Ten of the biggest Dutch municipalities say 'enough!' to Microsoft

Posted by Scott_Ruecker on Dec 27, 2006 8:35 AM EDT
LXer.com; By Hans Kwint, The Netherlands
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LXer Feature: 27-Dec-2006

In February 2003, the program "Open Standards and Open Source Software (OSSOS) for the Dutch government" started, funded by the Dutch government. One of the main tasks was to make the government independent from single software suppliers, among which are Microsoft and SAP. After three years, the effort starts bearing fruit. Ten big municipalities - together 2,7 million inhabitants and including Amsterdam and The Hague - signed a manifest. I'll try to explain what's in the manifest, what that might mean for the future, and for the monopoly of Microsoft in the Dutch government.

In the OSSOS program, big municipalities have discussed what the demands for software tenders should be in the future. It became clear, interoperability and independence from software supplier should be the most important aspects for such tenders.

Therefore, the municipalities Almere, Assen, Eindhoven (home of Royal Philips), Enschede, Groningen, Haarlem, Leeuwarden en Nijmegen published a manifest, in which those demands were summarized. At the same time, more municipalities were invited to join them and sign the manifest too. After some doubts, Amsterdam (the capital) and The Hague (the political capital, like Washington is to the USA) also signed the manifest, and more municipalities, but also other government agencies may still follow them.

Nonetheless, open source software isn't mentioned in the manifest. This is done deliberately. Instead of asking for open source, the manifest explains what the goals of that 'open source' should be; making it harder for suppliers to abuse the term 'open software', and label their closed software 'open'. There are four terms of 'openness' in the manifest:

  1. Supplier independence
  2. Interoperability
  3. Transparency and verifiability and
  4. Digital durability

Lets review those terms:

Term one is meant to make it possible for companies to compete against each other, and should ensure the government acquires the best deal for the best price. With closes source software, this would be impossible. With shared or open software, this would or would not be possible, depending on the license. With free software, this would always be possible.

Term two is rather important for a government: it shouldn't be any difference which software the government or the citizens use - documents should be available for anyone using the software applications they prefer. Citizens shouldn't be forced to use certain software to read the .doc Microsoft-Word documents of the government.

Term three refers to the Law on Protection of Personal data (WBP); which means the government should protect the privacy of their citizens. With closed software, it is impossible to verify the demands of privacy stated in the Dutch law (WBP) are met. It should be possible for the government to audit software.

Term four concerns the future: the government should be able to use their data - preferably even when the software to read that data isn't available anymore. Therefore, well documented open standards have to be used.

This means, companies as Microsoft and SAP still have a chance, and a lot depends on how those municipalities interpret the four terms. As said, Microsofts 'shared source' might meet the demands of term three, because the government can look into the code, but it may not meet the demands of term one. That's because other companies may not be able to maintain 'shared source' code, since that might mean breaking the shared source license. That's just an example, I'm not saying shared source can be used or not, that's up to the municipalities and some lawyers. Nonetheless, it's obvious free software most easily meets the four terms, and is the most convenient to avoid discussions.

Now, I was at the first T-DOSE open source event, held in Eindhoven a few weeks ago, and I heard there is a lot happening behind the scenes in municipalities. But, municipalities often have doubts about the cost feasibility of migrations. Moreover, the Dutch administrative machinery isn't the most flexible agency one could imagine, though it differs per person.

I should add, some Dutch municipalities already tested open source - in varying degrees. Groningen (170.000 inhabitants) switches to OpenOffice, and six other municipalities near Groningen tried open source. Some of them used OpenOffice, some of them Linux, and most of them were happy with the result. The municipality of Haren switched to a LTSP system (still including some proprietary software), a welfare organization in Amsterdam uses open source now, the region of Zeeuws-Vlaanderen uses open source a lot (mainly because the IT-manager is an open-source enthusiast), and also the municipalities of IJsselstein and Goes are using it. The Dutch government even facilitated an exchange-platform for open-source developers.

Nonetheless, the federal government still had a secret meeting in which Microsoft was given the exclusive right to make a tender. Therefore, the conclusion is, open source in the Netherlands goes from the bottom to the top. It might have to do with influence: It is far easier for companies like Microsoft to influence/lobby the 'one' federal government, than it is to influence about 460 different municipalities. Slowly and a bit hesitant, but surely - and rather unstoppable, open source and open standards are making its way in the Dutch government.

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» Read more about: Story Type: Editorial, LXer Features, News Story; Groups: Linux, Microsoft, Mozilla, OpenOffice.org

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Subject Topic Starter Replies Views Last Post
only one company-tender? isn't that iillegal in the EU? rittmey 4 2,894 Dec 28, 2006 12:43 PM
Thanks for this update from the Netherlands beirwin 2 2,512 Dec 27, 2006 4:43 PM

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