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Simon Phipps

With a focus on open source and digital rights, Simon is a director of the UK's Open Rights Group and president of the Open Source Initiative. He is also managing director of UK consulting firm Meshed Insights Ltd.

Open Standards Still Need Your Vote

The battle for truly open document standards is not over yet - your voice needs hearing again.

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You may have thought that the battle to ring-fence its effective monopoly had passed, but in a call-to-arms for their Partner Network this week, Microsoft asked them to comment against the proposal by the Cabinet Office to mandate Open Document Format support where reasonable and appropriate in future by the UK government. They ask partners to call for removing the pressure for creation of a level playing field by including Microsoft's gerrymandered OOXML standard as an equal alternative.

Doing so would mean there was an easy way out that took away the pressure for change that Francis Maude spoke about in January. He said: "The software we use in government is still supplied by just a few large companies. A tiny oligopoly dominates the marketplace. I want to see a greater range of software used, so civil servants have access to the information they need and can get their work done without having to buy a particular brand of software." The oligarch in question clearly doesn't like the suggestion that there be diversity in government software usage and wants its partners to speak up for "no reason to change". 

Why is this a problem? Faced with pervasive use of Microsoft-controlled formats, government departments use features that don't translate well across platforms. That can mean citizens and businesses using non-Microsoft software are treated as second-class. But mandate ODF -- used by most other office software and now well-supported even by Microsoft -- and everyone becomes equal. Adding OOXML as an alternative neutralises the pressure to create that equality; more choice in this case is not better.

Readers here might want to counter this corporate self-defensive pressure by signing up at the Open Standards Hub and commenting on why you support the sensible proposal to require a true open standard be used for interaction with government officials, one that puts both proprietary and open source software on an equal footing rather than giving the proprietary software an advantage derived from its historic monopoly. The deadline is next Wednesday - make sure you're heard!


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