Europe Back on the Linux Client Track

Despite the continuing patent issues and new lower pricing moves from Microsoft, several E.U. municipalities, such as Vienna, are moving client desktops to Linux and open-source software.

Following some slight delays over patent issues, European governmental agencies look to be back on track with acceptance of Linux as a client operating system.

Erwin Gillich, head of Viennas IT department, announced on Wednesday that half of the citys 16,000 desktop workstations will have the option of replacing Windows with Linux next year. According to reports, the city will evaluate the pilot plan in 2006.

Meanwhile, Munich mayor Christian Ude announced that the city would continue its plans to move its 14,000 desktop and notebook computers from Windows operating systems to Linux.

However, Munichs government continues to be concerned about Linux patent issues and its asked for a clear, unambiguous account on how Linux could be affected by recent, conflicting software patent decisions of the European Parliament and the European Council of Ministers. In the meantime, the municipality is moving forward with its RFP (request for proposals) from Novell Inc. and IBM for its Linux migration efforts, called the LiMux (Linux for Munich) project.

Linux patent concerns have spiked in recent weeks largely due to the announcement by recent announcements by the OSRM Inc. (Open Source Risk Management). This New York provider of open-source consulting and risk mitigation insurance said almost three hundred software patents have been issued, but without court validation; patents that could, in theory, be used in claims against Linux.

At the same time, there is little agreement by legal experts on how serious the Linux patent threat is in the U.S., or on what steps should be taken to address these concerns.

Andrea Di Maio a vice president of research firm Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn., doesnt think that Munich hesitated to move forward with LiMux because of patent concerns.

"Gartner does not believe that the E.U. [patent] directive was Munichs primary motivation. Legal risks mostly come from U.S. patents, and no vendor with relevant patents seems to have shown any interest in threatening or initiating a lawsuit. Instead, the patenting issue may have suggested to Munich that it underestimated costs and risks when calculating the TCO [total cost of ownership] for LiMux."

That is not, however, the line from Munich officials.

Ude is calling on other European cities, municipalities and authorities that are considering Linux migrations, to join and support Munich in its efforts to clarify the legal situation according to a report by Heise Zeitschriften Verlag GmbH & Co. KGs Heise online (in German).

Industry watchers suggested there are several reasons why Linux is moving forward in Europe despite these new patent concerns.

Stacey Quandt, senior business analyst for the Westport, Conn.-based Robert Frances Group Inc., said that "governments in particular want open file formats and transparency. This in turn drives the use of open-source software."

Other factors include security, according to Richard Seibt, former SuSE Linux CEO and now president of Novell Inc.s Europe, Middle East and Africa business. Munich "clearly sees Linux not just as cost savings over costly, proprietary software, but also as the best tool for the job-bringing security, stability, flexibility and privacy not available to them before," he said.

There are also political issues involved. In several European countries, political parties, particularly the liberal Green parties advocate Linux and open-source software to create local jobs as well as reduce their countries dependency on proprietary, foreign-owned software.

And, as always, as analyst Quandt points out, cost is an issue. "Some companies may still need to use Microsoft applications, but if they can reduce licensing costs, they will.

Not keeping still, Microsoft has also offered favorable deals to other German city governments, noticeably Frankfurt am Main, to keep them in the Microsoft fold.

To help keep customers from switching to Linux outside of the U.S. market, Microsoft is introducing XP Starter Edition in the Asian market, including Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. The Starter Edition is a less-capable version of XP Home.

This is the next step for Microsoft following a trial in Thailand last summer. There, in response to Linuxs success in Thailand, Microsoft began offering a Thai-localized bundle of Microsoft Windows XP Home and Office XP Standard with a price of about $38 U.S. By comparison, Microsoft Windows XP Home sells at retail for $225 while Office XP Standard retails for $499.


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