Munich migrates to Linux despite EU debate

Munich's city officials have decided to move ahead with their migration project from Microsoft Windows to open source Linux.

Munich's city officials have decided to move ahead with their migration project from Microsoft Windows to open source Linux.

Munich, Germany's third largest city, will proceed with its plan to equip all 14,000 computers in its public administration with Linux and other open source office applications, despite concerns of possible software patent infringements raised in the debate over new European Union (EU) patent legislation.

"We commissioned a group of legal experts to study the implications of using Linux ahead of proposed EU legislation, and they came to the conclusion that there is only a very small risk of software patent infringement," said Stefan Hauf, a spokesman for the City of Munich. "The experts told us that almost every user of software faces some risk."

Prior to its decision to go ahead with Linux, Munich also held talks with the federal government, which has launched a programme to support the use of open source software in the country's public sector, according to Hauf. 

Although Munich declared its support for open source a year ago, its roll-out programme, called LiMux, ground to a halt in August when the city launched an investigation into legal and financial issues associated with the migration.

Munich mayor Christian Ude's administration asked legal experts to determine whether proposed EU legislation, known as the "computer-implemented inventions" directive, could cause legal problems for the city when it comes into force.

The EU overarching patent legislation would bring into line the different interpretations being given by different national courts throughout Europe.

The issue has been highly contentious, with supporters of open source and free software asserting that copyright laws are enough to protect business innovations and calling for all patents to be outlawed, while large businesses push for a US-style approach that allows for so-called business methods to be patented.

"I think it's really wise that Munich decided to conduct its own legal investigation into possible software patent infringements and move ahead," said Gary Barnett, an analyst from Ovum. "This sends out a powerful signal to other groups that want to deploy open source software now and not wait for the EU to end its debate on patent legislation."

Munich aims to begin migrating its computer systems to Linux toward the end of this year or early next and complete the migration project by the end of 2008.

John Blau writes for IDG New Service

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