Thursday, 21 April 2011

Time to walk the talk? – New Study on procurement practice in Sweden regarding open standards and document formats

A very good and in depth study was recently launched on procurement practice in Sweden. It is worth reading – freely available on the ePractice web site.

The study to some extend focusses on the use of open standards and on document formats. This is done against the background that, as Commissioner Vice-President Neelie Kroes had expressed earlier,

“No citizen or company should be forced or encouraged to use a particular company’s technology to access government information.” (Neelie Kroes, 2008). Being Open About Standards. Brussels, June 10, SPEECH/08/317).

What Neelie Kroes had postulated as a basic direction for Europe has also been reconfirmed in the European Interoperability Framework (EIF), issued by DG DIGIT in December 2010. As one of the key recommendations made in the EIF, Recommendation 8 says:

“Public administrations should not impose any specific technological solution on citizens, businesses and other administrations when establishing European public services.” (EIF, Section 2.12)

This new study that was conducted in Sweden built on previous inquiries into the same topic area. These previous pieces of research had shown that there is a severe gap between such basic propositions and directions as listed above and the actual practice in governments in Sweden. This new study focussed on two key topic areas:

“In the first section, the municipalities were asked about document formats, specifically the format actually used by each municipality in their earlier communication with us. […] The second section related to software procurement, and in particular that related to software for
writing office documents.” (Study, p. 5).

The responses are very, very interesting. They show the full dilemma public authorities are in – especially regarding lock-in situations because of their continued use of proprietary office software that is not standards based. They show that the topics of interoperability and open standards are present in government considerations in Sweden. Clearly, awareness has increased a lot. Yet, actions and consequences are still missing.

All in all this study is very worth reading. My personal conclusion is that public administrations should start to be stronger on mandating open standards and requiring interoperability for the software used in eGovernment. It is time to walk the talk – and to push on making the objectives come reality.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

20 years of Linux - a great success story

For 2.5 years now I am completely on Linux. And I can honestly say I'm a happy customer. I am running a Linux operating system on my ThinkPad with all business relevant software running smoothly on it. IBM Lotus Notes runs perfectly on Linux, and so does IBM Lotus Symphony for office applications implementing the Open Document Format (ODF), and so do the IBM collaboration tools, e.g. for instant messaging, etc. I have a choice of web browsers, e.g. Firefox and Google Chrome. And a lot more business critical software runs without problems.

Linux is fast - the machine boots in next to no time - and extremely reliable. Updates are automatically provided and security is dealt with very elegantly. In other words: Linux really made it.

These days Linux celebrates its 20th anniversary. An operating system for everyone. Easy to get, easy to install, easy to use. A great success story.

The Linux Foundation has produced a lovely little clip on the story of Linux. It is available on their website as well as in youtube.

Take a look - it is good fun....

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Relevant link of today: ComputerWeekly article on procurement of the European Comission is featuring an interesting article today on the decision of the European Commission, DG DIGIT, to go into negotiations with Microsoft on buying Windows 7 operating system licences by the way of "proceeding under an exceptional clause of competition law that allows the commission to exclude other software vendors from a chance of winning the business". The article raises the questions in how far this is due to lock-in into proprietary single-vendor technology and in how far the Commission, with this decision, does act against its own principles as expressed in the Digital Agenda:

"Microsoft lock-in forces European Commission into Windows 7 upgrade talks

"Mark Ballard 
"Tuesday 05 April 2011 12:54

"The European Commission has been forced into extraordinary negotiations with Microsoft because it is locked in to using the vendor's software [...] "
And the author quotes Commissioner Kroes with a statement on lock-in made at an event last year:
"Commission vice-president Neelie Kroes cited vendor lock-in as one of the motives for the Digital Agenda when she was campaigning for it last year.

"'Many authorities have found themselves unintentionally locked in to proprietary technology for decades,' Kroes said in a speech in June 2010.

"'After a certain point, that original choice becomes so ingrained that alternatives risk being systematically ignored, no matter what the potential benefits. This is a waste of public money that most public bodies can no longer afford,' she said"

Read the full article online on See also a previous post on this topic when NYT had addressed the same issue.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Openforum Academy Report on "Achieving European Interoperability"

I have the honour of being a Fellow of the Openforum Academy. The Openforum Academy is an independent programme, you could call it a think tank, bringing together people from industry and academia in order to provide new input and insight into the key issues which impact the openness of the IT market.

A couple of week's ago I had the pleasure to share a roundtable debate which was part of the Openforum Academy's INSIGHTS programme. The basic idea behind this programme is to facilitate broad and open discussion on a key topic and derive a report on the topic based on the discussion held and contributions made.

This time the topic was "Achieving European Interoperability". More precisely, we discussed about the Commission Communication "Towards Interoperability for European Public Services" that was published shortly before Christmas with the European Interoperability Strategy (EIS) and the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) as annexes. And we worked out on what needs to come next in order to really achieve interoperability and make things real. Attendance in the roundtable event was outstanding. We had expert participants from the Commission, some Member States, as well as representatives from industry - both large and small, from academia and from overseas. Andy Updegrove had flown in to give the  introductory keynote.

The full report on the topic is now available for download from the Openforum Academy website. I am still astonished on the quality of the roundtable discussion and therefore on the actual "insights" this report provides. Above all, I was happy to get confirmation on the strong request for openness from all sides, be it the Commission or Member States. It is seen as a major pre-requisite for pan-European interoperability. But having chaired the discussion I am almost bound to like it. So best if you read yourselves....

Open Document Format for business - the right way to go

It is sometimes astonishing how things coincide. I was travelling once again last week and hence stayed in a hotel. Wednesday last week, March 30th, was Document Freedom Day 2011. Exactly that day I had been working on a document which I had to print out. When preparing for printing in the hotel's business corner I expected to see some office software that was not able to handle <<.odt>> format (the text format of Open Document Format (ODF)). Therefore, I uploaded my file on Google docs using the cloud this time - I really did not want to save it as <<.doc>> but stay a bit more modern.

Now, what a positive surprise when coming to the hotel's business corner. They were running Open Office. Open Document Format - THE standard for office software. I must admit, I was too pessimistic regarding the widespread use of ODF-based office software. Too often you see people use proprietary office technology that does not support the ODF standard.

But ok, I see that I must revert my preconceptions which are apparently too negative and outdated. Indeed, I saw some statistics the other day which found out that in 2010 in Germany about 22% of internet users had an ODF-based office software installed (see the survey done by Webmasterpro). So market share is increasing. And I had an important initiation experience in this respect just on Document Freedom Day 2011 - that deserves me right, I should say.