A European Commission funded report into the pooling of software across the EU's administrations has recommended that governments share and adapt software via the Open Source model. The study, conducted by (arf arf) sometime Microsoft buddies Unisys, calls for a development program lasting six years, starting with a clearing house to which governments could 'donate' software for reuse, with a total investment of E6 million over the period.
The report, Pooling Open Source Software, was commissioned via the IDA (Interchange of Data between Administrations), the body set up with the brief of investigating the Interchange of... Well, it's pretty obvious, isn't it? It would however be absolutely incorrect to say (as we're sure the more rabid insurrectionists in Brussels and environs will) that proprietary and/or Microsoft software lost out in a head-to-head evaluation, because the IDA effectivey handed Unisys a loaded pistol, with instructions to go pull the trigger.
That, of course, is worse news for Microsoft than just some pesky report recommending wholesale deployment of open source software, because it means the people who're driving have already decided. The study deals largely with software developed by government departments for their own administrative services, and starts from the premise that if such software is to be transferred to and adapted for other adminstrative departments in other countries, then the open source model "comes naturally."
Which does have a compelling logic to it, although you can see why Microsoft's government sales people might start complaining that the IDA's playing with a stacked deck here. But it's specifically not a case of loose evangelists (not writing the study, anyway): "The study purpose is... not of the advantages or disadvantages of open source and proprietary software... It is not to take position in the commercial or sometimes ideological conflict between the advocates of free software distribution and the advocates of reinforcing intellectual and industrial property on software.
"It is just to examine the pre-requisites and conditions (functional, legal, technical) of a pan-European pooling service."
Which it then proceeds to do. Clearly, not a lot, possibly very close to none, of software used by governments in the EU today is open source. Much of it however is bespoke, and more receptive to being at least moved towards open source, with the caveat that software that doesn't start development under an open source licence regime is generally difficult to convert to one, because multiple IP ownerships have to be tracked down first. Conversion and adaptation alone would therefore be likely to run into the sand, so to really get to interchangeable open source software, European administrations will also have to move to making new projects open source, and resist implementing new projects based on proprietary software.
Depending on how hot to trot Brussels is, governments could come under severe pressure to conform to this, which might be awkward for the UK's own dear E-Envoy, who is currently clutching a number of Microsoft-based e-government projects. If open source became the lingua franca of Europe (and by George, we need one), then individual governments would be faced with the choice of joining in or becoming more and more isolated. Open source as IT's Euro? Could be.
The study does not recommend any specific software platform or open source licence variant. But it does seem to take the view that pooled software should be exchanged between administrations, rather than being available to all and sundry, which suggests that the GPL won't be the way European goverment goes. It also considers the BSD licence and MPL, whereby "the code and the executable binary may be disassociated." This would allow the executable to be distributed with a proprietary licence, and hence would allow it to be restricted.
According to the IDA, the report was welcomed by a specialist hearing in Brussels last month. EU Enterprise and Information Society Commissioner Erkki Liikanen commented: "Good practice is built on proven solutions that work. Software and concrete applications that work in practice are an important element of these. They could be usefully used as source of inspiration for Member States to develop good and interactive public services in the future to the benefit of Europe's citizens." No, we've no idea what that's supposed to mean either, but the hapless Commission press release writers claim Erkki was "Commenting on the potential benefits of greater re-use of public sector software," OK? ®