Software Patents: The new MAD

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”.

Taxing Times for Free Choice [Updated]

It seems, unfortunately, as though my experience with Amazon was not common place.

Neil Wilson left a comment this morning explaining that his request to Amazon did not meet with the same response as my own…

We are not in a position to offer a partial refund for this product. You can of course return the laptop to us for a full refund if you wish

This appears to be in breach of consumer protection law and, more to the point Microsoft’s own EULA which, if you read it, and then decide to not accept it, clearly states:

“If you do not agree to the terms of this EULA, you may not use or copy the SOFTWARE, and you should promptly contact Manufacturer for instructions on return of the unused product(s) for a refund in accordance with Manufacturer’s return policies.”

Some may try and suggest that “product(s)” means the computer in question, but since when have Microsoft started licensing the computer hardware of unknown manufacturers? The EULA is written for the protection of their software, not for some arbitrary computer of which they have little or no knowledge.

Amazon – This is not good. You really do need to do the right thing. I am sure that if you ask Asus, AIUI, or whoever else supplies your computers they will be able to reclaim the License cost from Microsoft and pass it back to you.

Unfortunately, it seems as though Amazon are not the only ones trying to ignore consumers and force us to pay for software we have no need of, nor desire for. Enter Ebuyer (a UK based “stack ’em high, sell em cheap” etailler)…

Here’s a potential customer’s question being answered this morning by Ebuyer’s E-Note system (E-Notes are Ebuyer’s way to avoid having to provide telephone numbers or email address so you can talk to real people)

Dear x,

Thank you for your response.

I have been speaking to the Product Managers for the Software and Laptops and they have both advised that we would not issue a refund on the OS.

You may return the product for a refund if you are within the time period of 28days after purchase but other then that we are not going to be issuing a refund on the OS.

The Product Manager for the laptops has been speaking to the manufacture and they have come back with the below response regarding the matter:

‘It’s a load of rubbish, I don’t know where this rumor has come from J we started getting people asking for it on the EEE PC when we first produced the XP versions.

We get the odd person phoning up saying this to us but no one gives the cost of XP back and I can understand why they think we would.

I’m sorry we cannot help — I have never heard of any manufacture or reseller giving the money back.’

Kind Regards,


Ebuyer Customer Support Team

Dear oh dear Ebuyer…

What a very strangely worded response. The internet is quite awash with people who have successfully claimed a refund for the Windows Tax. Please see this page for a consolidated list of many.

Asus, of whom the above message is referring are not doing themselves any favours by locking themselves into only supplying Microsoft’s Operating System. See this public letter regarding one buyer’s thoughts on the subject.

I would also like to bring to the attention of all vendors what the National Consumer Council, here in the UK, thought about EULAs in February 2008.

The National Consumer Council (NCC) has accused 17 firms, including Microsoft, Adobe and Symantec, of using unfair “end user licence agreements” (EULAs).

The NCC has asked the Office of Fair Trading to launch an investigation.

The NCC said the firms’ EULAs were misleading customers into “signing away legal rights”.

The NCC looked at 25 software packages and said that in 17 instances, the packaging did not tell potential buyers they would have to sign an EULA in order to use it.

While some contained the EULA inside an instruction manual, or let it be read online, this was only after the software had been bought.

This means that consumers are unable to make informed decisions before they buy a product, yet are being forced to take on an unknown level of legal responsibility,” said the NCC.

After examining the contents of the EULAs, the NCC also said that some contained potentially unfair clauses.

Unfortunately, on the 1st October 2008 the Welsh, Scottish and National Consumer Councils merged with Postwatch and energywatch to form Consumer Focus. And did they maintain a historical record of the old sites? Not that I could find.

Anyway, it boils down to this:

Forcing people to buy something else with what they really want to buy is called bundling. It is now prohibited in France, and it is probably so in the UK too.

Perhaps these vendors need to read about the Sale of Goods Act again.

Neil Wilson described the situation very succinctly in an earlier comment on the same original post.

It is much better that the retail store pays, because they are the ones that are ultimately the channel to market. The more expensive it is for a retailer to stock Microsoft the better.

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’.

I feel that we need to have a bit of a campaign here… Can I request that all readers of this post, especially in the UK, please pass it on, tell others and if you have the time, please write to your MP to make your opinion heard. It is disgraceful that we should be FORCED to pay for software for which we have no need nor desire. Microsoft seem to have successfully closed down many of the earlier Linux bundled netbooks through downright bribery or co-coercion I assume. It is not right.

This is the 21st century, there are other operating systems available which are superior in almost every way and, even better, are free. Just go and download Ubuntu if you don’t believe me and try it out for a few weeks…

Neil left a comment below. But just to make sure it doesn’t get overlooked he wrote:

Can I ask that all readers contact the OFT and request that they investigate the use of bundled software EULAs as an unfair practise under the new Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

Thanks Neil, I’ll do that shortly. Sounds like a good idea.

NB: There is a small but growing band of niche retailers and vendors who will sell you a computer with no operating system pre-installed. The choice is quite limited and the major manufactures seem incapable of escaping the grasp of Microsoft. But if you care to, do visit Naked Computers to see if there is a vendor that can help you.

New: Public Domain Government IT Spending Dashboard!


Get this, there’s a new web site that looks to have been built using the Open Source Drupal CMS (At least the blog portion did when I looked at the XHTML) as the front-end which lets anyone see a “dashboard” of spending on Government IT projects:

It has been an exciting time since we launched the IT Dashboard. There have been more than 20 million hits so far…

20 Million hits? I hadn’t heard about this. Had you? It gets even better.

For anybody just joining us, the “IT Dashboard” is a new, one-stop clearing house of information that allows anyone with a web browser to track … IT initiatives and hold the government accountable for progress and results.

Bloody hell. That’s amazing!

Where’s the catch?

Ahh. You sussed it.

President Obama checks his performance.

Yep. It’s in the USA, at a site called USA Spending.

Come on Gordon. Let’s see how you are REALLY doing with spending on IT in Education, the NHS or Defence…

Does UK Government Grok the GPL?

This is really quite interesting. It seems as though the UK government are starting, finally, to get the whole “Commons” thing.

There is this Government Department/Quango(?) called the Office of Public Sector Information (OSPI for short). Yep, I’ve never heard of them either. Not until I saw this tweet from Glyn Moody last night at any rate. The OSPI’s remit is (according to their website) as follows:

Operating from within the National Archives, the Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) is at the heart of information policy, setting standards, delivering access and encouraging the re-use of public sector information. OPSI provides a wide range of services to the public, information industry, government and the wider public sector relating to finding, using, sharing and trading information.

The merger of OPSI with the National Archives in October 2006 enables the combined organisation to provide strong and coherent leadership for the development of information policy across government and the wider public sector.

OPSI has an important role as a regulator of public sector information holders for their information trading activities. The Information Fair Trader Scheme (IFTS) founded on the principles of openness, transparency, fairness, compliance and challenge helps re-users of public sector information to know that they will be treated reasonably and fairly. OPSI also investigates complaints against public sector information holders made under the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations.

OPSI provides the Click-Use system for obtaining a licence to re-use Crown copyright and public sector material through an online licensing process and is responsible for the Information Asset Register (IAR) that lists information assets held by the UK Government with a focus on unpublished material. OPSI also provides a secretariat to the Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information (APPSI), which advises Ministers on how best to encourage the re-use of public sector information.

Operating from within OPSI, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (HMSO) continues to exist and fulfil its core activities including responsibility for the publication of legislation and the management of Crown copyright.

Got that? Good. Although I’m still not sure I know what they “do”. I can see they are “at the heart of information policy” but anyway, let’s assume they do something important and worthy within the huge bureaucracy that is UK Government. The big news is they now have a blog! Called perspectives. The most interesting article (from 3 so far) on their new blog is this one where they introduce a new “Licensing Model” and are, more importantly, soliciting feedback:

The Government’s response to the Power of Information Taskforce’s recommendation 8 stated that OPSI was developing a new licence model, building on the success of the Click-Use Licence. We thought it would be good to post our initial thoughts about what the new licence terms could look like here on our blog for your comments.

Here’s the bit that caught Glyn’s eye and makes all us Freedom lovers go weak at the knees…

• The new licence terms are compatible with other standard licences such a Creative Commons and GNU GPL;

How interesting. I am not sure that I understand the full implications of the new license and what content/information it really pertains to, but the description of their remit above would suggest that it could be far reaching. Anyway, here is the license they propose in full below, but please don’t make specific license comments here, comment about the license over there, where the OSPI will see them.

Terms and conditions


This licence explains how you may re-use a wide range of public sector information and what conditions apply. Under this licence the term information means any content, including any part of such content, whether in writing or stored in electronic form or as a sound, visual or audio-visual recording, other than computer programs and software.

What you can do

1. You can copy, publish, translate into other languages, adapt, mash and convert to Braille and other formats for people who are visually impaired.

What information is covered

2. All Crown copyright information can be re-used under this licence apart from the specific exemptions listed below.

3. Information produced by other public sector organisations as listed at [link to be inserted].

What information is not covered

4. Crown copyright information produced by government departments and trading funds that are responsible for licensing the re-use of the information they commission or produce. Details of these organisations can be found at [link to be inserted]

5. Information where re-use is not permitted for policy reasons, for example the HSE Health and Safety Law poster.

6. Information that is exempt under Freedom of Information legislation and the Environmental Information Regulations.

7. Personal information about named individuals.

8. Official imprints, public sector organisation logos, badges, crests and insignia of the armed forces. This includes the Royal Arms unless they form an integral part of the information that you are re-using.

Your obligations

9. You must:

• Re-use the information accurately
• Acknowledge the copyright and the source of the information, for example the title of a report and the name of the department that issued it.
• Not re-use the information in a deliberately misleading way.
• Not re-use the information for promotional or advertising purposes; not to imply endorsement by a government department or other public sector organisation.
• Not mimic the style and appearance of the original information, for example by replicating the look and feel of a published document or a departmental website.


Your use of the information covered by this licence is entirely at your own risk. OPSI makes no warranty, representation or guarantee that the information is error free.

Governing law

This licence is made under the laws of England and Wales and comes under the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.

There are a couple of comments already and they cover the obvious.

Not being a lawyer I am not sure if I quite “get” why they (we?) need a new license though? Why could they not simply use any of the CC licenses as appropriate?

Anyway, if you spot anything in the detail or wish to simply make your voice heard, you know where to go.

New Thoughts on the UK Government Open Source Action Plan

Remember when, back in late February, the Cabinet Office released their “Open Source, Open Standards and Re–Use: Government Action Plan”? Myself and many other FOSS commentators were obviously heartily encouraged and have talked about it and examined the policy in some detail.

I was going back over the document recently and something quite important struck me that I had missed completely the first time round; there is a distinct lack of consideration for one particular group of “stakeholders”. A particular group of very important stakeholders that should be one of the key beneficiaries of the whole policy.

Can you guess who I mean yet?


Yes, the tax paying public. The group that actually consumes the services and output of Government. The group that pays the bills. The group that needs and should be guaranteed free and open access to public information; especially now after the recent ‘expenses revelations’.

Yet, reviewing the policy as a whole it seems remarkably introspective. Only examining how FOSS should or could be acquired and used within Government for Government. And it really only discusses the expectations and implications of increased use of FOSS for itself alone. It is as if the Government are acting only for themselves. <sarcasm>Surely not?</sarcasm>.

The key objectives will be to:

  • ensure that the Government adopts open standards and uses these to communicate with the citizens and businesses that have adopted open source solutions
  • ensure that open source solutions are considered properly and, where they deliver best value for money (taking into account other advantages, such as re–use and flexibility) are selected for Government business solutions.
  • strengthen the skills, experience and capabilities within Government and in its suppliers to use open source to greatest advantage.
  • embed an ‘open source’ culture of sharing, re–use and collaborative development across Government and its suppliers, building on the re–use policies and processes already agreed within the CIO Council, and in doing so seek to stimulate innovation, reduce cost and risk, and improve speed to market.
  • ensure that there are no procedural barriers to the adoption of open source products within government, paying particular regard to the different business models and supply chain relationships involved.
  • ensure that systems integrators and proprietary software suppliers demonstrate the same flexibility and ability to re–use their solutions and products as is inherent in open source.

Even the first objective above targets only those consumers that have already adopted FOSS solutions themselves. There is very little (and I’m being generous) mention or apparent consideration of the public citizen and the benefits that adopting Open Standards/Open Source will bring in terms of ability to access information without needing to acquire proprietary software to do so. There should, IMHO, be another “spoke” to the Government’s policy that provides for a basic level of education of these benefits to the public in general and the public sector employee too.

In my company we tend to meet and deal with individuals who are quite well-informed and will have (at least) a basic understanding of FOSS. They have probably heard of for example. But if you were to have that kind of conversation outside of the IT sector you will often be met with blank stares or gasps of “But how can it be free?” or “What’s the catch?”. It is these people who need to be contacted and helped so they may make an informed choice about the software they use on their home computers. Today many do not know they even have a choice (try asking you neighbours if they have heard of Ubuntu). It is – the way I see it – the responsibility of our Government to provide some base-level of information; the proprietary software vendors won’t pay to advertise FOSS and, to be totally honest, I don’t really see why they should be forced to in a free market.

You might think to suggest that is up to companies like ours to do this promotion. And we do to the best of our ability and as finances will allow. But, like many others, we are not a large company and do not have hundreds of thousands of pounds or more to spend on that kind of education. In fact, I was contacted last week by someone working “on behalf” of the Cabinet Office and a publication that is destined to go to all Local Government departments around the UK to help spread the word about the new policy and action plan. We were asked initially what we did and then if we would be interested in being included in this government sponsored and distributed “book”. It sounded very interesting. Until that was, they said it was going to cost us £4000 to have our company details in this register for just 6 months!

That hardly sounds like an “inclusive” and helpful exercise does it? Who are they going to get paying that kind of money? Just how much does this “book” actually cost to produce? And how many copies will be printed? And why are they still using books and paper anyway? It’s contents will almost certainly be out-of-date before it even gets distributed. Sheesh.

There is still, clearly, a very long way to go before our Government really starts to “get it”…

If John Suffolk or any other Government (or opposition) policy makers would like to discuss these issues further and hear how we think we could help to get the “message” out in a more inclusive, effective and less expensive way, please get in touch with us via our company web site. I have tagged this article with the requisite #ukgovOSS so I am hopeful that it will be picked up.

On the ‘Open Source, Open Standards and Re-Use: UK Government Action Plan’

As anyone interested in the politics and wider adoption of FOSS will know by now, the UK Government recently released an updated policy statement regarding “Open Source and Open Standards”. I made a brief comment on it when the news broke, but have now had more time to consider the document in more depth.

Firstly, It’s quite minor but nevertheless a shame that the pdf document was issued using Arial and Times New Roman embedded fonts that are not available on a free license. This leads me nicely to my second general point.

Why is there no mention of “Free Software“? There is a distinction between Open Source and Free software that, for some at least, is extremely important.

Anyway, having now read the pdf policy document in full, I want to air my thoughts on it.

After the preamble and introduction, in ‘The Way Forward’ we read this:

The Government considers that in order to deliver its key objectives a programme of positive action is now needed to ensure that there is an effective „level playing field‟ between open source and proprietary software and to realise the potential contribution open source software can make to wider aims of re-use and open standards. This programme needs to consist both of a more detailed statement of policies and of practical actions by government and its suppliers.

Notice how this is discussing a programme to generate policy statements and actions. I actually reckon this is really good stuff but am a little concerned about the fact there aren’t any demonstrable programmes or actions already created. In other words, it looks like we’ll have to wait for the bureaucrats to get their ink flowing before anything “real” happens. There are some actions at the end of the document, and although they are worthy in themselves they are rather broad and easy to spend years developing. Small, precise, tactical actions are what is required IMHO.

The objectives of the “programme” itself are pretty darn good from what I can tell. They read like a manifesto from RMS himself…

1. ensure that the Government adopts open standards and uses these to communicate with the citizens and businesses that have adopted open source solutions.

Nice – can I send documents to my MP or local council in ODF today then? (see toward the end of this piece) I don’t use any proprietary software in my business nor home (apart from my wife’s PC that is shortly to become Free too).

2. ensure that open source solutions are considered properly and, where they deliver best value for money (taking into account other advantages, such as re-use and flexibility) are selected for Government business solutions.

Once you do really take into account “re-use” it gets pretty hard to see how proprietary software represents value for money [“Sure Mr. Brown, just buy one copy of Office 2010 and re-use it across the country!”]. I look forward to seeing some detail here and the procurement guidlines for “properly” considering open source solutions.

5. ensure that there are no procedural barriers to the adoption of open source products within government, paying particular regard to the different business models and supply chain relationships involved.

Nice. Good objective.

The next section (6) is called “Policy” and stipulates the policy in broad but laudable terms:

(1) The Government will actively and fairly consider open source solutions alongside proprietary ones in making procurement decisions,

(2) Procurement decisions will be made on the basis on the best value for money solution to the business requirement, taking account of total lifetime cost of ownership of the solution, including exit and transition costs, after ensuring that solutions fulfil minimum and essential capability, security, scalability, transferability, support and manageability requirements.

(3) The Government will expect those putting forward IT solutions to develop where necessary a suitable mix of open source and proprietary products to ensure that the best possible overall solution can be considered.

(4) Where there is no significant overall cost difference between open and non-open source products, open source will be selected on the basis of its additional inherent flexibility.

These first policy item is sort of a catch-all but is quite vague and unmeasurable. I really want to see how they intend to implement, monitor and correct the bad procurement decisions.

The second and third points are indeed measurable and quite clear in their demands which is great.

The forth sounds very promising but again I’d want to know the detail; how the overall cost of the procurement can really be measured when you are comparing apples and oranges. This is a very difficult one to get right and the commercial vendors have many years of practice at coming up with exceptionally (ahem) creative pricing.

The Policy then goes onto non-open source software guidance:

Non-Open Source Software

(5) The Government will, wherever possible, avoid becoming locked in to proprietary software. In particular it will take exit, rebid and rebuild costs into account in procurement decisions and will require those proposing proprietary software to specify how exit would be achieved.

(6) Where non open source products need to be purchased, Government will expect licences to be available for all public sector use and for licences already purchased to be transferable within the public sector without further cost or limitation. The Government will where appropriate seek pan-government agreements with software suppliers which ensure that government is treated as a single entity for the purposes of volume discounts and transferability of licences.

Nice: “The Government will, wherever possible, avoid becoming locked in to proprietary software.” A fine objective if ever I read one.

I’m not sure about number 6 though. I guess it depends largely on existing contracts as to the flexibility they have with their current licenses but this must be sending shivers through Redmond right now.

Open Standards didn’t get much coverage. I guess it says what it must but open standards are one of the reasons we have FOSS today. The IETF who gave us amongst others RFC 793 and 791 (without which the Internet wouldn’t exist) and the W3C who protect and publish the open specifications for the world wide web are light-years ahead of the ISO as we have seen recently with the OOXML debacle. At least this part of the policy will be very easy to monitor. Send your Doctor, MP or Councillor an ODF document for example.

For IT and digital standards, the ISO is becoming totally redundant. Thinking back to when I was a lad, we had X.25, X.400, X.500, the ISO 7 layer reference model OSI and a ludicrously complex network management protocol known as CMIP. In their full specifications, these are all virtually obsolete now although some have been used in a cut-down form for modern standards like LDAP for example. But the reality is the ISO/ITU (CCITT) take too long, and try to be too clever. So Mr Brown and Mr. Watson, please do be careful – there are standards, and then there are standards…

The “Re-use” section gets really interesting and shows quite a good understanding of what FOSS is all about. But how on earth do they expect to achieve this

… look to secure full rights to bespoke software code or customisations of commercial off the shelf products it procures, so as to enable straightforward re-use elsewhere in the public sector.

without paying an arm and a leg for it. Can you imagine Larry or Steve agreeing to giving “full rights” (whatever that means) without a blank cheque? I can’t. In the same paragraph the following sentence is a really excellent policy:

Where appropriate, general purpose software developed for government will be released on an open source basis.

In the US public sector they have, for some time I believe, had a policy that basically means stuff created by and on-behalf of the public belongs to the public and is in the public domain. When I read stuff like this from what is the most draconian Government we have had in generations I am somewhat sceptical and really wonder how much actual input Number 10 and the policy makers have had in this document. The state that wants to restrict the citizen’s liberty whilst protecting the state itself so judiciously doesn’t feel like the same state that will write open source software. Time will tell on this one.

In the final section “Action Plan” there are 10 actions presented for the Government. These actions cover producing published guidance on procurement which will include words like:

a standard form of words for Statements of Requirements to state positively that the Government’s policy is to consider open source solutions on their merits according to total lifetime cost of ownership.


The CIO Council and the OGC, working with industry and drawing on best practice from other countries, will institute a programme of education and capability-building for the Government IT and Procurement professions on the skills needed to evaluate and make the best use of open source solutions . The aim will be to raise the level of awareness, skills and confidence in the professions in the different licensing, support, commercial and cost models associated with open source solutions.

Which is very interesting to an Open Source Consulting Business like my own 😉

As is the following which I feel is particularly strongly worded compared with the rest of the document:

Government Departments will challenge their suppliers to demonstrate that they have capability in open source and that open source products have been actively considered in whole or as part of the business solution which they are proposing. Where no overall open source solution is available suppliers will be expected to have considered the use of open source products within the overall solution to optimise the cost of ownership. Particular scrutiny will be directed where mature open source products exist and have already been used elsewhere in government. Suppliers putting forward non-open source products will be asked to provide evidence that they have carefully considered open source alternatives and to explain why they have been rejected.

Well, well, well:

The Government will specify requirements by reference to open standards and require compliance with open standards in solutions where feasible. It will support the use of Open Document Format (ISO/IEC 26300:2006) as well as emerging open versions of previously proprietary standards (eg ISO 19005-1:2005 (“PDF”) and ISO/IEC 29500 (“Office Open XML formats”). It will work to ensure that government information is available in open formats, and it will make this a required standard for government websites.

Can I say that again… “The Government will support the use of ODF” and a lovely phrase for OOXML “open versions of previously proprietary standards”. That’s possibly the kindest description of the worst specification ever written. Kudos for the clear mandate for ODF.

The last action is probably the most important of the lot:

Government will communicate this policy and its associated actions widely and will expand it as necessary. It will engage with the Open Source community and actively encourage projects that might, in due course, develop into „Government Class‟ products. It will keep the policy and progress on the actions under review, and report on progress publicly.

Firstly, I want to see how this policy is going to be communicated to the huge oil tanker called the UK Government. Secondly, it is spot on to want to engage with the FOSS Community but they will have to put in place some mechanisms, resources, on-line locations etc. where this engagement can take place. And the Government will have to learn very fast that for FOSS to work, the community has to collaborate in all directions and its members must give as much, if not more, than they take to get real benefit. It’s a bit like love… The more you give, the more you get back.

My biggest concern with this is the executive. Over the last 10 years or so their insistence on draconian lawmaking and interference in our liberty does make me sceptical about the commitment from the top dogs and hence the drive to pull this off. But, I will support this effort in whatever way I can until that scepticism is either proved wrong or right.

To conclude this rather long post then, I think this could be a huge and historical turning point in the health of FOSS here in the UK and I am very excited about the tone and sentiment behind this policy document. The authors (Our Government) have started to roll a very large ball down a very long slope. If the current Government do not take this seriously, or should the administration change and turn away, then the ball will roll out of control. If they do what they say and keep close to the community then I honestly believe there could a very bright future ahead of us.

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