British Library Helps Lock Down More Knowledge


It has been a sad spectacle to see the British Library – without doubt once the greatest library in the world, and hence a powerful force for disseminating knowledge as widely as possible - become more and more enmeshed in locking down research in proprietary formats.

Milestones on that march away from greatness included co-sponsorship [.pdf] of Microsoft's pseudo-open OOXML, whose passage through the ISO pretty much destroyed the latter's credibility, instead of supporting ODF; the use of Microsoft's proprietary Silverlight in its “Turning the Pages 2.0” technology; and now this:

The Research Information Centre (RIC) is a virtual research environment framework being jointly developed by Microsoft External Research and The British Library. We view researchers as extreme information workers and the purpose of the RIC is to support researchers in managing the increasingly complex range of tasks involved in carrying out research.

What's interesting here is that this partnership with Microsoft is being reported as an example of openness, because the “Research Information Centre Framework (RIC)" is indeed released under various open source licences, and available from Codeplex.

But the openness or otherwise of the RIC software is almost incidental; this is what lies underneath that open topping [.docx]:

The server must have the following software installed:

Windows Server 2003 SP2, or Windows Server 2008 R2.
Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 SP2.
Microsoft SQL Server 2005 or 2008, Standard or Enterprise Edition.
Windows installer 4.5
.NET Framework 3.5, SP1
Microsoft Sync Framework 1.0.
Required only for SQL Server 2008.
Microsoft Sync Services for ADO.Net 2.0.
Required only for SQL server 2008.

SharePoint is probably Microsoft's most successful product for locking in content to its technologies. So what seems to be a neutral or even positive move for the academic community is in fact likely to lead to less sharing of research because of the barriers placed in the way by dependence on proprietary elements that militate against free exchange.

It's really regrettable that the British Library continues to turn its back on its great historical mission of spreading enlightenment by adopting this strategy of promoting closed solutions from specific companies instead of working with the various “open” communites - open source, open access, open data, open knowledge etc. - for the benefit of everyone.

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