Monday, May 07, 2007

Open consultation on open source software (OSS)

Last week something un-Dutch happened. Three organisations started a public consultation round about policies the government should execute in the field of open standards and open source software. The three organisations are the Internet Society Netherlands (the Dutch chapter of ISOC), Foundation Livre and Media Update Business Publications, the publisher of the Open Software Yearbook. The organisation has sent a survey with 12 questions to their members and clients.

Recent during a parliamentary hearing on open standards and open source software, dissatisfaction was expressed over the government’s performance in the execution of a parliamentary motion of November 2002. Besides the actions that were taken such as assigning two separate bodies for open standards and open source software, did not help the cause. The new State Secretary of the Economic Affairs Department, Mr Frank Heemskerk, admitted that more should happen and promised new policies after the summer of 2007. That coincides with the general government’s policy of listening to society and groups in society during the first 100 days, after which new policies will be announced. The three organisations have accepted this challenge and make an inventory of wishes and proposals in the field of open standards and open source software. After the one month consultation round, the reactions will be bundled and offered to the responsible minister.

The inventory consists of 12 questions such as the government’s policy performance so far, openness of government software, government as launching customer. The questions are only optional, so other questions can also be brought up. In the end the answers most likely will be categorised, bundled and offered to the government. The civil servants charged with drafting the policies on this subject will be able to compare their notes with the answers coming from citizens and organisations. (For those reading Dutch, the consultation survey is available on the web).

It will be interesting to see number of reactions and the quality of the reactions. Open standards and open source software have so far not been on top the list of government policies in The Netherlands nor for that matter in Europe. With a population like Europe, the introduction of open standards and open source software should easily make inroads. A European call for proposals in the field of open source software and services did not yield spectacular proposals nor did it yield strong consortia of players in the field.

When I was in Beijing in 2005, there was a discussion of developing a Chinese operating system. Can you imagine? There are more than a billion Chinese inhabitants and fifty percent of them are in the age group between 18 and 35 years. When they all start using such an operating system, Microsoft would not have anything to do anymore in that part of the continent. On the other hand the example also illustrates the weakness of the open source software movement. It is fragmented and security about the software products is not guaranteed.

But once governments, provinces and municipalities as well as universities and schools are using open source software, spectacular savings could be made.

I look forward to the results of the Dutch consultation round, which will terminate by the end of May. And of course more interesting will be how much the results of this consultation round will influence the new policy on open standards and open source software.

Blog Posting Number 746

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