Open standards 'more important' than open source

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Open standards 'more important' than open source

The recent Westminster eForum witnessed considerable debate around the adoption and use of open source software by governments, organisations and individuals.

But despite a range of conflicting viewpoints one message was clear: open standards are paramount in protecting consumers and driving the software industry forward.

Dr John Pugh MP, Liberal Democrat Shadow Spokesman for Health, told delegates that there were good arguments for the use of open and closed source software, but that there was "no defence against the use of open standards".

Pugh explained that without open standards there is "the problem of provider dependence and the problem of lock-in and tie-on, often over decades".

He added that to back away from more open standards and more open disclosure in the industry is a "retrogressive step".

Pugh envisions a mixed approach in which customers choose what applications suit them best in terms of features, usability, cost and support. He described the concept as "proprietary coinciding with open source coinciding with government".

Nick McGrath, director of platform strategy at Microsoft, echoed Pugh's statements, agreeing that it is better to focus on customers than on technology.

Most organisations are looking for a best-of-breed approach to their choice of software, according to McGrath, and many end up with a mixed source environment as a result.

He claimed that customers choose Microsoft products because they offer a " standard and easy to use interface, support and service".

Although open source software offers some good point-to-point applications, McGrath believes that it fails to provide a consistent platform to users.

However, Michel Kahn, chief information officer at , said that McGrath's comments "perpetuate a fallacy that you cannot find open source software that works" and that it is simply a matter of "looking hard enough and carefully enough".

Kahn described how Specsavers uses open source software almost exclusively in its stores, offices and data centres around the world as the best way of ensuring open standards and interoperability, as well as saving money on licence fees.

Mark Taylor, president of the Open Source Consortium, then raised the question of what the public sector has to gain from implementing open source.

"The advantages are very clear. Open source just works. Its adherence to open standards ensures excellent interoperability," he said.

"Some of the reasons why organisations choose open source are the advantages that they look for in any new software whether proprietary or non-proprietary."

Alan Cox, a fellow at Red Hat, concluded the Westminster eForum by stating that open standards were vital for the democratisation of technology and "putting control back in the hands of the owner of the device".
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