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New EU Software Rules Give FOSS the Inside Track

New EU Software Rules Give FOSS the Inside Track

New public procurement rules for technology issued by the EU encourages open specifications and open source software. Public administrations may decide to use less open options if open technologies don't exist or don't meet their functional interoperability needs. However, critics say the rules should include provisions for more funding for critical open source projects.

By Richard Adhikari
12/17/10 5:00 AM PT

The European Union has announced public procurement rules for technology that appear to favor open source.

The European Interoperability Framework sets out interoperability standards to create a trusted information exchange between public administrations of member countries.

The EIF encourages open specifications for the framework.

Members of the Business Software Alliance, which offer proprietary software, are apparently contesting this provision.

The announcement of the EIF is the another step in a years-long process.

"The EU's work in this area has been going on since at least 2000, when OpenOffice.org was named as the preferred word processor for Denmark's government," Bill Roth, executive vice president at LogLogic, told LinuxInsider.

The European Parliament's press office did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Some Details About the EIF

When new services and tools are developed in a specific sector, the developers should keep in mind the potential for reusing them, the European Interoperability Strategy stated.

For trusted information exchange, the EU will support efforts on making key enablers such as eID and eSignature interoperable.

The EIF will also seek to establish an interoperability architecture. It will develop a joint vision on this, first defining its scope and the needs for common infrastructure services and common interface standards. It will also provide guidance on architecture domains shared by member states.

The EIF levels the playing field in Europe, Ed Boyajian, CEO of EnterpriseDB, told LinuxInsider.

Openness Is a Good Thing

The level of openness of formalized specifications is crucial to sharing and reusing components implementing the specification, according to the EIS.

Intellectual property rights related to the specification must be licensed on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms or on royalty-free basis that allows implementation in both proprietary and open source software. This fosters competition because providers working under various business models may compete to deliver products, technologies and services based on such specifications.

However, public administrations may decide to use less open specifications if open specs don't exist or don't meet their functional interoperability needs.

"This paves the way for more open source adoption and more software business across Europe," EnterpriseDB's Boyajian said. "Open standards have long been supported by proprietary and open source vendors. It will encourage governments, which will require software vendors to compete on new terms."

Can a Less Open Approach Work?

The provision for governments to use a "less open" approach is a wise one, LogLogic's Roth suggested.

"There is not an open source app for everything, so buyers cannot only choose open source," Roth explained. "The EIF will have to allow for commercial software as long as a capitalist system exists, because programmers need to eat," he added.

"The adoption of open source and open standards is an evolutionary process," EnterpriseDB's Boyajian remarked. "This is a good first step. The underlying intent is to improve the quality of the service across public administrations."

As long as the capabilities and functions of new technology improve service to the public, everyone wins, regardless of whether the technology is purely open source or a mix of open source and proprietary, Boyajian stated.

Fighting for a Slice of the Pie

The Business Software Alliance, members of which include major computer industry players like HP, IBM and Microsoft, has reportedly been lobbying the EU against the focus on open source technologies in the EIF.

They might have sound reason be upset over the EIF.

"In general, this takes money away from commercial vendors who directly fund innovation and doesn't necessarily provide money to open source projects," LogLogic's Roth pointed out.

"So, it could have a chilling effect on investment in commercial software and innovation," Roth added. "I would like to see a provision for governments to provide more funding for critical open source projects."

The BSA declined comment on the issue when approached.


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