

Read the article to know why we need an open source and digital Sovereign Workplace, and how it will soon offer you a true alternative and release you from the burden of dependency and vendor lock-ins.

  1. Why do we need a Sovereign Workplace?
  2. What is the idea behind a Sovereign Workplace?
  3. Who is participating in the Sovereign Workplace?
  4. Next steps: Plans for the Sovereign Workplace

Why do we need a Sovereign Workplace?

Digitization is no longer a dream of the future. It is growing steadily - in some industries and companies faster than in others. The gap between highly digitized and still quite analog organizations is widening. And it’s not just about the high-tech standard of the hardware, but also about the understanding of digital products and software, which have long been part of our everyday lives, both professionally and privately.

Many people and organizations are not yet fully aware of the consequences of sharing data in the cloud and what happens to their data.

Why don’t you answer a few questions, for yourself or your organization: With which tool do you…

  • read and write E-Mails?
  • videochat with your colleagues or friends?
  • upload and share files?
  • manage your projects and collaborate with your colleagues?

Probably, you have thought of at least one of the big global players: Google, Microsoft, Apple, Zoom, … – all of those are US companies that have immense power and influence. The circumstance that a few vendors have access to a lot of personal and sensitive data puts us in a strong dependency.

Why do we still use those products, even though our data does not remain under our control and is not in the best hands of external US companies?

There are several answers to that question:

  • They are mainly free of charge (although we probably pay with our data)
  • They offer a whole bundle of tools (e.g. Microsoft Office)
  • They have powerful features due to strong financial resources
  • We don’t really know alternatives

It seems like we don’t really have a choice. Open Source alternatives are often a standalone tool and are barely recognized next to the consortium of big global players. Still, especially in the (European) public sector, we want to do everything we can to get away from our dependence on US-American hyperscalers. To reduce our dependencies, especially on US hyperscalers, and take back control of our data.

Now we have great news for you: An open source consortium with numerous providers is working hard together with Dataport and under the leadership of the German Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) to offer a true alternative to these digital giants - a digital Sovereign Workplace for the public sector!

If you want to get more information on the importance of digital sovereignty, take a look at Zendis – a German platform with the goal to accompany public administration on its way to technological self-determination.

What is the idea behind the Sovereign Workplace?

We’ve talked about the reasons why most of us are still bound to Microsoft, Google and Co. The goal of the Sovereign Workplace is to offer exactly that: A true alternative digital workspace, free in every aspect of the word’s meaning, and with great tools that work even better in combination than alone. And while the project was still in its infancy in recent years, it is now progressing with great strides!

Update September 2023: The initiative of this project has now decided on a name for the Sovereign Workplace: openDesk.

Open source software solutions have gained significant recognition and importance at the European level. The European Commission is actively promoting the adoption of open source software through its “Open Source Software Strategy 2020 - 2023”. Open source is a licensing model that grants users the right to view, redistribute and modify the respective components. This makes open source a fundamental characteristic for data independence. In Germany, already 86% of companies with more than 2,000 employees already use open source software solutions (source:

We as OpenProject are very proud to be part of this great project, alongside strong open source partners, under the leadership of Dataport, and under governance of the German Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI), which has chosen this Sovereign Workplace as a reference implementation to demonstrate that open source can be a real alternative. Public administration in particular will benefit greatly from the Sovereign Workplace.

The idea of the Sovereign Workplace is to offer a bundle of digital tools which are all free of charge and, above all, open source and sovereign. In summary, the following characteristics are elemental to the implementation of the idea of the Sovereign Workplace:

  • Open Source: All offered modules will be free and open source software with their software packages published on the Open CoDE Repository.
  • Modularity: Authorities can specifically decide which modules will be used for the Sovereign Workplace.
  • Interchangeability: Products can be flexibly exchanged in the course of (further) development without impairing the overall functionality and while adhering to the architectural fundamentals.
  • Interoperability: The Sovereign Workplace will be usable in a heterogeneous software landscape, e.g. by connecting to existing (specialist) applications through interfaces and APIs.

The tools vendors for the Sovereign Workplace were selected to cover a range of functions that are particularly necessary in the public sector. For example: Word processing and spreadsheets, project management, collaboration and data exchange, communication by mail and short messages.

Who is participating in the Sovereign workplace?

The basis for the Sovereign Workplace is provided by Dataport’s Phoenix project, which has already been in place since 2020. Another important participator at the Sovereign Workplace is Open CoDE, the joint open source platform of the public administration. The first software packages have now been published in the Open CoDE Repository for the Sovereign Workplace. We strongly recommend to register at Open CoDE if you are interested in the administration in matter of open source.

Let’s take a closer look at the components of the Sovereign Workplace and the particular open source software vendors, roughly divided into their areas of application:

Productivity and Collaboration Communication Infrastructure
Nextcloud: File sharing Element: Messenger Univention: IT infrastructure
OpenProject: Project management Open-Xchange: E-Mail provider
Collabora Online: Word processing, presentations and spreadsheet
XWiki: Wiki platform
Nordeck: Whiteboards (as widget for Element)

Logos of the vendors and participants at the Sovereign Workplace

OpenProject’s part in the Sovereign Workplace

Efficient project management and collaboration are an essential factor for the success of work in the public sector. We take this project very seriously and put a lot of work and passion into the development of features for the Sovereign Workplace.

But we are also well aware that one of the main goals of this project is to create an integrated, complete workplace solution. Which is why we started collaborating with Nextcloud, the leading open source vendor for file sharing. Since 2022, OpenProject offers a Nextcloud integration, which is continuously improved by a dedicated team of OpenProject developers.

Next steps: Plans for the Sovereign Workplace

Right now (August 2023), the Sovereign Workplace is still under development – the release of a first basic version is planned for end of 2023. In the future, every IT service provider in the public sector will be able to operate the Sovereign Workplace for its customers, as it is designed to be operator-independent.

Although the main target group for the Sovereign Workplace is the public sector, other organizations and companies will benefit as well. As for OpenProject, we have already been commissioned some great features through the collaboration with the BMI for the Sovereign Workplace. For example, the PDF of work plans was a feature motivated by the Sovereign Workplace and will be released with OpenProject 13.0 soon. Other features will follow, so stay tuned!

The vision of the Sovereign Workplace is to offer a true open source alternative throughout Europe. Even though the project is initiated in Germany, other European governments are not only following the project, but have already expressed partial interest in participating themselves. We are very excited and honored to be a part of this journey.

If you want to stay informed about the technical progress of the Sovereign Workplace, take a look at the project on GitLab.