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Interoperability in Bratislava

This week I had the pleasure to take part in the panel discussion about interoperability in the ITAPA Congress in Bratislava, Slovakia. Jan Husar ( had invited me together with Serge Novaretti from the EC's IDABC Programme, Erwin Tenhumberg from SUN Microsystems and Jan Hochman from the Ministry of IT & Telecommunications.

My role was to make clear the relation between Open Standards and Free Software. Very different concepts, but they make a winning team, was my argument. Where the embracing of Open Standards in proprietary software is in itself a fantastic improvement in comparison to where we are now in many organisations, it has lead to serious problems in several cases. I refer to the embrace & extend strategy as applied by Microsoft in the case of C and HTML. If a Standard fulfils the European Interoperability Framework definition of an Open Standard, there is a very good testcase to be really sure it is open: the implementation in a Free Software application.

The internet shows that the combination of Open Standards and Free Software has lead to a very succesful combination. I do not say that the whole internet is based on Free SOftware, but the fact that all standards that are behind the internet are implemented in at least one Free Software application, it gives us the guarantee that the internet can remain open for everyone and gives us the freedoms we need.

I talked about the need for transparency in government, and translated to the 21st century, for transparency in software processes. Therefore Free Software was the way to go if you take these requirements seriously.

At the end of the session we had some interesting questions from the audience. One person in particular brought up some interesting critiques on my presentation. The guy stated that governments could make use of Microsoft's offer to gain access to the source code of their programs. I thanked him very much for this comment as it gave me the opportunity to counter some of Microsoft's marketing campaigns. Of course Microsoft's Shared Source programme gives a certain access to the source, but it doesn't give you the freedoms, and never will you know if the source they share with some governments is the full code (I suppose it is not) and no government will be able to validate it, as you don't get the freedom to compile the program and see if it works as promised. Besides, what option does a government have to adapt the shared source to its needs? If it gives some (feeling of) transparency, it certainly leaves the government still in a disabled position. In this sense Peruvian congressman Villanueva had some very interesting definition of the requirements in software acquisition for democratic governments. You find his communication with Microsoft on the issue here: Fortunately the audience agreed with me and didn't fall for the FUD some companies try to spread.
SELF - Science Education and Learning in Freedom