Microsoft-sponsored lobbyist to the EU: It's a mistake to floss us

Summary:TechWorld's Matthew Broersma writes:A leaked letter to the European Commission has revealed the extent of lobbying by proprietary software groups to prevent the widespread adoption of open-source software....Sent in response to a recent report on the role of open-source software in the European economy, Microsoft-funded pressure group, the Initiative for Software Choice (ISC) warned of potentially dire effects if too much encouragement was given to open source software development....

TechWorld's Matthew Broersma writes:

A leaked letter to the European Commission has revealed the extent of lobbying by proprietary software groups to prevent the widespread adoption of open-source software....Sent in response to a recent report on the role of open-source software in the European economy, Microsoft-funded pressure group, the Initiative for Software Choice (ISC) warned of potentially dire effects if too much encouragement was given to open source software development....The ISC is an organisation created to oppose government efforts in Europe, the US, South America and elsewhere, to give preference to open-source or open standards-based systems. According to critics such as Bruce Perens, the ISC largely pursues a pro-Microsoft agenda, though the group itself emphasises that it has more than 300 members....Lueders sent the letter on 10 October to leaders of the Commission's Directorate General for Enterprise and Industry, in response to an EC-commissioned study into the role of open source software in the European economy (referred to by Lueders as Free/Libre/Open Source, or FLOSS).

Techworld has posted a PDF of the letter and I transcribed some of it into text.  As I read the letter, I found myself wanting to transcribe the entire thing. You should read the whole thing but here are just some of the noteworthy excerpts:

The "Initiative for Software Choice" (ISC, www.softwarechoice.org), is a global coalition of over 300 information and communications technology (ICT) firms and associations offering a wide range of hardware, software, and services. Our purpose is to promote an open and competitive market where companies may do business without fear of discrimination.

While we believe the study does add more information to this complex issue, it does not holistically reflect the full dynamics now occuring in the vibrant software marketplace. To this end, we offer our expertise and stand ready to meet with the authors of this report to help them gain added insight into the narrow role governments play in promoting software development.... 

Furthermore, the study illustrates that Europe is leading the rest of the world in terms of FLOSS market penetrate and development. Given the success of this FLOSS business model, the need for measures to develop further support for a model that is already flourishing on its own accord seems unnecessary. 

The ISC is concerned that the report's approach fails to consider the achievements of other forms of software licensing and business models. This is to some extent understandable since the report is a study primarily on the FLOSS model. Yet the FLOSS model cannot be extricated from the environment in which it exists - it is not an island unto itself. Where the report seemingly recognises this, it acknowledges other models in a denigrating manner, that they only contribute "headaches to FLOSS" instead of informing the competitive dynamic. Alternative software distribution models - such as proprietary, hybrid models - produced great products, but that success has been greatly obscured and distorted. Balance in this regard is missing, casting, we believe, aspersions on the overall findings and making the study look more like a marketing document than a serious survey of this exceedingly complex and dynamic matter....

...In practice, the market so far has largely opted for the proprietary model, a choice which should not be ignored, regadless of the purported advantages that the FLOSS system offers....

....A variety of different standards must be maintained so as to provide for the most efficient and workable technological solutions to be developed. At present a range of standards are currently in place throughout various and government platforms [DB's note: since it wasn't mentioned, we can assume that not all of these standards are open. The statement is broad enough to include defacto proprietary standards] which have been developed to most efficiently meet the needs of specific operational requirements. More specifically, licensed and non-licensed (FLOSS-friendly) standards (ie: non-RAND standards) must take this into account [DB's note: RAND stands for "reasonable and non-discriminatory" and it's a form of royalty-based licensing that is associated with proprietary (neither "open" or "unencumbered") technologies]. Taking action that could potentially dislodge such standards would disrupt the entire software ecosystem.

It's that last excerpt that will likely frost advocates of open standards and open source (two very different but often related things). If I read it correctly, the authors are taking issue with the chance that free or open source software could dislodge certain defacto-but-proprietary standards and that this would be harmful for a variety of economic reasons. Is the assumption that technology decision makers (governments, businesses, or otherwise) can't decide for themselves whether or not it's time to dump something proprietary for something a bit more open? 

Anyway, the letter makes some interesting points and could easily serve as the inspiration for a thesis on the balance between proprietary technologies, open standards, and free/open source software (note: free software and open source software are not necessarily the same thing). 

Topics: Open Source

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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