Redmond man unmasked: UK.gov open standards stalled
Findings scrapped after 'conflict of interest'
Updated The government has had to delay closure of talks on open standards in public sector IT following what it called a "conflict of interest" involving a Microsoft consultant.
The Cabinet Office has extended the consultation period by a month and will also re-run a roundtable that had involved the consultant. The Cabinet says that it's scrapping outcomes from the round-table event. The consultation period will now close on 4 June.
The Cabinet Office, which is driving the government's digital change agenda, said it had found what could be seen as a "clear conflict of interest that should have been declared".
The consultant in question is Dr Andy Hopkirk, who'd facilitated the roundtable on 4 April on Competition and European Interaction and who had been paid by the Cabinet Office on a pro bono basis.
According to the Cabinet Office, Hopkirk hadn't declared he was advising Microsoft on the Open Standards consultation.
Hopkirk, who represents the National Computing Center on Microsoft's Interoperability Executive Customer Council, had told the Cabinet Office upon its discovery of his work for Microsoft that he had: "[n]ot been paid to specifically write their response to the Open Standards consultation but [that he] is engaged to help them tease out the issues".
The Open Standards consultation was opened in February to help specify requirements for government IT on interoperability and sharing of data and documents across government, and to help end single-vendor lock in.
Microsoft has lobbied the government hard on the issue of open standards. Its representatives have argued for a definition where technologies should be include that specify the release of IP in products on a Fair and Non Discriminatory Basis (FRAND) instead of RAND – a model that's favored by open-sourcers.
In a statement emailed to The Reg following this article, Microsoft said:
“We respect the Cabinet Office’s decision and look forward to continued constructive participation in the Open Standards consultation. Microsoft will make its consultation submission in due course, as will many other organisations, and that submission will be made publicly available.
“We can confirm that Dr. Hopkirk has worked with Microsoft on an ad hoc consultancy basis. In this role, he has provided his views on global government interoperability issues. This work is unrelated to the Cabinet Office’s invitation to Dr. Hopkirk to moderate the 4th April roundtable. We had no part in recommending him for this role, we had no input on the agenda and we did not receive any consultancy on the roundtable from Dr. Hopkirk either before or after the event.”®
This article has been updated to include comment from Microsoft.
"help end single-vendor lock in"??
If that's the intention, they could just stop buying Microsoft stuff - job done.
Redundant gobbledegook and propaganda
The F in FRAND is totally redundant. Please explain the supposed difference between Fair and Reasonable. Unless they're interpreting "fair" as in "My Fair Lady". Oh, my beautiful, reasonably-priced and non-discriminatory lady, anyone? Sounds kinky.
Anyway, it's all just deceptive nonsense. RAND (or (F)RAND, if you prefer) pertains only to $MONEY$, and has bugger-all to do with free beer or freedom or fairness or anything else necessary to avoid vendor lock-in. It simply means a) you MUST license ... to anyone, and b) you must charge everyone the SAME fee.
It doesn't mean NO fee. It doesn't mean LOW fee. It doesn't mean "Oh, you're a GPL project, therefore you can use our proprietary, patent-encumbered technology without paying". It means "Give me the money, you snivelling freetard, and quit whining. Oh, and don't forget to tell your friends what Fair and Reasonable people we are, because that makes it sound like we're all about the freedom". In fact it has about as much to do with free beer or freedom as the canned goods aisle in Tesco.
The proprietor still has the home-field advantage, because he doesn't have to charge himself a "fee", obviously. And naturally it totally screws Free Software distribution, by turning what was previously unrestricted transfers into financially controlled transactions, unless the unfortunate licensee is a benevolent millionaire. And even then, any recipients who BECOME distributors then have to pay their own fee for the privilege. That's the Free Software equivalent of prison, no different than trying to distribute proprietary software.
They should call it SPE (Same Price for Everyone), and stop pretending this has anything to do with free beer, freedom, openness and interoperability. Better yet, stop using stupid acronyms, and speak plain English.
As far as I'm concerned being free (beer) should be an absolute requirement in order to be recognised as a standard. Anything else is just some monopoliser's proprietary product, and should be recognised (and shunned) as such.
Re: FSF call to respond
Aren't you all a bit late?
As far as I can see, most of New Labour's IT policy was driven by people who formerly worked for the government and then joined Microsoft (the remainder was driven by consultants who made a good meal out of it all).
Nobody made any big noises then, despite the fact that they effectively neutered the open standards in the eGIF framework (and other structures that were just emerging). The crowning glory was infiltrating the Government Gateway so it only worked properly with IE.
It may have escaped most people that openness had just been making its way into UK gov IT when New Labour came to power, and it got all thrown out - I assume it didn't fill up Tony Blair's private bank quick enough. Now the other lot are back, and they're trying again - I think it's correct to nail any conflict of interest to the wall, but I would advise not to focus on just one person.
After all, the main problem is an organisation that had no problem with destroying the ISO institute to get what it wanted, and if that isn't a hint of how far these people are willing to go I don't know what is. I wonder if the ISO institute recovered from that - it was at least good to demonstrate how many people were willing to accept sponsorship...
There is in principle no issue with using proprietary products IF they deliver value for money and do not result in a lock in. Personally, I think the UK government should (a) mandate ODF as document format (that way they are compliant with EU standards), (b) mandate the use of independently documented file formats and (c) punish any organisation playing games in this context with an immediate procurement ban. No wishy washy slap with a wet noodle, no, warn upfront and slam the door the moment they are found to get creative. MS OOXML is a good example of that, AFAIK it's still not properly defined.
The question is: where do they find someone with enough balls to do this? All you need is to buy some politicians dinner and he's history..