Estonia's Open Source Shame


Last week I wrote about the curious case of Mr Kallas, vice president of the European Commission. He seemed to have problems with the word “open”, imagining that this meant “unprotected”, judging by his comments. I put this down to some linguistic misunderstanding as a result of the distance of the Estonian language from English, rather than an intentional and wrong-headed attack on openness. Looks like I was wrong.

Here's Mr Kallas speaking recently:

About open source we have had intensive discussions within the commission framework and of course we are very much in favour of free competition especially in this new area like information technology. But at the same time there is a question of business continuity, guarantees, all these things which must be addressed properly.

For instance, yesterday I was asked something similar and the example was given “look how wonderful is Wikipedia, for instance, with participation of all people who provide information”. And I use it a very large extent, always I look to Wikipedia.

But if you start to think in Wikipedia texts you see there are brackets, there are footnotes that this information should be confirmed, that this information should be checked and this is not for sure. But if you use open source or if you use the same logic in some operational thing you must have certainty what will happen next. This movement to provide new tools, new possibilities is most welcome by Commission, we must have only a balance how operationally to use it in most safe way.

Of course, the idea that open source needs “checking” or is “not for sure” is pure FUD. There are no dodgy opinions in software: stuff either does what it's supposed or it doesn't. It doesn't need to be checked against external sources, like a Wikipedia entry, because there are objective metrics for programs – teset results, speed, size, bug-density etc. – that simply don't exist for content like encyclopaedias. To make analogies between Wikipedia and open source is misleading in the extreme.

Safety is no more an issue for free software than it is for closed-source software. Indeed, given the transparency of the former and the opaqueness of the latter, there's a strong argument that it's closed-source code that needs “checking”.

The question is, why does Mr Kallas keep on spreading this misinformation? It's hard to know whether to ascribe this to darker motives or to simple ignorance. But either way, it's clear that every time Mr Slim makes these unfounded attacks on open source and open standards he does little honour to either himself or the country he represents in the European Commission. He should not only refrain from making further such comments immediately, but also offer an apology to the people whose work he has slighted in this way.

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