The Free Software Foundation Europe held a summit meeting on Monday of Free Software and Open Standards experts.
Hosted by the BCS Open Source Specialist Group, the meeting was called in reaction to the ongoing public consultation by the Cabinet Office on the use of Open Standards in Government. It was triggered by concerns over the currently proposed policy, which would discriminate against the use of Free Software in the public sector, thanks to a definition which would allow Government to adopt standards which impose charges, prohibiting its use.
"The policy being proposed in the consultation would constitute a u-turn from the Government's commitment to a level playing field for software and for businesses promised last year" said Sam Tuke, UK Coordinator of FSFE. "Lobbying and deliberation have resulted in another year of Britain falling behind neighbouring countries in realising the savings and interoperability benefits of Free Software".
Gerry Gavigan, chair of the Open Source Consortium said: “The government has been talking about the need for open standards since 2002. In the meantime the oligopoly gripping public sector IT, first officially identified in 2004, continues as does the use of restrictive and choice limiting proprietary standards for software".
Simon Phipps, a Director of the Open Source Initiative said: "OSI has long asserted that unrestricted open standards are essential for open source; the Open Standards Requirement of 2006 explains why. We join other groups serving the UK in calling on the government to embrace a truly open standards requirement."
Graham Taylor, Chief Executive, Open Forum Europe said: “Government needs to move beyond policy setting and deliver on its past promises. It is right to see public procurement as the focus for its activities, but to change past behaviour it needs to invest more in education, and be willing to be more prescriptive in its dealing with procurement decisions”.
Jim Killock, Executive Director of ORG said: "Open Standards are best when they are free to use, and can't be hijacked and stifled. Unfortunately, some major software companies want to have vetoes and decide where payments are made. While governments need flexibility, they should be clear that royalty free standards will ensure greater competition and innovation."
Howard Thomson, Treasurer, and Martin Houston, Council Member, of FLOSS UK said: "Adopting open standards and freedom from having to pay license fees for intellectual property just to implement those standards is vital for the future efficient use of IT in this country, giving good value for money to the taxpayer and the opportunity for a vibrant local IT culture to benefit everyone".
A group of attendees also agreed jointly to urge the Government to stay committed to its stated goals of openness and competition, and published a joint statement pledging to assist in the process of practically implementing an open standards policy.