An open standards row is brewing between the EC and a lobbying group for software multinationals over a proposed European framework on interoperability – a draft of which is due to be published on 15 July.
The Interoperable Delivery of European e-government Services to Public Administrations, Businesses and Citizens (IDABC) arm of the European Commission presented an outline of version two of the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) at a meeting in Brussels last week.
The main crux of the new framework according to the presentation, which can be viewed here (pdf), is that European governments, firms and users should “be prepared and volunteer to share and reuse,” and “adopt open standards and specifications”.
However, the Business Software Alliance (BSA) has slammed the EC for continuing to tout what it sees as “narrowly defined open standards” in its fight to achieve interoperability among government IT departments.
Interestingly, the BSA and other industry players, including the Association for Competitive Technology, have lit the fuse ahead of a copy of the EIF 2.0 draft being made available.
BSA’s European software policy director Benoit Müller told The Register that despite years of lobbying from the group, which represents the likes of proprietary software pushers Microsoft et al, the Commission has missed a trick with its reworking of the EIF.
The letting go
“Our concern is that they [IDABC] will still insist on standards that have no intellectual property [IP] rights and they will not revise the definition of an open standard as contained in EIF version one,” he said.
“They define open standards inconsistent with the common understanding of the term in what we believe is a dogmatic approach. It fails to recognise that almost all standards that help interoperability and that governments should indeed use to promote the very objectives of the EIF do have intellectual property.”
Müller argued that such a “narrow-minded” view would stymie Europe’s competitiveness because it overlooks what he described as the “beneficial roles of IP within standardisation.”
We put those concerns about the draft interoperability framework to Karel De Vriendt at the IDABC, who told us that the BSA's interpretation of the forthcoming draft EIF was “factually incorrect”.
He said in an email: “We stressed the need for the evaluation of standards along many dimensions... one of them being openness and the possibility to implement the standard in open source software (which is of course only important if you value open source software)."
“Standards with IP rights regimes that prohibit the implementation of these standards in open source software should, if more open alternative standards exist, not be used as the basis to achieve interoperability if your organisation wants to be able to benefit from open source software. Hence the picture is much more complex as depicted [by the BSA].”
We asked Müller if it was fair to say that the BSA does not value open source software because it serves the interests of multinational tech firms. “I strongly disagree with that,” he retorted. Many BSA members firmly believe that it's important for the software industry that open source “thrives”, he said.
Master and everyone
“When open source is the best solution, the most cost effective and most suited solution to a given government needs then that is of course what a government should procure. But we’re against preference policies,” said Müller before concluding: “Some attention should be paid to open source as long as it does not lead to discrimination.”
In other words, the BSA feels that the Commission is not being “inconclusive” enough when it comes to addressing the contentious issue of interoperability.
Those are strong words indeed, especially given that the draft proposal for EIF 2.0 hasn’t even landed yet. It's also an argument that will jar with many openistas who have long complained that the software big boys simply won't play ball.
The EC, whose anti-trust unit has been probing Microsoft’s business practices since January this year, will make the draft available online mid-July for external stakeholders to propose suggestions by the end of September. The EC will mull over those comments before finalising EIF 2.0 at the end of this year.
Lie down in the light
Just last month European anti-trust commissioner 'Steelie' Neelie Kroes threw her weight behind open standards by urging businesses and governments to adopt non-proprietary software.
“I know a smart business decision when I see one – choosing open standards is a very smart business decision indeed,” said Kroes in June. “No citizen or company should be forced or encouraged to choose a closed technology over an open one.”
The IDABC, for its part, refused to become embroiled in a public spat over the EIF’s tweakings. De Vriendt told us: “You should appreciate that all documents will soon be publicly available and that we will not engage ourselves in public debates on these documents till we have received and considered all comments and suggestions.”
Come autumn, however, one might expect an all-out war of words between the two increasingly opposing camps. ®