Our Work / Overview of Open Standards
This is FSFE's submission to the UK Open Standards Proposal, held by the Standards Hub in Cabinet Office, submitted on 28th January 2014.
Free Software Foundation Europe has long advocated the use of Open Standards in government. We applaud this proposal by the UK government.
Most governments are suffering the effects of lock-in in their IT infrastructure: high costs, dependence on a single ultimate supplier, no strategic freedom. This all but eliminates meaningful competition among suppliers, and stifles technological progress. In addition, these governments often end up imposing on the citizens they serve (and on other organisations they cooperate with) an obligation to acquire the same non-free programs that the government uses.
In contrast, the UK government stands out not just for its determination to break free and make real competition among suppliers possible, but also for having an integrated strategy for doing so. The present proposal is a central building block of this strategy, along with a clear and strong definition of Open Standards, the recently announced red lines for IT contracts, and other elements.
We applaud the UK Government's approach of focusing on standards rather than products, and relying on a strong definition of Open Standards to ensure that there will be significant competition among suppliers for any software products that the government may wish to use.
An important feature of the present proposal is that it relies on a thorough and comprehensive study of the actual user needs. This greatly increases the chances that the proposal can be successfully implemented, and that any new tools deployed will be well matched to the requirements of their users.
The proposed standards (HTML (4.01, 5 or higher); TXT; CSV; ODF (1.1 or higher)) each address a different technical need. The UK Government is correct in focusing on a single Open Standard for each category and purpose.
Competition takes place on top of standards, not between them. Especially with regards to documents produced in office suites, concentrating on a single Open Standard will ensure that all suppliers can compete on an equal basis. In the mid to long term, the demand created by the UK government, and any others following in its footsteps, is bound to lead to significant improvements in the way office suites work - an area where progress has been all but absent for about a decade.
We agree with Francis Maude's assessment, from a speech delivered on January 29 this year, that "the adoption of open standards in government threatens the power of lock-in to proprietary vendors yet it will give departments the power to choose what is right for them and the citizens who use their services."
In closing, we reiterate our support for the UK Government's proposed approach. Ultimately, any strategy is only as good as its implementation. We would thus like to express our hope that the government will follow through on implementing this approach across all of its branches. FSFE remains available to support this effort.