UK Government open standard consultation (cont’d)

In addition to the general concern of mandating single standards (see previous post), two other issues were discussed in some depth.

One core concern of public officials is the threat of being locked-in to  single vendor. Although, traditionally that has been equated with lock-in to proprietary software, there was consensus at the meeting that there was an equivalent and possibly growng danger of lock-in to single suppliers: an ‘open source’ project is all well and good for encouraging portability but who in reality is going to pick up that 25 million lines of code, except for the original supplier? It was encouraging to hear Graham Taylor from Open Forum Europe, one of the most vocal lobby groups in favour of open source, agree that such lock-in is indeed also a major problem. What is important for government is to ensure that there is interoperability at the most appropriate level and ensuring that any solution – proprietary or not – delivers introperability at that level.

A second concern is a more complex one – of ensuring a ‘level playing field’ on which everyone can compete. What came over in the meeting extremely forcefully was that it is illlusory to believe that there is some ‘neutral’ model which government should favour – choosing any model over another is skewing the market in favour of that model. While a policy that allows proprietary or FRAND licensed software to be offered explictly also allows open or free software – a policy that mandates only open source excludes all the other models. The desire to be ‘open’ ends up actually being very closed.

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2 Responses to UK Government open standard consultation (cont’d)

  1. Graham Taylor says:

    Peter, if you are going to quote me then please do put it into the right context. You are quite right that I said that lock-in could occur not just by using proprietary suppliers. But you misunderstand my reasoning. Firstly that lock-in can be caused for both technical and commercial issues. The latter can result from contractual, legal or even support availability. The advantage of open standards is that they operate for the benefit of BOTH proprietary and open source models, and reduce the impact opf potential lock-in. So OFE campaigns (not lobbies) vigorously in support of open standards as part of an ‘open, competitive IT market’ (our mission). Open source isn’t the debate here, but does some potential additional benefits for the public sector. as someone who in the past as a SI ran some of the largest projects the whole concept of an open source set of code would have provided a huge potential advantage. But the key here is for UKG is to develop and maintain a level playing field for all models. Surely thats not unreasonable?
    Finally can you just clarify who you were formally representing at last weeks discussion. The attendance sheet, which I assume comes from your registration input, said OASIS?
    Rgds
    Graham Taylor

    • Peter says:

      Graham,
      I hope that I didn’t misrepresent you and of course respect your right to reply and correct any factual errors, so was happy to approve your comments.
      Indeed, open standards help reduce lock-in, whatever the software business model – that was also my point.
      “Campaign” vs. “lobby”? An age-old dilemma! I guess it depends whether you are doing it or having it done to you 😉 That said, campaign groups don’t tend to register in the European Commission’s Transparency Register as “In-house lobbyists and trade/professional associations” 😉
      You say that “open source isn’t the debate here” – absolutely agree.
      You state “key here is for UKG is to develop and maintain a level playing field for all models”. Again, agreed – and that’s exactly what I say in the last para of the post.
      Who did I ‘formally represent’ there? None of us formally represented anyone, as far as I am aware. We all signed up as individuals. I stated clearly at the beginning of the meeting that I am an elected member of the OASIS Board, an official of the European Parliament on unpaid leave of absence and an Independent Consultant – and that my contributions would be based on my personal experience.
      OASIS is a member-driven organisation and the Board is responsible for ensuring that they can do their work (= make standards) effectively. Frankly, it would be impossible for any one person to claim to ‘represent’ those diverse members – anyway, most of the members are perfectly capable enough of representing themselves when they need to, as they do. OFE is different, I understand that, as it is your mission as an organization to represent your members’ interests.

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