November 19, 2004

EC announces Open Standards Definition

Author: Rishab Aiyer Ghosh

The "Open Standards and Libre Software in Government" conference held in coordination with the Dutch Presidency of the European Union in
The Hague concluded successfully yesterday. Keynote speakers on behalf of the Dutch prime minister and the office of the Irish prime minister urged governments to consider open source software in spirit of inter-agency collaboration. The European Commission launched its definition of Open Standards, and several representatives of EU
ministries announced major national open source and free software efforts.

Open standards and Free/Libre/Open Source software is of critical
importance to governments across Europe, which was reflected by the
keynote speakers. Frans Nauta, Secretary of the Innovation Platform
chaired by the Dutch Prime Minister, emphasised the need for
collaboration between governments and citizens and lauded the open
source movement as a model for open cooperation. Colm Butler, director
of information society policy for the department of the Irish Prime
Minister urged the open source community to make technical matters
easier to understand for decision-makers.

In the session on interoperability and open standards, Barbara Held from
the European Commission's IDA (Interchange of Data between
Administrations) Unit announced their definition of Open Standards,
which require the royalty-free licensing of any applicable patents, and
prohibit any restrictions on re-use of open standards. While a
representative from COMPTIA in the audience heavily criticised this new
definition, speakers Doug Heintzmann from IBM and Phil Zamani from Novell said their
organisations were in support of the new definition of open standards.

Among other speakers, Christian Hardy from the French ministry of
finance presented the large migration of over 100,000 desktops to
OpenOffice, the free software alternative to Microsoft Office, across
the national French Administration. Rolf Theodor Schuster, CIO at the
German Foreign Ministry presented a live demonstration of the fully open
source desktop and server system that secures the global German embassy

Additionally, the vice-mayor of The Hague, and representatives from
government authorities in Vienna, London, Haarlem and the Union of
Italian Provinces described their open source experiences and future plans.

The event was organised by MERIT, University of Maastricht under the
FLOSSPOLS project supported by the 6th Framework IST / e-government
Programme European Commission, the Dutch Ministries of Economic Affairs
and of the Interior, and the Dutch Government's OSOSS Programme.

The European Commission's definition of open standards is part of the
final version 1.0 of the European Interoperability Framework which also
encourages the favourable consideration of open source software. The
has a definition that is worth quoting in full:

Use of Open Standards

To attain interoperability in the context of pan-European eGovernment
services, guidance needs to focus on open standards. The following are
the minimal characteristics that a specification and its attendant
documents must have in order to be considered an open standard:

  • The standard is adopted and will be maintained by a not-for-profit
    organisation, and its ongoing development occurs on the basis of an open
    decision-making procedure available to all interested parties (consensus
    or majority decision etc.).
  • The standard has been published and the standard specification
    document is available either freely or at a nominal charge. It must be
    permissible to all to copy, distribute and use it for no fee or at a
    nominal fee.
  • The intellectual property ? i.e. patents possibly present ? of (parts
    of) the standard is made irrevocably available on a royalty-free basis.
  • There are no constraints on the re-use of the standard.

The EC document goes on to suggest a strong link between open source and
open standards. In particular, it says that "OSS products are, by their nature, publicly available specifications, and the availability of their source code promotes open, democratic debate around the specifications, making them both more robust and
interoperable. As such, OSS corresponds to the objectives of this
Framework and should be assessed and considered favourably alongside
proprietary alternatives."

More information and the conference programme is available at the
conference website.
Presentations from the sessions should be available early next week.


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