I was very pleased yesterday to get another response to add to my collection in relation to my letter to my MEPs about the European Interoperability Framework. Now if you missed the fuss in the first place the interoperability framework is a document outlining an EU approach to software that avoids being locked in to particular suppliers, promotes free choice of member states, and protects tax payers from being ripped off by predatory monopolistic practices. Good stuff in other words. It had a few rough edges so EIF 2 was proposed. A draft was written, and public comments from interested parties were submitted. Microsoft and the BSA (which has been accused of being a Microsoft sock puppet at times) were perhaps the most critical, but their comments were generally welcoming and constructive, the BSA in particular pointed to some areas where the proposed EIF2 went impractically far on issues relating to patents. I was, in short, totally fine with these public comments. Some time later a second draft was leaked and this did cause concern. It was nothing like the first draft and after careful reading of every submitted comment I could not see how you could start at the first draft, and by implementing the public comments arrive anywhere near the second. The original letter has a few more details of specific problems, but here is what my Conservative MEP has to say on the matter. (Responses from Conservative, Green and Lib-Dem so far)
Dear Mr Bell,
Thank you for your letter.
I was both concerned and delighted to read your comments. Concerned as to
the matter you highlight, yet delighted to see someone taking such an active
role scrutinising legislation; it is to your credit that you take such an
undertaking upon yourself.
With regard to the’ European Interoperability Framework version 2′ it is my
understanding that although it remains in the drafting stage (the current
version of the draft and more information are available from
http://ec.europa.eu/idabc/en/document/7728) it will be submitted to the
European Parliament and Council soon. When it is presented to the
parliament I will do my best to raise the issues you highlight with the
relevant members and ensure that the specific points you raise are
However, as you are no doubt aware that most of this process is highly
secretive. It is sadly endemic of the EU legislative procedure that it is
formulated and discussed behind closed doors, with deals and compromises
made in circumstances that are often totally unaccountable. You can rest
assured that I share your frustrations with this and will do all I can over
the course of my time as an MEP (as I have until now) to change this.
I am happy to tell you that we are making progress. For the first time
there is an opposition to the existing way of doing business in Brussels.
My Conservative colleagues and our allies in the European Conservative and
Reformist Grouping are doing all we can make the EU accountable and to
expose the process to the full light of public scrutiny. Free to ask the
awkward questions we are fighting to ensure that when laws are passed they
represent the best possible, rather than the just the least bad choice.
I will of course keep you up to date with any and all developments. In the
meantime if I can be of any further assistance please do not hesitate to
Nirj Deva MEP
If you are wondering who Nirj Deva is then take a look at this:
A couple of weeks ago I wrote the following to my MEPs using the excellent www.writetothem.com
Tuesday 3 November 2009
Dear Marta Andreasen, Nigel Farage, Catherine Bearder, Sharon Bowles, Peter Skinner, Caroline Lucas and Nirj Deva,
I am very concerned about the progress of the European Interoperability Framework version 2. This document seeks to encourage openness and interoperability between IT systems of member bodies and the legal and policy frameworks above.
Having read the first draft and the comments I am at a loss as to how the leaked second draft http://www.bigwobber.nl/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/European-Interoperability-Framework-for-European-Public-Services-draft.pdf came about. Most of the document has been ripped out and that which remains has been watered down to the point of being meaningless. I have some specific examples I would like to share with you:
1) The last paragraph on page 23
“Therefore, technical interoperability should be ensured, whenever possible, via the use of either standards endorsed by recognised standardisation organisations or technical specifications made available by industry consortia or other
This should have the words “whenever possible” struck out. I can think of no situation where it would not be possible to publish a technical specification, although it might be possible to relax the definition of “industry consortia or other standardisation fora” – as long as the specification is published and freely implementable (and is accurate) then I don’t think it is essential to be published by a consortia.
2) The paragraph on page 25 at the end of 5.2.1
“However, public administrations may decide to use less open specifications, especially in cases where open specifications do not meet the functional interoperability needs or the ones available are not mature and/or sufficiently supported by the market, or where all cooperating organisations already use or agree to use the same technologies.”
This is a recipe for lock-in and the exact situation the EIF is supposed to counter. If there is a single vendor providing the technology then the specification needs to be *more* open not less open. This means if a vendor has a monopoly position, they are allowed to defend this monopoly by having a less open specification so that other products find it harder to interoperate. If all cooperating organisation already use or agree to use the same technologies *now* they should be specifying open standards for interoperability such that in the future if one or more cooperating organisation decides to change their technology they are free to do so.
I would really like to know which public comment or behind the scenes lobbying motivated the insertion of this paragraph.
It might be possible to split this into two paragraphs, one permitting “less open specifications” where there is evidence that a wide range of implementations exist including open source implementations, and one permitting all cooperating organisations to use the same technologies where there is a “more open specification” that is freely implementable.
3) the last paragraph of 2.10 on page 11 is also a concern, pretty much the same as the one in 5.2.1
European public administrations need to decide where they wish to position themselves on this continuum with respect to the issues discussed in the EIF. The exact position may vary, on a case-by-case basis, depending on their needs, priorities, legacy, budget, market situation and a number of other factors. While there is a correlation between openness and interoperability, it is also true that interoperability can be obtained without openness, for example via homogeneity of the ICT systems, which implies that all partners use, or agree to use, the same solution to implement a European Public Service.
This could be fixed by adding a sentence warning of the danger that a homogeneous ICT environment coupled with a lack of open standards for interoperability leads to partners being locked in to that environment – which is what EIF seeks to prevent.
and yesterday I got the following reply from the office of Caroline Lucas
Thank you for your recent email, which Caroline has asked me to respond to on her behalf.
Greens have long campaigned to protect free and open source software, including heading off proposed legislation to introduce software patents. We are opposed to patenting on a number of grounds including:
· the threat to small business and the open source community
· that innovation will be stifled
· unnatural corporate influence
The impact on consumers is also important to Caroline and the Greens and we argue that patents help lock in technology, in the way you describe, thereby encouraging monopolies and discouraging interoperability. So, we want to guarantee that any EU legislation on interoperability genuinely does open up IT, rather than close it down and concentrate control in the hands of a few corporations.
The European Interoperability Framework version 2 is designed to help overcome interoperability problems and in principle is something that Green MEPs would support. However, Caroline takes your point that the wording of the leaked draft is certainly not as strong as it might be. Please be assured that when the proposed framework comes before MEPs, she and her Green colleagues in the Parliament will be working hard to press for legislation that delivers full interoperability and to oppose the standards being watered down by powerful players in the IT industry. The European Commission does have a track record of standing up to companies like Microsoft, so Caroline is hopeful that on this issue its final proposals will be strong.
Thank you for getting in touch and for alerting Caroline to your concerns. If you need any further information please do let me know. You might also be interested in reading about Caroline’s work on a range of issues at www.carolinelucasmep.org.uk
Constituency Coordinator and Researcher
Office of Dr Caroline Lucas
Green Party MEP for SE England
With the recent news of Microsoft being told to stop selling MS Word in the US due to it’s infringement of a patent owned by i4i I am really hopeful that perhaps, just perhaps, someone will start to realise just how MAD this all is.
Reading the first story I linked to, there is a reasonably understandable explanation of the patent in question but lets be honest here. Does this sound like an truly new and innovative invention?
“What we have developed at i4i is what’s customarily referred to as ‘customer-centric’ or ‘custom XML,’ which is allowing people to create customer-driven schema — we’ll call it templates or forms. So, while XML is used to tag and to mark the data that’s created, our technology is used to create the whole schema and the management of the data.”
They’ve managed to patent the ability to create your own schema by the sounds of that. Isn’t that what XML is for?
Anyway, I can’t see the good ‘ole boys really winning in the long run. I’m sure it will get over turned when hopefully someone shows up with some prior-art. But it seems to me that with this ridiculous system in the States, they are building their own new version of the Cold War. Remember Mutually Assured Destruction? That’s where they are now.
Businesses like Microsoft, IBM and others build vast portfolios of patents on the most ridiculous things not for their inherent value, but mainly as a safeguard against being sued for infringing someone else’s equally ridiculous patent. ‘If you sue me for patent xyz, then we’ll sue you with zyx’. Then we have the other wonderful group of [ahem] businesses known as Patent Trolls who bring nothing to the party except litigation. Nice.
Who wins out of all this in the long run? The worst group of parasites on the planet (yes, even worse than estate agents): Lawyers.
Surely, the US Government must see the stupidity and waste that this daft situation has created? I really hope that this is the litigious straw that will break the back of the patent camel.
Finally, get this. The last paragraph of that story reports on a patent that Microsoft has just been granted, which they applied for several years ago.
Word-processing document stored in a single XML file that may be manipulated by applications that understand XML
A word processor including a native XML file format is provided. The well formed XML file fully represents the word-processor document, and fully supports 100% of word-processor’s rich formatting. There are no feature losses when saving the word-processor documents as XML. A published XSD file defines all the rules behind the word-processor’s XML file format. Hints may be provided within the XML associated files providing applications that understand XML a shortcut to understanding some of the features provided by the word-processor. The word-processing document is stored in a single XML file. Additionally, manipulation of word-processing documents may be done on computing devices that do not include the word-processor itself.
Hmmm – this appears to have far reaching implications. OOXML, ODF, any word processor supporting XML file formats… Jeez. How the f**k can you call this an invention?
Please, UK Government and the EU Commission, don’t let the patent trolls of the world make you think that software patents are a “good thing”.
Since I wrote about getting the Windows license fee refunded on my Asus 1008HA netbook here in the UK, there have been more examples where individuals have had some success.
First we had a story on slashdot in the USA that seemed to be inspired by my own:
Today Amazon credited my card with $65.45. After ordering an Eee PC 1005 HA from amazon.com, I asked them for a refund for the cost of Windows XP via the ‘Contact us’ form. At first they told me to cancel any items on my order that I wanted a refund for, but after I explained that XP was pre-installed on the machine they got it. They asked what the cost of the OS was, and I answered that I had no idea but that Amazon UK refunded £40.00. Within a few hours I got a response saying ‘I’ve requested a refund of $65.45 to your Visa card.’
Then we had some tales of difficulty in getting the refund from Amazon and Ebuyer, although I guess they will capitulate in the end as it seems the law is on our side:
If the retailer is awkward, then the way to a refund is avoid the trap of following the instructions in the EULA. Instead you request that the retailer replace the software with a version that isn’t ‘faulty’ (ie doesn’t have the additional terms and conditions imposed). You didn’t agree to them when you purchased the item and therefore they don’t form part of the contract of sale with the retailer.
The Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002 requires that the retailer replace the faulty item, or if that is impossible provide you with a refund. The Sale of Goods Act gives you the right to partially reject items. Essentially you assert your ’statutory rights’.
Simos Xenitellis writes about trying to acquire a machine sans Windows Tax. And finds a few locations. I note that the first comment to his post is suggesting he visit our own site http://nakedcomputers.org for more bare-metal suppliers.
It is very difficult to buy a computer without Windows (that is, to buy it with either Linux, FreeDOS or no OS) in the European market.
Why would you want to buy a laptop without pre-installed Windows?
1. Because you are simply not going to use Windows (for example, you plan to use a Linux distribution)
2. Because your school has an Developer Academic Alliance (formerly MSDN AA) with Microsoft and they provide the Windows software for you
3. Because your organisation has a company-wide agreement for Microsoft software, and you do not wish to pay twice for Windows.
4. Because you somehow have a Windows license or Windows package installation box already.
Sadly, when talking to the sales personnel of a manufacturer, it might look an easier strategy to just mention points 2 or 3. There is already some prior knowledge with the sales personnel that large organisations do not need the pre-installed Windows software.
And then we have Venkat Raghavan who has just bought an Asus 1005HA, again from Amazon, inspired by the earlier mentioned Slashdot article, and with not too much trouble has managed to get the Windows Tax refunded:
I’ve been a linux user for quite a while now. I looked to buy a netbook without Windows on it, but due to market conditions, that did not seem possible.
Based on this slashdot article, I went ahead and ordered the same item. (see my report on it here)
The first conversation was over the phone, which did not get me anywhere.
I had better luck over email. They offered me a refund of 10% on the price of the netbook, along with keeping Windows on it.
I however, asked again pointing to the slashdot article and after that they refunded me the price of Windows XP according to the article: $65.45
Thank you amazon for being so awesome!
That’s great. Congratulations on your perseverance and success.
Awesome news from Engadget about the open source future of the next generation of Eee PCs. Their ‘spies’ have uncovered information that the first Moblin-running Eee netbooks will be in stores come October. Asus, the Eee PC manufacturer, is apparently considering making open source OSes an option for all their netbooks in the future.
Please keep up the pressure dear readers. If you buy a computer where you do not “need” a Windows license, for whatever reason (see Simos’ suggestions for 4 of them above) then make sure you contact your supplier and request a refund. By all means use links and reports gathered around the ‘net to support your claim.
Hmmm, I think feel a new website idea brewing….
I installed Ubuntu on the machine. Everything worked out of the box (a firmware update was needed to speed up the Intel Wifi) and I was a happy customer. Because I don’t use the pre-installed Windows partition, I sent a polite e-mail to Dell requesting a refund for the license of Microsoft Windows and Works. I just stressed I was a happy customer (I am) and didn’t want to return the laptop. I didn’t accept the EULA and asked for an address to send the Windows restore DVDs.
The answer was fast and professional:
Thank you for contacting Dell online customer service.
We will not be collecting the software CD’s from you, but would arrange for the amount to be refunded back to your account.
Please allow 5-7 business days for the amount to get reflected on your account.
And indeed, a few days later € 96,78 was added to my credit card. That’s what I call a customer service WIN.
This is such a great story that needs no further comment from me.
Becta are once again proving to be a particularly spiky thorn in the side of Microshaft.
You may recall that they reported the evil empire to our OFT (Office of Fair Trading) back in October last year. We’ll today they have announced the following further development:
Following discussions with the OFT, Becta has now referred its interoperability complaint and related evidence to the European Commission in support of the Commission’s wider investigation. At a recent meeting with the Commission Becta set out its key areas of concern and their impact on the UK education system.
Becta believes that impediments to interoperability limit choice. In the context of the education system this can result in higher prices and a range of other unsatisfactory effects which have a negative impact on wider policy initiatives, including improving educational outcomes, facilitating home school links and addressing the digital divide.
Commenting after the recent meeting with the Commission to discuss Becta’s detailed concerns, Dr Stephen Lucey, Becta’s Executive Director of Strategic Technologies, said:
“It is not just the interests of competitors and the wider marketplace that are damaged when barriers to effective interoperability are created. Such barriers can also damage the interests of education and training organisations, learners, teachers and parents.
I therefore very much welcome the decision by the Commission to conduct a wide ranging investigation.”
Basically they are helping the EU Commission in their investigations of anti-competitive practices and particularly their awful and proprietary OOXML file format. It is so good to hear a respected and influential publicly funded body actually articulating the real problems with proprietary software and especially when it is used to support and extend an existing monopoly position.
And in a rather nicely worded conclusion that would work really well in a thriller movie…
Dr Lucey confirmed that the other aspect of Becta’s complaint, which relates to Microsoft’s School Agreement licensing model, remains under active consideration by the OFT.
This is in relation to the terrible contract Microshaft have managed to tie our schools into where they will be purchasing subscription licenses for software that they could never use… Here’s the original piece.
At least there are some public organisations in the UK which seem to have understood the threat that M$ poses to all of us. Shame that the current Government and our Standards Institute haven’t.
Roll on the next election…