As the Cameron government rose to power in 2010, the
Conservative Party immediately put forward a Technology Manifesto.
One of the main pillars of this manifesto - next to establishing 12
new technical Academies through the country - was the proposed
creation of a level playing field for open source IT, by
implementing 'open standards' across all government IT systems.
Ever since 2001 a group of companies together with Sun
Microsystems began to work on an Open Document Format (ODF)
accredited by ISO in 2006. Microsoft was not a part of the
consortium, although they were invited to cooperate. The source
code of ODF is open, so that anyone can build upon it.
Preceding the Technology Manifesto a lot of local authorities
had been complaining about Microsofts monopoly, preventing them to
make use of other IT-systems. Many organisations were locked-in,
the proprietary software did not allow the simple transfer to other
systems, any such move would bring with it high cost and loss of
If proprietary software providers, like Microsoft for example,
lock customers into their system, at some point every user has to
upgrade to a new version or risk losing access to data such as text
documents, spread sheets and other file formats it moving to an
alternative solution. At the same time, users have no influence
whatsoever on the product itself, and there is nothing a user can
do about it.
For an individual user the costs of proprietary software are
often hidden in the price of a new pc, which usually comes with
Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office preinstalled. However, for
corporate or government users the licenses for thousands of
employees are a significant cost factor.
For example, the mayor of City of Munich, Germany, only in March
claimed publically cost savings made by switching from Microsoft
Windows to an Open Source Linux alternative of over € 4 million in
2011 alone. The savings come from not purchasing new Windows
software and upgrading systems and the license renewal expected
every three to four years.
Removing barriers for start-ups
The point of the UK government's open standards policy in 2010
was to regulate failed technology markets by removing barriers such
as those inherent in proprietary standards like Microsofts.
Conservatives estimated these measures to gain £ 6 billion.
The policy would be a double edged sword: not only would
open standards boost innovative businesses and help create highly
paid new jobs, it would also avoid the waste of public money
on faulty IT-systems, since open standards would break large
IT-projects down in modular parts, allowing all different
modules to communicate. If there is no one common denominator, you
limit the innovative possibilities to a restricted group of people
that understand multiple languages.
Turned around by MS-lobby
But the UK government did not reckon with the lobbying clout of
the world's IT monopolists. Following a public consultation in
April dominated by proprietary lobbyists, a spokeswoman of the
Cabinet Office said that "The consensus was that the proposed
policy would be detrimental to competition and innovation." In
other words: Microsoft had swayed the opinion in favour of 'in
Many open source protagonists claimed they had no knowledge of
the consultation meeting and fired up a public debate in the
blogosphere, scrutinising the process of the consultation.
Embarrassingly to the UK Cabinet Office, it even became apparent
that the Chair of the meeting, a formerly known advocate of open
standards, was actually being paid for advising Microsoft directly
on the on-going consultation.
Conflict of interest
The UK Cabinet Office took this as a conflict of interest and
drew its conclusions. It has postponed the deadline of the
consultation until June 4, which means the open source community
has one more month to make the case for open standards.
And they are not wasting their time. Leading UK Open Standards
experts - representing the Free and Libre Open Source Software UK,
the Free Software Foundation Europe, Open Forum Europe and the Open
Source Consortium - called upon the Government to "not do anything
which will result in the imposition in a stealth tax upon citizens,
for example by requiring them to purchase specific products for
interacting with online public services."
They also request "that anybody and everybody be able to
participate in public sector procurement, regardless of their
businesses model" and "to leverage truly open innovative
technologies to achieve long term savings." Only this would bring a
more "competitive and diverse market for public contracts,
reduction of barriers to participation in public sector IT
affecting small and medium size enterprises, and realisation of the
potential benefits of its existing Open Data strategy."