Greens urge end to software patents

Last updated 10:29 25/08/2008

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The Green Party has called for an overhaul of patent laws that would prevent software being patented.

The party's policy on information technology was released by MP Metiria Turei.

Ms Turei, who called for greater use of open source and locally developed software, says excluding software from patents would ensure others could develop ideas. Software would still be protected against piracy by copyright law.

The party has promised to investigate "the setup of free municipally owned wireless networks". Ms Turei says the cost needs to be researched, but the Government would "almost certainly" need to supply funding.

Ms Turei says wider adoption of open source software would reduce costs and lead to investment in local IT businesses, which tend to lose out to dominant software companies such as Microsoft.

"Monopolies have been allowed to form, stifling competition, consumer choice, and indigenous growth of the software industry in Aotearoa/New Zealand."

Catalyst IT director Mike O'Connor says it is relatively rare for open source software such as Linux to be used on the desktop PCs of companies and organisations, for whom Microsoft is the dominant choice. But the Wellington firm has installed Linux on 350 desktop PCs in Plumbing World branches and on Electoral Enrolment Centre computers.

Centre systems manager Jason Horncy says it is "very satisfied" with its decision in 2003 to install Linux on the 120 desktop PCs in its 25 regional offices and on most PCs in its head office. It previously used Microsoft Windows on its desktops but moved all its main systems, including servers, to open source software at the same time.

The PCs with Linux are "highly customisable and we can easily make changes to all desktops at once", he says. The software is easy to maintain remotely, and the large range of free software means the centre can experiment with packages and software tools at no cost.

But there are dangers in converting desktops to Linux, Mr Horncy says. Not all hardware supports Linux so organisations should check before they buy hardware, and check Linux drivers are available for any peripherals.

Businesses may have Windows- based applications they rely on that cannot be made compatible with Linux through intermediary applications, he says.

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- The Dominion Post

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