Open Tech Today - Top Stories

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Empire Strikes Back

Microsoft responded to the European Commission's threat of $2.4 million per day sanctions over its interoperability ruling in an unusually public manner.

Full statement by Microsoft's General Counsel, Brad Smith, is here

The situation shows how true interoperability requires not only the spread of open standards but getting into the "weeds," getting documentation fully disclosed, and preventing conditions that lead to new forms of proprietary lock-in.

Interoperate Until It Hurts

How much does interoperability cost?

About $2.4 million per day, for Microsoft at least.

Here's a BBC story today about the fine levied by the European Commission against Redmond until it provides full interface documentation that will assure broader interoperability with non-MS systems.

Who said getting interoperability is painless?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"Houston, We Have Open Source"

Not to pimp any one company's products (and I have no connection at all with them), but here's a new study, The Growth of Open Source Software in Organizations, that surveyed a large number of organizations in the U.S. -- enterprises and public agencies -- on their use of open source software.

Key findings of the survey:

* A clear majority of U.S. companies and government institutions already use open source software, and bigger companies are even more likely to be open source users. All of the 156 companies surveyed with at least $50 million in annual revenue use open source.

* According to the survey, the main drivers for adoption of open source are: lower costs, faster deployment and better security.

* Key continuing barriers: lack of understanding among decision-makers about benefits of open source; legal/licensing issues; support after installation; and corporate policies that do not create incentives to lower costs of commercial software.

As I have been saying in all my presentations on our Roadmap, an important step in better managing ICT environments is to acknowledge the presence of open source already in your ecosystem.

It's like the first step in AA -- admission.

Or, put another way, "Houston, we have open source."

As this study shows, the vast majority of enterprises and governments already have open source in their ecosystem. From awareness comes wisdom.

Also, here's a new article on public sector use of open source from ComputerWorld Singapore (which includes a nice photo of my friend Tom Rabon from RedHat).

Monday, December 19, 2005

Economic Impact of Open Standards

To date, there has been little analysis of the economic impact of open standards. In fact, there has been scant attention to the economics of standards generally. Worse still, most public agencies are unaware of the economic effects of their procurement policies and practices -- which not only impact government but can have anti-competitive, downstream effects in the marketplace.

Fortunately, a new report, An Economic Basis for Open Standards, by the FLOSS Project at the University of Maastricht examines open standards from an economic perspective.

A few key points from the report:

* Open standards must allow all possible competitors to operate on a basis of equal access to the ability to implement the standard.

* The public sector should never require citizens to purchase systems from specific vendors in order to access public services.

Its key policy guidelines on standards and interoperability are:

1. Open standards should be defined in terms of a desired economic effect: supporting full competition in the market for suppliers of a technology and related products and services, even when a natural monopoly arises in the technology itself.

2. Open standards for software markets should be defined in order to be compatible with FLOSS licenses, to achieve this economic effect.

3. Compatibility with proprietary technologies should be explicitly excluded from public procurement criteria and replaced by interoperability with products from multiple vendors.

4. Open standards should be mandatory for eGovernment services and preferred for all other public procurement of software and software services.

A few comments of my own:

Any argument that a covenant not to sue helps show that a standard is "open" is totally specious, especially if it does not apply to all future versions or extensions of the standard.

Open standards are a spectrum; standards can have degrees of openness, mainly due to the existence of anti-competitive controls, conditions and encumbrances placed upon them. Royalty-free licensing is necessary but not sufficient for an open standard. And complicated covenants, encumbrances and licenses are a sure sign that a standard will not be very open on the open standards spectrum.

Open standards should allow for self-directed innovation. They should not drive others to follow any one technology path, especially one that effectively binds innovation to a single proprietary system.

The FLOSS report puts it nicely:
If the holder of rights covering a standard is also a supplier of products and services based on the standard, it has strong incentives to set licensing conditions that disadvantage the strongest potential competing suppliers. Thus, the natural monopoly that the standard creates in terms of technology may come along with competition in the market for products and services, but this competition may be limited by the control by rights-holders of the access to the standard technology.

Go back to the tsunami story that opens the Open ePolicy Group's Roadmap for Open ICT Ecosystems.

In a crisis, what encumbrances do you want on the standards for data and systems related to emergency relief operations? Answering that question will help indicate the proper starting point for public policy on standards.