Open Standards Consultation Nearing Close

As part of its ongoing consultation on the role of open standards in software procurement, The government has announced the date for the re-run of the first open standards round-table as Thursday May 31st. Anyone with an interest is invited to attend, either in person or (for the first time in this consultation) by phone. Places once again need to be booked in advance.

The first attempt at holding this meeting resulted in an unusually positive view on on the acceptability of standards that can only be implemented after gaining permission from patent holders, under so-called "FRAND" terms. Given one of the primary goals of the consultation is to make it easier for government entities to procure open source software, the widely-recognised incompatibility between FRAND terms and open source made this view surprising and anomalous.

The meeting was later voided by the Cabinet Office after the discovery of an undisclosed conflict of interest for the meeting moderator, who failed to advise them of a commercial relationship with Microsoft. It may be that the anomalous outcome was the result of domination of the meeting by opinions derived from the telecoms industry rather than the computer software industry.

This final round-table meeting will cover the aspects of the consultation regarding Competition and European Interaction. The Cabinet Office is seeking answers to these questions:

  • Are there any legal or procurement barriers to mandating specific open standards in the UK Government's IT?
  • Is the proposed UK policy compatible with European policies, directives and regulations (existing or planned) such as the European Interoperability Framework version 2.0 and the reform proposal for European Standardisation?
  • Will the open standards policy be beneficial or detrimental for innovation and competition in the UK and Europe?

In this context, "open standards" means standards evolved transparently as part of a public process open to all, with the resulting specifications open to implementation without the need for permission from any entity. It may seem self-evident that requiring interfaces, protocols and document formats to comply with such standards is a valuable tool to prevent lock-in and create a level procurement playing-field, but some disagree - especially those with vested interests in proprietary software.

Indeed, as Glyn Moody has established, the whole reason this consultation is even taking place is that vendors with vested interests were able to persuade the Cabinet Office behind closed doors to re-open the debate after it had already been settled once.

The Consultation itself has been extended until June 4th, and the Cabinet Office is still seeking input from all sources - including people working day-to-day in IT. Please visit the consultation website and provide your views, even if only on one or two questions. In the internet-powered meshed society, policy is a matter for us all and not just for vendors and their lobbyists.

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