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.