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UK Gov't Says Open Standards Must Be Royalty Free 91

Posted by timothy
from the does-the-queen-still-use-red-hat? dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The H reports on an interesting development in the United Kingdom's procurement policy. From the article: 'New procurement guidance from the UK government has defined open standards as having "intellectual property made irrevocably available on a royalty free basis." The document, which has been published by the Cabinet Office, applies to all government departments and says that, when purchasing software, technology infrastructure, security or other goods and services, departments should "wherever possible deploy open standards."'"
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UK Gov't Says Open Standards Must Be Royalty Free

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 27, 2011 @05:21AM (#35329540)

    Nice to see Govmnts getting a clue

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      They'll use Microsoft OOXML ...?

      • by Alain Williams (2972) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Sunday February 27, 2011 @09:08AM (#35330132) Homepage
        Actually there are no implementations of OOXML/DIS 29500. The MS .docx format certainly does not conform - although MS tries to give the impression that it does.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          But impression's are all that matter to those in charge it would seem no?

        • OOXML is ISO approved. Thus, it is an open standard according to the Procurement Policy Note
          • by Svartalf (2997) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @11:07AM (#35330818) Homepage

            But there are no implementations that would not run afoul of MS' patents at this time. There's where the argument will fall flat on it's face- the definition is explicit and MS would have to divuge their secrets and make them available on a permanant royalty free basis. MPEG-LA should take note: they're not an open standard per that correct definition by the UK government either- and WebM IS. They're going to need to come up with an answer that meets this criteria because the saber rattling they're doing against VP8/WebM isn't going to go very far and they've now got a problem because they're facing TWO FOSS codecs that meet the UK criteria of Open Standards.

            • Meh. I just don't see the lower levels caring. Internally, they'll use what they are accustomed to, and maybe export to an open standard when making a file available to the public. Which, more often than not, will be PDF.

              Video...no one will care. They don't make videos with the intent of distributing the raw file, they make videos to be watched YouTube or integrated into something else (like their website or a powerpoint)

          • by Alain Williams (2972) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Sunday February 27, 2011 @11:08AM (#35330824) Homepage

            Yes - MS bought ISO votes in many countries so that OOXML could be fast tracked.

            Fast tracking is reserved for what are usually de-facto standards with multiple implementations. OOXML is not implemented by anything, anywhere; the ISO vote was a fraud.

            • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

              by man_of_mr_e (217855)

              You're being a bit naive there. OOXML, as originally submitted for fast tracking, was just the XMLized version of the binary formats. As such, it was a de-facto standard in another skin. It was the ISO process itself that changed that submitted standard so that Office was no longer compatible with it.

              So, it's a bit of a farce to say that MS did not fast-track a de-facto standard. They did, but the standard body itself altered it.

              • by Rysc (136391) *

                In the first place their binary format was a de-facto standard, not the new XMLized format.

                In the second place, their format is so convoluted and broken that it should not be standardized as-is. All the complaints that exist about OOXML and how it's impossible to fully implement from the spec apply also to the binary predecessor. It's not at all standards-worthy since it cannot even be properly described by Microsoft's own people.

                Some changes were necessary to avoid ridiculous situations. MS could easily im

                • The XMLized version they submitted was, essentially, the binary format in XML. Ask anyone who has worked in understanding the binary format, and they'll tell you that OOXML has helped them tremendously to understand the binary format. Essentially, OOXML documents all the elements used in the binary format.

                  Now, it's true that the binary format contains other format information, such as the OLE document container formats, but this ifnormation is pretty well known and is really only the container (much like

                  • by Rysc (136391) *

                    Whine about? If you consider criticizing the OOXML format whining, then we need speak no more. I will continue to object to this format because it's fundamentally broken, no matter whether or not MS fully implements it.

                    I reiterate that this whole mess was a marketing gimmick to steal ODF's thunder. If MS eventually conforms with the ISO version of OOXML, great, but it doesn't mean that it wasn't a gimmick. It's easy to announce such a format and prevent a competitor from succeeding in the marketplace, then

                    • By all means, criticize the format. I'd love to see real, valid criticism, but I used the word "whine" because that's what you're doing when you comlain that Office doesn't implment it, or that it's an unimplementable format (It's not).

                      It's also whining to complain about things that aren't valid. Whining that deprecated features of decades old versions aren't specified (because they are deprecated) is just that, whining. Whining because the format understands a buggy date format that is there for compati

                    • by Rysc (136391) *

                      I have only one agenda here and that is to see Microsoft die and Free Software win. The former is due to well earned hatred, the second to carefully chosen ideology. I can admit when Microsoft makes something good, though I do not like to, such as their take on PDF. That's a good format. OOXML is just stupid. ODF to the extent that it is deficient could be fixed sanely. Legacy support is vital to competition and Microsoft and you are disingenuous to dismiss specification of legacy formatting as irrelevant.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            That isn't what the GP said. The trouble is that Microsoft Office doesn't implement ISO OOXML, it deviates from it significantly. It's like saying that Active Directory is an open standard because it's a lot like Kerberos.

            • Active Directory conforms to the Kerberos standard 100%. But, it's more than just kerberos. Most people, and I assume that includes you, have heard 20 different versions of the situation, and have a wrong understanding of what happened.

              Kerberos has a field intended for vendor specific data. Microsoft uses that field for AD, in conformance with the Kerberos specification. What people were upset about was that Microsoft did not (initially) publish the format of that field, which some people thought went a

              • Wow, somebody better tell the Samba people that they wasted all their time on version 4 because they could have just used any of the existing free implementations of Kerberos that follow the RFC.

                I didn't say AD failed to implement Kerberos, I said that AD isn't an open standard -- it includes a huge pile of nonstandard stuff that anyone wanting to interoperate has to reverse engineer. That sort of compliance-in-name-only plus EEE is the opposite an open standard.

                • I think your confused. Samba is an implementation of SMB, not Kerberos.

                  • Samba 4 [lmgtfy.com]:

                    What is Samba 4 meant to accomplish? In simplest terms, Samba 4 is an ambitious, yet achievable, reworking of the Samba code. Major features for Samba 4 already include:

                    * support of the 'Active Directory' logon and administration protocols
                    * new 'full coverage' testsuites
                    * full NTFS semantics for sharing backends
                    * Internal LDAP server, with AD semantics
                    * Internal Kerberos server, including PAC support
                    * Bind9 integration for AD DNS support

                    ...

            • BTW, OOXML conforms to ISO OOXML transitional standard, but not the strict standard.

              • Oh right, the transitional standard that no one other than Microsoft even has the information necessary to implement.

                I guess I blocked that one out because I still can't believe the ISO was willing to throw sixty years worth of built up credibility down the toilet over it.

                • by nstlgc (945418)
                  The fact that you throw out 60 years of built up credibility because they disagree with you on one standard (or, according to you, non-standard) might just be a sign of your own zealotry. Or, at the very least, show
                  • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                    That's how credibility works. If you go 60 years and every time you say something is a standard, everybody agrees that it is a standard, you get credibility -- when you say something is an open standard then everyone believes you without having to independently verify it. As soon as you start allowing companies to strong arm you into applying your imprimatur to whatever they want, nobody can blindly defer to your judgment anymore, because they have to start carving out exceptions for your mistakes.

                    This arti

          • by Anonymous Coward

            I wish I could find the link right now, but ISO explicitly somewhere in the voluminous documents on their web pages states that ISO approval does not represent any kind of comment whatsoever on the openness of a standard, or not.

            Somebody please find this link and post it prominently - this needs to be widely understood. ISO-approval has NOTHING to do with whether a standard is open or not.

            Case in point, MOOXML, which is demonstrably not open.

    • by cheros (223479)

      Umm, actually, they DID have a clue until the previous administration got in. They did all sorts of Open Source based work, quite simply to be cost effective yet safe.

      However, about the first public appearance the New Labour leader Tony Blair made as freshly anointed Prime Minister was to attend the launch of Windows 2000 at the Microsoft UK offices, thus lending it government approval. At that point, the consultancies moved in and installed as much proprietary rubbish as they could get away with. IMHO,

      • by tehcyder (746570)
        If you use the Tory government prior to Tony Blair as anything other than an example of utter intellectual and moral wretchedness, you are re-writing history. If John Major was keen on open standards, my immediate reaction would be that there is something wrong with open standards.
        • by cheros (223479)

          The UK Government started defining Open Standards when the Government Secure internet was created, roughly mid 1996, which is where also the whole eGIF concept was first defined (it was done by the same people). That was during Tory reign.

          However, probably the only thing we *can* agree on was that it was not an explicit policy decision. In those days, a couple of clued up people were doing the best with the budget they had, and this is where Open Source simply provided the best bang for buck - for those a

    • I suggest you watch the documentary* Yes, Minister. Then you will understand the true significance of those words hidden in plain sight: "wherever possible".

      * Maggie Thatcher's comments on it support according it this status.

    • by stiggle (649614)

      And typical of the government to leave a gaping get-out clause of "where possible"

      So - rather than using open royalty free standards, they'll just phrase the contracts in such a way to require the use of the closed standards or royalty payment encumbered ones.

      I trust the politicians to a point - but I can throw them further with a trebuchet.

  • by MysteriousPreacher (702266) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @05:24AM (#35329554) Journal

    It's a good decision. Open or closed source doesn't matter. What's important is interoperability. To give you an example, around eight years ago the local council website was unusable with anything except IE on Windows. It wasn't that the site was complicated. The issue was that they did a bad job of coding it, and only tested it with IE. That kind of thing shouldn't ever happen.

    • wasn't that IP made etc.....
      and a de-facto standard at the time.

    • by oliverthered (187439) <[moc.liamtoh] [ta] [derehtrevilo]> on Sunday February 27, 2011 @05:41AM (#35329624) Journal

      Government defines “open standards” as standards which:
        result from and are maintained through an open, independent process;
        are approved by a recognised specification or standardisation organisation, for
      example W3C or ISO or equivalent. (N.B. The specification/standardisation
      must be compliant with Regulation 9 of the Public Contracts Regulations 2006.
      This regulation makes it clear that technical specifications/standards cannot
      simply be national standards but must also include/recognise European
      standards);
        are thoroughly documented and publicly available at zero or low cost;
        have intellectual property made irrevocably available on a royalty free basis;
      andAction Note 3/11 31 January 2011
        as a whole can be implemented and shared under different development
      approaches and on a number of platforms.

      • by owlstead (636356)

        I hate ISO standards with a passion. They are only really available to people with a vested interest. Most other people wont lay down the money for them. You can not search them using Google, so you get into situations that e.g. software complies to a standard, but you can nevertheless not find the specific terms used. If any government money should be spent on something useful: give it to ISO so they become truly open, as in *free*.

        Also note that as a relatively rich dev, at a relatively rich company, I ca

    • by flemmingbjerke (934851) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @07:38AM (#35329904) Journal
      Yes, it is a good decision. But, an important caveat must taken in relation to process that lay down the standard. Microsoft succeeded in making their OOXML an open ISO-standard. But, MS still controls its development thus setting the terms of standardisation in accordance with MS's development interests. This is a hollowing out of open standards through mixing them with "de facto proprietary open standards".
    • by mfh (56)

      I think this is a good decision because you can still charge for setup fees, but just not royalties, which are recurring payments that only line the pockets of the company that started the ball rolling. Microsoft would counter this by charging for updates and ensuring early software is broken enough that people will pay for updates. Fucking bastards.

    • I would argue that open or closed source does matter. But, I agree that the interoperability is more important than being open or closed source. Personally, all other things being equal, I'l always opt for open source. In fact, I might sacrifice some feature or other attraction to get the open sourced product. But, I won't sacrifice that all-important interoperability!
  • by unity100 (970058) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @05:25AM (#35329560) Homepage Journal
    some here still dont get it. something being made open, but owned by someone and can be reverted back is NOT open. it only means it is 'open to look inside',in manner of speaking.

    open should mean what u.k. govt., in an unexpected streak of common sense, explains above.
    • 'Open' was hijacked long ago. Every freedom stomping evil corporation jumped on that bandwagon.

  • Patents (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @05:32AM (#35329590) Journal
    Note that the UK does not regard software patents as valid (although the last definitive statement on this was made by the previous government, so this one may reverse it), which means that things like H.264 still count as open standards under this definition, because the relevant 'intellectual property' is not regarded as property in the UK.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I should warn you that Ed Vaizey is busy raving about how good software patents are, so I won't expect this to stay the case for much longer.

      On that note, what is it with our current government's obsession with everything the Americans do? Private healthcare, raising tuition fees? What next? Repeal gun laws?

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        On that note, what is it with our current government's obsession with everything the Americans do? Private healthcare, raising tuition fees? What next? Repeal gun laws?

        The more right wing a UK government is, the closer it is philosophically to the US, so it's hardly a surprise. Maggie Thatcher almost died of oxygen starvation by being so far up Ronald Reagan's arse.

        I imagine they will change the gun laws to extend the rights of farmers, then landowners and anyone with a house worth more than a million quid to own weapons for "self defence", while simultaneously creating a generation of angry young people without jobs or hope. Same as it ever was.

    • Yes and no.
      The ISO spec is not gratis, but the ITU spec is gratis:
      http://www.brooksandrus.com/blog/2008/11/15/yes-the-h264-specification-is-freely-available/ [brooksandrus.com]

      However, it's not the complete specification, it depends on some other specs which might not be freely available. So is a standard "Open" when you cannot read some of its dependencies?

      • Re:Patents (Score:4, Interesting)

        by burisch_research (1095299) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @08:12AM (#35329986)

        Hear hear. The entire dependency tree of any standard should, in addition to the standard itself, be completely 'open' according to this new insightful definition. If that's not the case, then the standard should not be regarded as 'open' whatsoever.

        UK Govt should take heed of this and update their definitions accordingly (if necessary).

        • autoSpaceLikeWord95 (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Agreed.

          To understand why, look at the following instructive example
          from the original OOXML spec (not the ISO DIS 29500 but the really-used Microsoft format):

          2.15.3.6 autoSpaceLikeWord95 (Emulate Word 95 Full-Width Character Spacing)

          This element specifies that applications shall emulate the behavior of a previously existing word processing
          application (Microsoft Word 95) when determining the spacing between full-width East Asian characters in a
          document's content.
          [Guidance: To faithfully replicate th

    • by Carewolf (581105)

      Even when software patents have not been allowed, H.264 and MP3 before has still managed to get patented in many EU countries. The no software patent clause only applies to small companies and private persons.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Not quite the case, software patents in Europe are incredibly weak full stop, theres nothing preventing small companies and private persons applying for them, but the cost of obtaining a European patents (being in effect a right to apply for patents in a number of countries rather then an actual european patent) and showing Technical Effect in anything but low level items of software is very difficult (otherwise it starts to look more like a business process or a pure mathematical model) and it tends to be

    • by mbone (558574)

      I am not a lawyer, but I do not believe that H.264 is (or is purely) a software patent. I would note that MPEG-LA claims [mpegla.com] a number of UK (GB) patents in its pool for H.264 :

      GB 564,597
      GB 630,157
      GB 1,467,491
      GB 1,487,113
      GB 1,550,219
      GB 0460751
      GB 2,003,899
      GB 2,003,900
      GB 2,009,927
      GB 2,009,928
      GB 2,015,585

      (there are more, but you get the picture). If these patents are valid, they could certainly claim intellectual property rights in the UK.

      (Note : in the UK patent search system [ipo.gov.uk] - the "REGISTER ENTRY FOR GB2003899"

      • by mindriot (96208)

        I think they mean EP2003899 (European Patent), whose title is "A Method For Extracting Direct Mode Motion Vectors".

    • by 91degrees (207121)
      It's more complicated that that. The letter of the law and the intent of the law are different and patent lawyers are paid a lot of money to explain in the patent application why a piece of equipment, that is entirely generic except for the software running on it, is not a software invention.
    • So what you're saying is that the UK will be that much less capable of adopting software patents. They won't just pass a law that requires them to pay tons of royalties all of a sudden. So good.
  • As much as I'd like to think that this statement is genuine, I fear it's just meant to encourage Microsoft & Co to offer better deals.
    • by Lennie (16154)

      Maybe that isn't what people set out to do, but that is what eventually happends most of the time.

  • What about those other – "de facto" – standards?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      > Why just Open Standards? What about those other – "de facto" – standards?

      I think you missed the following facts:

      a) the important discussion here is around the "open" concept -- "de facto" are not necessarily open -- what implies there are good and bad "de facto" standards;
      b) "de facto" standards fail to meet a series of requirements to be even considered standards, so they might even disqualify as options from the start -- being open or not.

  • by jimicus (737525) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @06:48AM (#35329798)

    It remains to be seen if things will change drastically with this government, but if the last government was anything to go by they'll find a way around it in order to use whatever they damn well please - and if that's Office, so be it.

    Off the top of my head, I can picture:

    • "It's only guidance, we're not obliged to follow it."
    • "We only said the IP must be royalty free. We didn't say there couldn't be other conditions attached." (spoken as Microsoft announce a program which will allow anyone to implement MS-XML royalty free on condition that it's implemented in a closed-source, commercial product with no code inherited from any open source project even if the licensing of the project would otherwise allow it. IOW "By all means write your own office app which reads our file format, but you'll have to start from scratch and you won't be able to gain mindshare by giving it away for free")
    • "Read the small print carefully. We're allowed to ignore this guidance if there is no viable product which uses open standards. Our conditions for "viable product" include "Offers the best compatibility on the market with our existing couple of million documents in .doc format""
    • by mounthood (993037) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @09:51AM (#35330330)

      "We only said the IP must be royalty free. We didn't say there couldn't be other conditions attached." (spoken as Microsoft announce a program which will allow anyone to implement MS-XML royalty free on condition that it's implemented in a closed-source, commercial product with no code inherited from any open source project even if the licensing of the project would otherwise allow it. IOW "By all means write your own office app which reads our file format, but you'll have to start from scratch and you won't be able to gain mindshare by giving it away for free")

      It's like you held a mirror up to the Oracle-Java-Apache problem. 'We only said you can implement Java openly if you use the test suite, which you can't use openly.'

  • by Rick Richardson (87058) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @06:51AM (#35329802) Homepage
    On 2011-02-26:

    http://freshmeat.net/projects/jbigkit/announcements/583-jbig1-now-patent-free-outside-the-united-states

    GDI printers, etc... include this tech. I.E. printers from HP, Konica, Xerox, Oki, Samsung, Lexmark, and Kyocera.
  • by flemmingbjerke (934851) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @10:01AM (#35330372) Journal
    In Denmark, we have had a similar document passed in the parliament in 2007. It entailed strong disputes over whether Microsoft's ISO-approved document standard (OOXML) was open or not. The outcome still not clear. But, the danger is that Microsoft's OOXML actually becomes a mandatory standard. This could easily become the outcome of the British government's Procurement Policy Note. Bullet 4 says:

    "Government assets should be interoperable and open for re-use in order to maximise return on investment, avoid technological lock-in, reduce operational risk in ICT projects and provide responsive services for citizens and businesses."

    By upgrading to Microsoft's OOXML (docx, xlsx, etc), it becomes the most widespread document format. This implies that government offices must use Microsoft Word, Excel, etc. in order to:
    - ensure interoperability
    - maximise return (avoiding conversion cost with e.g. ODF)
    - avoid lock-in to other formats (e.g. to ODF),
    - reduce operational risk (i.e. the Microsoft security package connectied with the office package)
    - provide responsive services (citizen and business use Microsoft's document formats).

    (I don't say these arguments are true, but that they tend to be accepted politically.)

    Making open standards mandatory may imply that Microsoft Office becomes mandatory!
    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @10:41AM (#35330640) Journal
      You're fighting the wrong battle. Instead, let them mandate OOXML, but require that any software purchases designed for editing OOXML documents pass Microsoft's OOXML compliance suite with no failures. Last time I checked, MS Office got about 5,000 failures - OOXML and Microsoft's file formats are not the same thing, even though they're superficially similar and MS Office claims to use OOXML.
      • Good point, but how would you make a standard civil servant understand this. And, please, imagine MS's dull explanations over many pages concerning details of the openness of the 5000 pages standard and its transitional version and reasons for failures and bla bla.... In DK, MS turned out to have intelligent people explaining infinitely many details of the rationality and openness of OOXML.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Then what will the queen do? Well, she's probably computer averse, but poor Prince Charles, he's already waited so long, and now the gov't is knocking him out of the standards process?

    Oh well, at least William is getting a hottie.

  • Some commentary on the topic from OpenBSD:
    OpenBSD 3.5: "CARP License" and "Redundancy must be free" [openbsd.org]
  • Even if all the people who contribute to a given standard freely contribute their intellectual property, nothing stops a third party showing up at a later date claiming infringement of their patents.

    If the U.K. government defines open standards as having "intellectual property made irrevocably available on a royalty free basis", they have just defined a null set. Not very useful. If they are serious about this, then they should pass laws requiring mandatory licensing of patents required to implement an open

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