Feeds

UK Gov's open source ‘mandate’ policy attacked

Lobbyists get paranoid, with some justification

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

The Power of One eBook: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

The UK's proposed policy on the use of open source software within government has come under fire from the Institute for Software Choice, which claims the policy will make it "compulsory for public sector organisations to use Open Source Software as a default in R&D projects." The ISC, which has substantial backing from Microsoft, among other major IT companies, intends to challenge the proposals, which are currently subject to a consultation ending on 11 June.

Is the ISC crying wolf? The outfit has mounted a number of high-profile attacks on what it perceives as governments mandating the use of open source, and the UK's proposals are in themselves relatively mild, at least arguably simply establishing a level playing field between proprietary and open source software. Hugo Lueders, Brussels-based European director of public policy for CompTIA (effectively the ISC's parent body), however argues that it is the intent behind such policies that is important. Given that simply outlawing proprietary software would be illegal in both Europe and the US, pro-OSS forces in government are creating the conditions whereby it can be effectively outlawed in all but name.

A paranoid fantasy fueled by the paymasters? Up to a point, but he perhaps also has a point. The key areas in the UK's proposed policy are as follows:

"UK Government will consider OSS solutions alongside proprietary ones in IT procurements. Contracts will be awarded on a value for money basis.

"UK Government will only use products for interoperability that support open standards and specifications in all future IT developments.

"UK Government will seek to avoid lock-in to proprietary IT products and services.

"UK Government will consider obtaining full rights to bespoke software code or customisations of COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) software it procures wherever this achieves best value for money.

"If no commercial or community shared exploitation route is used for publicly funded R&D software an OSS default will apply. Licences compliant with the OSI definition will be used."

This clearly does put forward a level playing field in some senses, with that last "OSS default" only coming in where no other possibilities exist. But clearly there is a greater probability that the UK will be able to hold onto its IP via OSS than proprietary, so the policy is a threat of sorts to proprietary companies, and you might reckon that's a jolly good thing too.

The preamble to the policy statement however holds far greater terrors for the proprietary world, and provides some justification for Lueders' reading of underlying intent: "OSS is indeed the start of a fundamental change in the software infrastructure marketplace, but it is not a hype bubble that will burst and UK Government must take cognisance of that fact.

"The Action Plan (June 2002) for the European Commission’s initiative eEurope 2005: An Information Society for all builds on the previous Action Plan (June 2000) which set the target 'to promote the use of open source software in the public sector and e-Government best practice through exchange of experiences across the Union'. The new plan requires the development of an agreed interoperability framework to support the delivery of pan-European e-Government, based on open standards and encouraging the use of open source software.

"The UK Government has supported this EC initiative by mandating open standards and specifications in its e-Government Interoperability Framework (e-GIF) and through the publication and updating of this OSS Policy."

Clearly UK.gov is working on the premise that there is a Europe-wide shift towards the use of OSS in government, and clearly there's evidence that this shift exists. And yes, you might reckon that's a jolly good thing too - but you can understand why many of CompTIA's members might not like it.

Although the ISC has voiced concern over several government OSS initiatives, Lueders is keen to stress that the opposition is not to OSS as such, more to the use of 'open standards' as a cover for the introduction of OSS. One can of course see how easily these might be confused, given that OSS by its nature will tend to conform more to open industry standards than certain other software one could mention. And given that this other software has all too frequently exhibited a flexible and evolving notion of what the standard might be, and at what level the APIs you can write to might lie.

Microsoft's no doubt richly-deserved and self-inflicted discomfiture does not however mean that there is not an issue regarding open standards and their definition here. It is perfectly reasonable and logical for governments to wish to promote open standards, says Lueders, but it's not just OSS that espouses them (hell, even Microsoft claims it does), and at the moment governments are busily espousing without figuring out what they are. Which is a fair point, and a perfectly reasonable tub for Lueders to thump. He'd be able to thump it a lot better if Redmond wasn't there as one of the major paymasters though. ®

Related link

UK consultation document

Reducing security risks from open source software

More from The Register

next story
NO MORE ALL CAPS and other pleasures of Visual Studio 14
Unpicking a packed preview that breaks down ASP.NET
Captain Kirk sets phaser to SLAUGHTER after trying new Facebook app
William Shatner less-than-impressed by Zuck's celebrity-only app
Apple fanbois SCREAM as update BRICKS their Macbook Airs
Ragegasm spills over as firmware upgrade kills machines
Cheer up, Nokia fans. It can start making mobes again in 18 months
The real winner of the Nokia sale is *drumroll* ... Nokia
Mozilla fixes CRITICAL security holes in Firefox, urges v31 upgrade
Misc memory hazards 'could be exploited' - and guess what, one's a Javascript vuln
Put down that Oracle database patch: It could cost $23,000 per CPU
On-by-default INMEMORY tech a boon for developers ... as long as they can afford it
Google shows off new Chrome OS look
Athena springs full-grown from Chromium project's head
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.