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Open standards group to beat Microsoft at its own game

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IGF The first "dynamic coalition" resulting from the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) has vowed to get governments interested in adopting open standards for both hardware and software.

A panel, which included academics, business, and standards bodies argued its case in Athens, where one of the aims of open discussions between different groups has been to get like-minded people together.

Sun Microsystems government policy head Susy Struble warned of "technical hooks" being embedded into standards, where companies suddenly claim controlling rights to widely adopted protocols, and argued that government's proper role in developing standards needed to be understood. "A truly open standard provides for the highest level of competition," she said. "It provides more equitable access, and wider, global interaction."

Meanwhile, Yale Information Society Project head Eddan Katz argued that people tend to overlook the power governments have on standards - not only in the purchase and widespread use of the chosen technologies, but in the huge databases of information built by governments using particular formats.

What no one at the launch - which included the head of technology at the Library of Alexandria, Professor Magdy Nagi, Daniel Dardieller from W3C, and Free Software Foundation Europe president Georg Greve - would say, however, was that the initiative is hoping to take Microsoft on at its own game, namely, persuading governments of the advantages of its software.

Ever since Linux was officially promoted as a threat to Microsoft's enormous global software reach, representatives from the software giant have gone to extraordinary lengths to promote the Microsoft software model with governments across the world. The drive has been very successful, and despite numerous reports praising the advantages of open source software, governments have tended to stick with what they know.

It is this inertia that the "Open Standards Workshop Organisers Form Coalition" hopes to fix.

"Governments talk about open standards in general terms," explained Jamie Love from the Consumer Project on Technology. "It's one thing to agree, but quite another to implement it."

Struble gave recent examples of the Danish government and the State of Massachusetts' decision to use the open document format (ODF) as models.

The group therefore aims to produce a best practice guide for governments in moving to open standards. The process will begin with a "data collection phase" starting immediately and continue with a Yale University symposium on the issue on 3 February. ®

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The announcement blogged by Robin Gross of IP Justice

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