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Patent fears halt Munich Linux migration

Pre-emptive concerns

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One of Europe's most publicised Linux migrations has been halted over patent fears. The decision was not prompted by a litigious IT vendor, but as the result of concerns expressed by Munich city Alderman Jens Muehlhaus. Muehlhaus represents the Green Party, an open source supporter. As part of 'Project LiMux', Munich plans to migrate 16,000 desktops to Linux by 2006. The $35.7m bid prompted fierce lobbying and heavy discounts from Microsoft, including personal visit by the company's CEO.

Muehlhaus expressed concerns over many areas of general purpose computing, including graphics and multimedia (X, KDE), document formats, networking and web browsing. These should be expressed now, he believes, rather than when the migration is complete and a patent threat could be 'catastrophic' for the working of the city.

Last week, a study conducted for Open Source Risk Management, a start-up which seeks to sell end-users 'insurance' against and advice about patent litigation, identified 283 patents potentially infringed by the Linux kernel, of which 27 are held by Microsoft.

Two years ago a senior HP executive expressed concerns that Microsoft could halt HP's open source efforts, although this was based on a misunderstanding of the GPL. Microsoft introduced its first patent licensing program late last year, offering FAT and FAT32 to manufacturers who use the file system on Flash media. The validity of Microsoft's FAT patents has since been challenged. ®

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