Commission pushing hard for open software
By Cristina Marconi | Monday 17 January 2011
Promoting the interoperability of software is one of the priorities set out in the Digital strategy published in May by the European Commission, which takes the view that the strategy “can only be effective if the different elements and applications are based on open standards and platforms”.
In order to compete with the US in the knowledge economy, there is a need to promote the development of technologies created in Europe and, from this point of view, interoperability is a key concept. This requirement would allow different types of software to operate in the same system, by breaking the cycle of dependence on a single provider, where the system is a proprietary piece of software such as Mac and Windows.
The document presented by the EU’s executive arm, on the initiative of the Commissioner Neelie Kroes, is ambitious in this respect although any reference to the term ‘open standard’ has been deleted following pressure from the Commission’s DG Enterprise. “But even without the word, the principle remains intact,” stresses a European source. In general, EU officials want “effective interoperability between IT products and services to be able to build a really digital society” and suggest increasing the level of interoperability between devices, applications and repositories of validated data, services and networks, especially in EU public administrations.
However, to make the distribution of interoperable software possible, the issue of standards must be settled first of all. It is about “finding a common way of doing things,” explained Kroes, who, with Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani, is going to continue with “the re-examination of European standardisation policy,” by pressing on with the white paper on ‘Modernising standardisation in the area of information and communication technology (ICT) in the EU’ and by adopting legal measures in 2010. One of the issues is the use of standards for ICTs developed by certain fora and consortia that are not yet part of the official networks that currently set the standards. And here, the Commission even wants to set transparent rules for releasing “essential intellectual property rights and the conditions and arrangements for granting licences ex ante” before 2011. The aim is to avoid what are known as “ambushes set via patents,” ie what happens when a product hides intellectual property rights that push the price up. The Commission has promised to publish indications on the relationship between the standardisation of ITCs and public procurements. This information will be used to help public authorities make their choice freely by avoiding the danger that they remain captive of a single provider for decades and by reducing the costs that are in the end borne by taxpayers.
It is a complex strategy that former EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes seems highly determined to pursue to achieve objectives that she holds dear: limiting the demands for fees for the use of standards, bringing down the costs of accessing the market and breaking up monopolies. Outside the Digital Agenda, the commissioner has also undertaken to “seriously explore all the options” so that giants such as Microsoft can no longer refuse the interoperability of their products with free software without it being necessary to force them to make them interoperable via very long anti-trust procedures.
Interoperability would allow different types of software to operate in the same system, by breaking the cycle of dependence on a single provider