Industry groups have both criticised and praised what they consider a bias in favour of open-source software in the European Commission's plans to update the rules governing industry standard technologies.
The Commission set out a plan for a complete makeover of the rules last week, a move it said was vital if European information and communication technology (ICT) is to remain relevant and globally competitive.
Günter Verheugen, vice president responsible for enterprise and industry, said: “We want ICT products and services to continue to be the drivers of the enormous growth of innovation we have seen during the past 15 years. We want to set the right conditions to boost the competitiveness of the European ICT industry and give fresh impetus to get out of the current economic crisis. A new modern ICT standardisation policy will also allow us to successfully respond to changing societal, market and policy needs.”
Currently, government bodies are limited in their choice of ICT suppliers to ones that are registered with a short list of recognised standards organisations, including ISO, the International Standards Organisation, its European equivalents the ESOs and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
The private sector has moved beyond this short list. Fora and consortia such as the W3C, OASIS and ECMA are all standards organisations and are widely recognised in the industry, but they cannot be referenced when a firm bids for a public sector contract, or when an authority is setting public policy.
The reforms proposed in the Commission's white paper "should improve the possibilities to use and reference EU recognised standards in legislation and public procurement," the Commission said in a statement.
Open Forum Europe (OFE), an industry group that takes a pro-open-source view, welcomed the move.
"Strengthening collaboration and cooperation in ICT standards development, both Europe-wide and globally is crucial," it said in a statement issued Monday.
The Commission "recognises the importance of global open standards as well as important Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) concerns like transparency through mandatory ex ante declaration of licensing terms and royalty free licensing to enhance software interoperability," OFE said.
Open standards, stimulating global standard setting and standardisation based on openness criteria across domains "can help usher Europe into a new era of competitiveness and growth," said OFE's chief executive, Graham Taylor.
According to the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT), the emphasis on open standards in the Commission's white paper amounts to a bias in favour of open-source software.
In a statement, it said it is "concerned that the policy framework suggested in the White Paper seems to favour open source software over proprietary software to achieve more interoperability."
"Our key policy objective should be the removal of systemic bias, not its introduction," said ACT President Jonathan Zuck.
Without decisive action, the EU will fail to master the information society and will not reach a number of important European policy goals that require interoperability such as e-health, accessibility, security, e-business, e-government and transport, the Commission said in its statement last week.
It added that if the rules aren't updated, the EU will be in a weaker position to influence an ongoing and global debate about international standards for personal data protection.
The Commission has launched a consultation with the ICT industry, standards bodies and consumer groups that closes on 15 September.