Archive for the ‘European Union’ tag
On behalf of the European Commission, and the OSOR.eu platform (the Open Source Observatory and Repository) for, we would like to inform you regarding a free to join OSS workshop to be held in Brussels, on 7 April 2011.
On 19 April 2010, during an Informal meeting of the EU Member States Ministers responsible for Information Society and the European Commissioner for Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, it was agreed that EU governments should use open standards and interoperable systems to deliver eGovernment services and that the reuse of public sector information should be promoted.
European ministers responsible for eGovernment policy of the European Union say the open source model could be promoted for use in eGovernment projects, they said in a statement last week in the Swedish city of Malmö. Addressing open specifications, the ministers state: “It is important to create a level playing field where open competition can take place in order to ensure best value for money.”
The Malmö declaration was adopted on Thursday 18 November. In it the minister also expressed their attention on open standards. “We will ensure that open specifications are promoted in our national interoperability frameworks in order to lower barriers to the market.”
In a press conference on the declaration on 19 November, Siim Kallas, vice president of the European Commission, expressed concerns on the use of open source software. “We have intensive discussions within the Commission. Of course we are very much in favour of free competition, especially in this new area like information technology. But at the same time there is a question of business continuity guarantees. All these things must be addressed properly.”
Swedish minister for Local Government Mats Odell added that Sweden is very much in favour of open source. “We are really trying to introduce this in broad base and encourage different agencies and public entities to use open source.”
In a statement published this week, the open source advocacy group Open Forum Europe (OFE) welcomes the Malmö Declaration ‘for its implicit support for openness’.
However, the group says the EU’s member states and the Commission should have demanded “that the European Commission shows greater leadership in setting definitive strategies for interoperability frameworks”.
The group fears the Commission will only passively acknowledge open standards. “Such frameworks rely not just on clear strategies but solid implementation. Government procurement practice needs stronger focus. To quote Commissioner Kroes, ‘we must walk the talk’.”
European public sector open-source guidelines are igniting a legal debate.
European authorities want to see a level playing field for open source but have expressed concerns about the security of the software.
The vice president of the European Commission has warned that any progress in using open source and open standards in the region will have to be tempered against the possibility that the software could have downsides in terms of security.
Speaking ahead of the launch of a European declaration on approaches to e-government in Europe up to 2015 in Malmo, Sweden, vice president of the European Commission Siim Kallas stated in a webcast that although the commission was behind the idea of adopting open source and open standards, such approaches to IT have implications for security and business continuity that governments must consider.
“You must understand that these open standard issues include an important element of sustainability and also security, so we must have a balance between the openess and the business continuity and security which is quite important,” he said when asked about the importance of open source. “There should be a good balance between open standards and open source and business continuity – and we are open to discuss all possible solutions.”
Although slightly faltering, Kallas’ comments appear to reflect the view – championed by proprietary software makers – that open approaches to software development are somehow more insecure than closed-source techniques and as a result more exposed to hacking or other attacks.
Kallas’ comments may surprise some in the open source community, timed as they are just before the official announcement of the Malmo EC declaration, which includes a commitment to put open-source solutions on an equal footing when it comes to awarding government contracts. The UK government made a similar declaration earlier this year but according to some experts in the open source community – little has changed when it comes to adoption of open source in the public sector.
“The UK has one of the best-written policies out there — the problem is policing it,” said Steve Shine, vice president of worldwide operations at open source specialist Ingres at a discussion in September. The problem is that large procurements simply ignore it, and this is not being picked up, he added.
In February, the UK government said it intended to use open source to save £600 million a year and published guidelines the that effect but, despite this, the UK lags badly at open source, using it less than countries like Mali, open source activists said at a meeting in September.
Elsewhere in Europe, other countries including Switzerland and Hungary have seen action taken by open source backers to force governments to break-down barriers to the use of non-proprietary software in the public sector. In an open letter to the Hungarian government’s procurement agency earlier this month – Directorate General for Central Services (KSZF) – the Open Document Format Alliance (ODFA) stated that last year the government spent around 9.5bn Hungarian forints (£32 million) on Microsoft software and has already spent 6.3 million euros (£5.6 million) on educational licenses and millions more on consultation and services from the software giant.
“Please make your calculations known to the public which will prove that open source will not be a viable low cost alternative,” the letter states.
The UK government is also involved in the drafting of the new Malmo regulations and has pledged support for extending its existing commitment to open source across Europe, despite the concerns over whether it has even been able to apply the policy in its own country. “This meeting gives me the opportunity to share our successes with my European counterparts and also learn from their experiences,” said cabinet office Minister Angela Smith, who is attending the meeting in Malmo.
Smith also stated that the UK is leading the way in Europe when it comes to using the internet to improve public services – another facet of the e-government directive being announced on Thursday. “With a huge range of public services available online, pioneering work taking place to free-up data and the world’s first plan to systematically cut the carbon emissions of government IT systems, Britain is leading the way in e-Government.
The Conservative opposition party in the UK recently appointed an open source enthusiast as an adviser on the use of the internet in public services. In early October, Tom Steinberg, co-founder of mySociety, the site behind online tools such as TheyWorkForYou.com agreed to help the Conservative party with internet policy. mySociety developed much of its software under the Affero GPL – a version of the GNU General Public License that actually goes further than the standard GPL. In an interview with Heise UK, Steniberg admitted that applications developed by mySociety such as TheyWorkForYou.com, WriteToThem.com, and PledgeBank.com would have been difficult to create without open source tools.
In September, the Hungarian government did approve a scheme that allows open source companies to compete for a share of public sector contracts but admitted at the time that half the IT budget is still reserved for Microsoft.
Speaking at a conference in Budapest earlier this year Florian Schiessl, deputy manager of the Munich LiMux project – one of Europe’s most high-profile Linux migrations – said there has to be political will to push through change. “Our politicians decided to have independence – we have the political backing. If there is no political backing – I know from many, many projects in the principalities and in the federal government and so on – then you have a real problem,” he said.
November 19, 2009, Andrew Donoghue
The European Interoperability Framework (EIF) is an important document produced by the “Interoperable delivery of pan-European eGovernment services to public administrations, businesses and citizens” (IDABC) for the European Union.
Version 1 came out in 2004, and since then battles have raged over how Version 2 would address the issue of “openness”. Judging by a leaked version of the near-final result, it looks like the lobbyists acting on the behalf of closed-source software houses have won.
This is what Version 1 had to say on the subject of open standards:
To attain interoperability in the context of pan-European eGovernment services, guidance needs to focus on open standards. The following are the minimal characteristics that a specification and its attendant documents must have in order to be considered an open standard:
The standard is adopted and will be maintained by a not-for-profit organisation, and its ongoing development occurs on the basis of an open decision-making procedure available to all interested parties (consensus or majority decision etc.).
The standard has been published and the standard specification document is available either freely or at a nominal charge. It must be permissible to all to copy, distribute and use it for no fee or at a nominal fee.
The intellectual property – i.e. patents possibly present – of (parts of) the standard is made irrevocably available on a royalty-free basis.
There are no constraints on the re-use of the standard.
And here is what it said on open source:
Open Source Software (OSS) tends to use and help define open standards and publicly available specifications. OSS products are, by their nature, publicly available specifications, and the availability of their source code promotes open, democratic debate around the specifications, making them both more robust and interoperable. As such, OSS corresponds to the objectives of this Framework and should be assessed and considered favourably alongside proprietary alternatives.
Here is what the leaked Version 2 has to say on open standards and open source: nothing.
Instead, it has this incredible section on “Openness”:
Within the context of the EIF, openness is the willingness of persons, organisations or other members of a community of interest to share knowledge and to stimulate debate within that community of interest, having as ultimate goal the advancement of knowledge and the use thereof to solve relevant problems. In that sense, openness leads to considerable gains in efficiency.
Notice how the throwaway phrase “the availability of their source code promotes open, democratic debate around the specifications, making them both more robust and interoperable” in the first version has been expanded to become the *main* “idea” in the second version – although something so vague, woolly and content-free doesn’t really deserve to be called anything quite so grand as “idea”.
But it gets worse: not content with totally eliminating the concrete definitions of open standards in Version 1, Version 2 then goes on to re-define “closed” as just another shade of openness, but without any of the openness:
There are varying degrees of openness.
Specifications, software and software development methods that promote collaboration and the results of which can freely be accessed, reused and shared are considered open and lie at one end of the spectrum while non-documented, proprietary specifications, proprietary software and the reluctance or resistance to reuse solutions, i.e. the “not invented here” syndrome, lie at the other end. The spectrum of approaches that lies between these two extremes can be called the openness continuum.
Got that? “Closed” lies at one end of the *open* spectrum, which conveniently means we can *include* closed solutions in the interoperability framework because they are part of that continuum. Indeed, Version 2 goes on to say:
While there is a correlation between openness and interoperability, it is also true that interoperability can be obtained without openness, for example via homogeneity of the ICT systems, which implies that all partners use, or agree to use, the same solution to implement a European Public Service.
According to this line of thinking, if everyone were forced to use Microsoft Word for document interchange, then that would provide interoperability. Except that it wouldn’t, because interoperability implies at least two *different* things are are operating together: self-interoperability is trivial. Version 2′s “homogeneity” is better described as a monopoly and a monoculture – and the last two decades have taught just how dangerous those are.
It’s not hard to see why some companies might prefer the wording of Version 2. Version 1 specifically says: “The intellectual property – i.e. patents possibly present – of (parts of) the standard is made irrevocably available on a royalty-free basis.” This would allow alternative implementations from the free software community, which is unable to pay royalties. The current wording, which allows patented, proprietary solutions as part of the “open continuum” would mean that free software could not compete. How convenient.
It’s hard to tell how far the process of drawing up Version 2 of the EIF has gone, and whether the leaked copy reflects the latest thinking. But the comment at the front:
The EIF that is finally published will be formatted prior to publication, at which time extensive consistency checks, as well as other checks on abbreviations, references in footnotes, grammar, etc. will be performed.
certainly suggests that there only remains a little tidying up before final publication.
But make no mistake, if the real version 2 of the European Interoperability Framework is anything like the one discussed above, with its pathetically devalued definition of openness, and its espousal of the risible “openness continuum”, it will represent a huge setback for the use of free software in Europe, and a major boost for closed-source software producers and the patents they all-too often claim there – even though software cannot be patented “as such” in Europe.
So now might be a good time to start making a noise about this and spreading the word just in case the EU *is* on the brink of making such an ill-advised move….
Source: Computerworld UK