updated 8/4/2004 6:18:07 PM ET 2004-08-04T22:18:07

Munich officials said Wednesday they are delaying plans to switch the city's 14,000 computers from Microsoft Corp.'s Windows software to the Linux operating system, citing potential patent risks.

The officials are worried a move to the open-source software could make Munich vulnerable to patent disputes under legislation pending before the European Union, a statement from city hall said.

In May, EU ministers reached initial agreement on a rule backed by large high-tech companies that would allow patents on software that is part of a mechanical device, such as a mobile phone.

That agreement omitted changes made last year by the European Parliament which were supported by smaller businesses and advocates of open-source software, setting the stage for a showdown when the rules are reconciled in the fall.

The city has delayed bidding for the basic system, but remains committed to the $42 million switch, the statement said.

Munich officials had announced last year they would switch to open-source software, saying they didn't want to depend on a single supplier. They had said the changeover would take until 2009.

Unlike most commercial software, the underlying code in open-source software is freely available and can benefit from continual scrutiny and improvement by a community of programmers.

Proponents say that makes Linux more reliable and secure than proprietary products made by Microsoft and others -- a claim Microsoft disputes. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

Linux is available for free, but users generally work with companies such as International Business Machines Corp. and Novell Inc., who customize the operating system and package it with other applications and services.

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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