Closed Is New Open: Software Industry Bends Standards

Dec 01, 2009

The European Interoperability Framework, EIF, regulates how public agencies, citizens and businesses communicate with other on a software level. Now an alliance of proprietary ventures has had an influence on the EIF draft.

An earlier EIF draft from the summer of 2008 had a lot of promise. At that time the IDABC (a EU commision with the unwieldy name Interoperable Delivery of European eGovernment Services to Public Administrations, Businesses and Citizens) invited the general public in the form of countless groups and individuals to participate in the framework. This participation provoked as many as 54 responses. The result was a draft that promulgated software openness and interoperability and seemed to concur with the principles of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE).

The tide has now turned. An FSFE analysis recently discovered a leaked internal EIF draft that relied heavily on a document issued by the Business Software Alliance (BSA). The BSA lobbying organization includes among its members large companies that stand to gain from proprietary software, such as Microsoft, Apple and SAP, but also IBM, Adobe, Dell, HP, Intel and a few others.

Apparently the industry, which fears losing large contracts with taxpayer funded agencies, is lobbying against open software. The new EIF draft is therefore worded to suggest that interoperability will not only be achieved through openness, but through homogeneity. Decrypted, this means, "if everybody uses the same closed source software, interoperability will be preserved." Translated further: let's preserve the quasi monopoly status quo.

Another buzzword is "openness continuum," which is defined as the spectrum ranging from software that is truly open to "non-documented, proprietary specifications, proprietary software and the reluctance or resistance to reuse solutions, i.e. the 'not invented here' syndrome." The leaked draft is much move vague about including closed software in this continuum. The FSFE webpage includes further examples of how the EIF was transformed from the original into the leaked draft.

The EIF draft up to now has served as a request for comments document and it isn't clear what the finished paper will look like. The EU member countries will have to decide that. As a recent Open Source Observatory and Repository Europe (OSOR) article indicates, "At least one European member state has hinted its unease with the new version." Four advocacy groups published "strong statements" against the latest draft and the Dutch ministry of economic affairs indicated, "This revision is an enormous step back from the first version... [and] we informally said we were unhappy with it." The German ministry of the interior was more guarded in its assessment and ventured, "there are some points that have to be discussed again, including the definition of interoperability and open source."

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  • homogeneity

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