Munich Linux migration delayed by 'PR stunt'

A high-profile delay to Munich's Linux migration in 2004 was actually caused by those campaigning against software patents, rather than the shadowy hand of Microsoft, according to one insider

Software patent campaigner Florian Mueller revealed this week that the City of Munich's decision to stall its Linux migration, was the result of a PR stunt by anti-patent campaigners.

In the book, No Lobbyists As Such,  published on Tuesday, Mueller tells the story of how anti-patent campaigners successfully fought against the software patent directive, which was eventually rejected by the European Parliament in July 2005.

Anti-patent campaigners initially struggled to attract much press attention around the software patent directive, so decided to take drastic action, according to Mueller.

"If the media hadn't reported much on what had happened so far with respect to software patents, then we had to make something happen that they would report on. We had to provoke a real crisis. Right away," he claims.

Mueller, along with a few others, came up with the idea of the Green Party drafting written questions to the mayor of Munich, to ask about software patents and their impact on the Munich's Linux migration project, known as LiMux.

Mueller helped the Green Party draft the questions, which were then put to the mayor of Munich at the end of July. A few days later, Mueller was made aware of an email sent to the LiMux project mailing list by Wilhelm Hoegner, the head of the data processing office at the City of Munich. This email said that due to the questions tabled by the Green party the project has been put on ice.

Mueller publicised this email, which resulted in a lot of press attention, including coverage in mainstream publications, such as Der Spiegel, a German weekly news magazine.

Various members of the free and open source community who were aware of this stunt reportedly criticised Mueller, saying that he had endangered a major implementation of Linux and had raised concerns among customers that using open source software was risky.

But Mueller had no regrets about his actions. "I understood the concerns that others had, but to me it was obvious that open source would suffer more from the legalisation of software patents than from the LiMux fallout. It seemed better to draw attention to the issue while it could still be fixed than to remain silent and face the consequences later," he states in the book.

"The strongest point I could make in my defence was that none of the other approaches had generated anything like a comparable level of press coverage in 30 months of trying (counting from the first presentation of the EU Commission's proposed directive until the LiMux stunt). The political situation was grave. We couldn't afford to be too selective," he says.

Just over a week after Mueller's publicity stunt, the City of Munich resumed its migration to Linux.

The Munich Linux migration remains one of the most high profile mass implementations of the open source OS to date. A lot of speculation in the open source community laid the blame for the delay at the feet of Microsoft which was engaged in an aggressive PR activity to knock Linux, exemplified by its Get the Facts campaign.

A full review of No Lobbyists As Such can be found in ZDNet UK Reviews.