05.21.10

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Advocates of Free/Open Source Software and Standards Do Not Welcome EU ICT Plan (Digital Agenda)

Posted in Europe, Free/Libre Software, Interoperability, Law, Standard at 9:01 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

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Summary: The Open Source Observatory and Repository (OSOR) mischaracterises the response of Free/Open Source groups to Neelie Kroes and the Digital Agenda; we attempt to set the record straight

OSOR has come up with a misleading article that mistakes politeness for cautious acceptance. Glyn Moody calls it a “misleading headline” too. Readers can just for themselves:

Advocates of open source and standards cautiously welcome ICT plan

Advocacy groups on open standards and open source software cautiously welcome the European Commission’s five year ICT plan.

This page leaves out or forgets the FFII, which is a leading advocate in the said area. As we showed yesterday, the FFII is not too happy about the Digital Agenda. By contrast, Openforum seems fairly pleased.

Openforum Europe (OFE) welcomes the European Commission’s Digital Agenda, and commends Vice President Neelie Kroes for her determined effort to build an open, competitive and innovative ICT market for the benefit of citizens and businesses in Europe.

OSOR mentioned the statement from the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) which was summarised with: “Lack of Open Standards “gaping hole” in EC’s Digital Agenda” (clearly negative)

The European Commission has officially published its long-awaited Digital Agenda, outlining its policy plans for the next five years. “While it includes some important building blocks for Free Software, the omission of Open Standards rips a gaping hole in this agenda,” says Karsten Gerloff, President of the Free Software Foundation Europe.

Here are some other ones [1, 2] and there is the ECIS statement, which we haven’t mentioned yet. It goes like this:

ECIS commends European Commission for its Digital Agenda

BRUSSELS, 19 May, 2010 – ECIS is gratified that the European Commission’s “Digital Agenda” released today sets a timetable for making sure that government-purchased software adheres to open standards, so it will work smoothly and easily together, thus ensuring citizens have open access to their governments.

The European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS) is also pleased that the Commission frowns on software that is hemmed in by closed, proprietary standards.

“As our name suggests, interoperability is a central tenet of our group,” said Thomas Vinje, counsel and spokesman for ECIS. “We’re pleased the European Commission has given broad support to interoperability, and gratified it believes government acquisition of software should adhere to open standards.”

“That approach assures that governments will avoid granting a monopoly to a proprietary software company, which can then charge citizens for the software they need to access and interact with their governments.”
      –Thomas Vinje, ECIS
The broad-ranging Digital Agenda focuses in part on the importance of making software work together. Among its conclusions are that because all technology is inherently standards-based, “Interoperability between these standards is the only way to make our lives and doing business easier – smoothing the way to a truly digital society.”

The Digital Agenda says member states should by 2013 carry out goals enunciated in April by EU Telecommunication Ministers during their meeting in Spain, whose Granada Declaration calls for the “systematic promotion of open standards and interoperable systems” for governments across the European Union.

“That approach assures that governments will avoid granting a monopoly to a proprietary software company, which can then charge citizens for the software they need to access and interact with their governments,” said Vinje.

Open standards permit inter-operation without the necessity of paying special fees. For example, the common electric plug is designed to an open standard. Anyone may build an electric plug without paying a royalty to design prongs to the right size and shape for a power point. In software, two of the best-known open standards are those that created the Internet and those that created the World Wide Web. Anyone may write software that works on the Internet or the Web, without paying special fees.

“These open standards have transformed the way we do business,” said Vinje of the Web and the Internet. They are clear examples of the way that open standards promote creativity and competition.

“Open standards will help create such things as health records that will be readable anywhere in the European Union, using a variety of software from a number of providers,” said Vinje. “They set the stage for economic growth. We’re gratified that the Commission is backing this approach.”

Open standards are distinct from “open source.” Using the latter, a group or company makes public the underlying source code of its program. Open standards are aimed at allowing pieces of software to work seamlessly together. Proprietary software business models based on open standards and open source business models both allow a high degree of interoperability and consumer choice. ECIS strongly believes that in adopting measures to implement the Digital Agenda, the EU should take care in ensuring that one particular model is not favoured over another, as long as the aims of openness and interoperability are met.

In summary, Free software groups are unhappy with the loophole that facilitates software patents (Germany’s situation with software patents [1, 2] will be discussed shortly), so it would be unfair to say that they “cautiously welcome [the] ICT plan”; they actually criticise it.

The European Commission needs to expose the lobbyists who derailed the “Digital Agenda” and those companies they represented. Some of them pretend to represent small European businesses while actually serving Microsoft. It is a known AstroTurf tactic when one takes over the opposition to misrepresent that opposition. Perhaps the European Commission got bamboozled. It ought to be mended.

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