German parliament considers Linux switch

The Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, is exploring whether to ditch Microsoft Corp.'s Windows in favor of the open-source Linux operating system, partly due to security concerns.

A parliamentary committee is due to decide late this year or early in 2002 which operating system to use once it's time to replace Windows NT, the software currently in use on Bundestag machines, said Volker Schroer, an adviser to the Social Democratic party faction in the Bundestag.

"The basic problem is that Microsoft is ending its support for NT at the end of 2002; you can continue to use it for a while, but then you have to upgrade or switch," he said.

The only options under consideration are another Windows version, or Linux, he added.

The committee is examining whether switching the Bundestag's more than 5,000 computers to open source would improve stability and security, as well as save money, Schroer said. By the committee's estimate, implementing open source software throughout the federal government could result in savings of 250 million marks (US$116 million).

Among the arguments in favor of Linux: reports that some versions of Windows contain backdoors designed to grant the U.S. National Security Agency access to users' data.

"That is one of a number of small pieces of the picture, but it's not what set off the considerations," said Schroer. "Of course since (terrorist attacks on the U.S.) Sept. 11 we have to think more closely about security."

A concern about backdoors was cited in media reports earlier this year which said the German military was eliminating Microsoft software from "sensitive" computers -- reports later denied by the Defense Ministry.

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