Munich caught the attention of the IT world last year when the city decided to move from Microsoft Windows to the open-source operating system Linux. But EU patent rules have forced the city to rethink its plan.
Sitting on ice: Tux, the Linux penguin logo
Concerns expressed by Munich city officials mean that Munich's switch to the Linux operating system -- planned for this summer -- have to be put on ice. City alderman Jens Mühlhaus, a supporter of open source, warned that the Linux project could infringe on as many as 50 pending patents were software developers to pursue possible claims.
Germany is one of the countries behind a propsed European Union directive on software patents. The EU Commission for Competition has now paved the way for patents to be filed on open source computer systems, though its proposals still need to be approved by the European Parliament before they become law. If that happens, Munich's plans for Linux could be sent back to the drawing board.
An employee in Munich's city hall navigates the Web sit of the Linux operating system.
The city isn't giving up on its quest to become one of Germany's first communal governments to use open-source software on its 14,000 computers. Mayor Christian Ude of the Social Democrats emphasized that the city still plans to switch to Linux. And Wilhelm Hoegner, Munich's chief information officer, said the program would only be temporarily shelved while the city analyzed the legal and financial risks associated with the program.
Mixed messages from Berlin
Florian Müller, a consultant for MySQL, Europe's biggest open-source manufacturer, told German news agency dpa that he blames the federal government for Munich's problems getting Linux onto its computers. Berlin is sending mixed signals, he said, and should respond more strongly to Munich's postponement.
"The Interior Ministry has recommended all public offices switch to Linux, but the Justice Ministry is making the whole thing look like a bad decision, which in the end could cost billions of euros," Müller said.
German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries and EU Internal Market Commissioner Frits Bolkestein have both endorsed the EU directive, arguing that it would not obstruct advancements in open-source technology but would act as a reward for innovation and development.
The EU Competition Commission said the patents would create a common European position and update the European Patent Convention to handle technology developed after it was originally drafted in the beginning of the 1970s. Businesses oppose patents
That opinion is not shared by many in the business world. Small companies feel shut out by the proposed EU rules, since protecting patents from infringement can be a budget-breaking endeavor. Enactment could ultimately threaten the existence of freelance software developers, and small and medium-sized businesses, Chaos Computer Club spokesman Andy Müller-Maguhn said in a recent interview with Stern magazine.
Deutsche Bank Research, the Kiel Institute of World Economics and the Federal Association of Small and Middle Sized Businesses have also spoken out against software patents, according to Müller-Maguhn.
Munich is known as the city of laptops and lederhosen, because so many computer and software companies are based in the Bavarian capital.
In the meantime, Munich's mayor has called on interested parties including officials in the Bavarian cities of Augsburg and Nuremberg, as well as Vienna, Austria -- all cities considering a switch to open-source computing -- to try to influence their governments and EU bodies not to allow the EU Commission's draft become law.