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Tuesday, June 15, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
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Munich may slam the door on Windows

By Dina Bass and Benedikt Kammel
Bloomberg News

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Munich may become the biggest Microsoft customer to switch to Linux personal-computer software as the city decides this week whether to remove the Windows operating system from 14,000 municipal computers.

The city's 82-member council, after more than a year of review, will vote tomorrow on a proposal to change to Linux, according to an agenda for the meeting. It would be the biggest PC defection to Linux ever, said Brendan Barnicle, an analyst at Pacific Crest Securities in Portland.

Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer last year offered unspecified price cuts and shifted more workers to help local governments. The aim was to keep Linux from getting a foothold in PCs, where Windows has almost 95 percent of the market. The increased competition in PCs comes as shipments of Linux for servers that run corporate networks grow more than twice as fast as Windows.

Linux is available free over the Internet. Companies such as International Business Machines and Novell modify it to suit clients' needs and sell the software and related services, generally at a lower price than Windows. The specific company that would sell Linux to Munich hasn't been set. If the vote passes, the city will accept bids.

"This is a case of one city in one country that is deciding, through the help of IBM, to deploy Linux for their own very specific reasons," said Martin Taylor, who heads Microsoft's efforts to compete with Linux. "Most people that actually do a technology and/or cost comparison continue to choose Microsoft."

Ballmer traveled to Munich in March 2003 and offered a discount to keep the business, Taylor said. He wouldn't comment on the size of the discount. The city made a preliminary choice two months later to switch from Microsoft.

Munich Mayor Christian Ude said in a May 2003 statement that the city wanted to encourage more competition in the software market and make sure Munich didn't have to rely on one vendor.

IBM sent as many as 10 engineers at a time to work for free with Munich officials for six months to help craft plans to switch, city spokesman Bernd Plank said. He declined to comment on the vote.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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