dinsdag 13 september 2011

How closed source IT gets access to Dutch parliament

Dutch Senate (Eerste Kamer) MPs get iPads to use at work, contrary blandly to their commitment to start using more open technology. Do they really understand the issue?

Ever since 2002 Dutch Parliament (Senate -Eerste Kamer- and House of Representatives -Tweede Kamer-) have held that openness in information technology (motion Vendrik 2002) is of primary concern for the Dutch government in its widest sense. While the use of open source software is supposed to be considered with every procurement, the use of open standards is mandatory. Open Source Software or OSS uses intellectual property (IP) law and software licences in such a way as to ensure to open and free use of the IP rights. To put it straight: you have the right to use, change and distribute my ideas and software for free (considering a few extra provisions that change as per license model).

Standards are however the basis for the storage, retrieval, exchange of information over systems, distance and time. These are also technical standards (protocols) that are protected by IP laws. You see: this is about law not technology! Open standards are protocols that are free to use and that are designed and agreed upon in open organisations. An open standard is supposed to enable you to design any software that can exchange information using the same protocol for free, but also it enables you to open up documents that were stored years ago. It protects YOUR intellectual property: your text, movies, music, pictures by keeping the storage technology open.

Many big software companies are known for closing off their territory by storing YOUR data in THEIR data standard. This is true for text, for geo-data, for graphical data and for in fact every type of information you'd care to store and retrieve. IBM did that, Microsoft does that but also Exact software, AutoCAD, SAP and many more. It locks you into their systems, intended never to let you go. That is not illegal or false, it is a valid business model.

Suppose telephones still worked like that: you can only call people using the same system. Or the gasoline in your car. Or electric grids. Mature business systems agree on protocols describing certain standards that help both the producer and the consumer. Not so in the IT world.

Apple has set a new record. It created the iPad, a technology the tech-world has been waiting for for many years. Venturing into territory where no man has ever gone before. Even real 'open' addicts will kill to get their hands on an iPad. Apple thus, using a business model that is antique. Apple is probably the most closed IT venture in the world, but in silence. This is not new: the iPod, the iPhone were equally closed (the iPaq, using Microsoft Windows Mobile, was not Apple's but HP's). Music, movies, new gadget software can only be downloaded from Apple controlled stores. Not Apple? Not on your iPad / -Phone / -Pod.

Now the Senate of The Netherlands has chosen to use a fully closed and controlled system, however brilliant. Not only that, they have selected to use a supporting closed software system that they will not or cannot share with other people, like their own constituents. How about using and developing open source software as agreed, supported by your OSOSS and NOiV programmes, and your Forum Standardisation? How about using open standards for all data, as is mandatory, as is agreed like Open Document Format? Why is the system to read and create your documents closed to all but you, dear senators? Afraid?

I challenge the House of Representatives in The Netherlands to start storing text in the ODF format (which Microsoft software can create, store and access). The National Archives and the Royal Library will be happy. I wonder if the senators will be.

2 opmerkingen:

  1. [UPDATE 24 Sep 2011] The software the Senate uses was developed by the ICTU, a government foundation which is since 2002 also responsible for the promotion of open data formats (standards) and open source software.

  2. [UPDATE 13 Oct 2011] The Council of the City of Amsterdam has just made the same mistake. Is there a new Apple sales-rep on the street?