updated 6/17/2004 8:26:07 PM ET 2004-06-18T00:26:07

City officials in Munich have approved a plan to change their 14,000 computers from Microsoft software to open-source Linux programs -- a process that will take until 2009.

The gradual "soft migration" will begin with office desktop applications and then move to more specialized applications over the course of five years, city spokesman Andreas Danassy said Thursday.

The Munich city council approved the 35 million euro ($42 million) plan at a meeting Wednesday.

Munich officials announced their intentions to switch to open-source software last year, saying they didn't want to depend on a single supplier. The Bavarian capital is joining the town of Schwaebisch Hall, which is also in the process of adopting Linux.

Unlike most commercial software, the underlying code in open-source software is freely available and benefits from continual scrutiny and improvements made by a community of programmers. Proponents say that makes Linux more reliable and secure than products made by Microsoft and others -- a claim Microsoft disputes. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

Linux is available free through the Internet, but users usually work with companies such as IBM or Novell who package and adjust it and also provide services.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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