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open up the source or will the real commission please stand up

Open Source

Open up the Source or – Will the real Commission please stand up

En français

If you are not sure what the term "open source software (OSS)" means see Wikipedia at . OSS is often called "free software" for short because of the way it is developed and distributed.

"To use free software is to make a political and ethical choice asserting the right to learn, and share what we learn with others… The corporations behind proprietary software will often spy on your activities and restrict you from sharing with others. And because our computers control much of our personal information and daily activities, proprietary software represents an unacceptable danger to a free society…"

Let us recall that a corporation's sole purpose is to maximize its own shareholders profit and power. If its managers do anything else with the money they may go to jail. In doing so, if it calculates that by breaking some laws and paying the fines its actions are still profitable, it will do it. By contrast, a regulatory body's job is to safeguard the interests of all citizens at large, not only a small privileged group. The Commission tells us that it is just such a body.

See You in Court

On 6th March 2008, Intellectual Property Watch reported a complaint was lodged over EU Parliament’s exclusive use of Microsoft Systems. It is alleged that Microsoft Corporation enjoys an effective monopoly or ‘lock-in’ within the European Union Institutions.

Even though the open document format has been approved as an international standard since early 2007 and is therefore in the public domain, the EU Institutions insist on using formats that are the private property of Microsoft Inc. Worse; the source code of our software is legally speaking a trade secret. That means Mr Gates knows more about what is happening on your PC than Mr Barroso does.

A Practical but Technical Example

Have you ever tried to access SYSPER2 from home with anything else than Internet Explorer. If you ever did you may be surprised by the results.

Using Firefox 3.0.1

Here is how you can squeeze under the Microsoft Inc. fence that encloses the Commission on all sides. We are informed that there is a plug-in for Firefox called "User Agent Switcher" which simply tells Firefox to lie about its identity. When you download the plug-in, it should automatically ask if you agree to install it. (If not, right-click on the downloaded file, and Open With... Firefox.)

When you want to use Sysper, first select from the Firefox menu Tools > User Agent Switcher > Internet Explorer (the version is irrelevant). Then you can navigate to Sysper. Note that the rendering may be slightly different, but it does work.

Unfortunately, this is basically hacking into Firefox to make it look like Internet Explorer which is a lie, but what choice does Mighty Soft leave us?

Using Apple Safari v.3.1.2

Using Google Chrome

How Microsoft Got Busted by the EU

In 2004, the European Commission - the EU’s executive arm - imposed a €497 million euro fine on Microsoft for ‘bundling’ Windows with MediaPlayer? , an application used for sound and video files on the Internet. The fine was upheld by the European Court of First Instance in September last year.

And this year, according to the European Voice of 22 May 2008, Microsoft has again been fined by European Commission; this time €899 million euro.

But on 17 June 2008, we read in an article published by REUTERS entitled "EU stumbles on buying Microsoft alternatives" that "European Commission is falling short in its own internal attempt to promote more competition in the technology sector.

How the EU Institutions got Trapped by Microsoft

Naturally enough, some people have begun to fight back against Microsoft's encroachment. They have launched a Petition to European Parliament on the implications of ICT lock-in for participative democracy and for competition. Here is some of what it says; "EU Public procurement laws are based on the principles of transparency and non-discrimination (Article 23 (8) of Directive 2004/18/EC), yet the lock-in of the European Parliament's ICT to systems based on proprietary, closed formats means that the European Parliament is dependent on a single vendor and that companies cannot freely compete on merit to provide applications and services."

But the Commission's DIGIT begs to disagree; "the OSS Desktop is not yet mature and attractive enough to be considered as a viable alternative to the Microsoft Desktop" (page 6 of the document: What we have done, what we have learned in 2003-2006).

The document also argues that "The most optimistic estimations by the various Institutions concluded that this would not be achievable before 2010 and that no Return on Investment should be expected before 2015. At that moment the user community would be offered a platform that does not provide any functional or ergonomic improvement compared to the one they have today, just the contrary." Suppose for a moment that OSS Desktop had different functions and other ergonomics than Microsoft Soft. Then DIGIT would reject it because it would be considered "incompatible with the industry standard". As far as DIGIT is concerned "Heads; Micro Soft wins. Tails; Open Source looses." SID will never buy a used car from DIGIT, that's for sure.

Anyway, DIGIT's argument is fallacious because it assumes that the OSS Desktop will remain static in the intervening period. A quick comparison between today's OSS desktop and that which existed in 2000 should be enough to see how absurd the assumption is.

How to Escape from the Trap

As a counterargument, we offer the fact that several large public sector organisations - which have just as many legacy systems as the Commission - have migrated to an OSS desktop, including the French Gendarmerie, police and, tax office, Paris City Council. These colleagues are surely willing to share their experience with us.

A review of the current EU government ICT climate shows the extent to which Open Source software has already become popular there. Even DG INFSO has been aiding with funds the autonomous Government of Extremadura in Spain to use Open Source for all its government activities. True, some administrations originally adopted Open Source because budget cuts stopped them from paying the prices asked for commercial software. That is one more argument; Open Source saves tax money, at the expense of one of the world's richest billionaires.

In the Netherlands, the Government has adopted an action plan for the use of Open Standards and Open Source Software in the public and semi-public sector, recognising the democratic imperative of such a move, in addition to the economic and other societal benefits.

What's more, Open Source is not a new phenomenon. One of the world's most popular Internet companies, Yahoo, abandoned its own proprietary scripting language in favour of an Open Source solution. According to cNET, the move was prompted by "an eye towards its bottom line." This is only one small example. Open solutions are also used at ebay, Google,, Netscape's Open Directory Project, LookSmart?, Lycos, and across the web. So we see something interesting; a number of corporations are preaching proprietary software in public while discreetly practicing Open Source.

In fact, it is estimated that almost half of all web sites currently run on servers using an Open Source based system, such as Apache. SID's own website, which you are looking at right now runs Tikki Wikki.

A further reason to use Open Source is its portability feature which has to be considered as a cost saving to the tax payer and other users.

Bill says "Don't be afraid. You can trust me."

As ever, both hackers and security firms are reporting vulnerabilities in Vista "Most Secure Ever" version of Windows. What is stopping the world's richest software company from supplying the security that the supposedly all-powerful consumer has demanded for a quarter of a century? Lack of ability or lack of will? Either way it looks bad.

Moreover, it is not beyond the realm of the possible that due to needs of certain security agencies (NSA, Homeland Security come to mind) Microsoft might have already added Trojan-Horse? software in its products. What would that say for the security of data in the European Commission?

Who's afraid of conspiracy theories? The Politicians!

One colleague from DG MARKT has pointed out that some people may retort that our point is the stuff of which conspiracy theories are made. Well, when it comes to conspiracy theories, SID is a rank amateur. We never lie, except when quoting from corporate and government sources. But what can we do? There would be precious little left for us to write about. Are you a fan of good science fiction? Check out the official report on 9/11. More creative than Philip K. Dick on 200 mgs of LSD. You prefer spy novels? The report of the Warren Commission, according to which Oswald all alone killed Kennedy, is available for free. Better than Ian Fleming after emptying a bottle of Scotch down his hatch.

But seriously, electronic, hardware bugs have already been found in some of the Institution's offices and our Security Service swears that it did not plant them. Somebody must have done it. Look at the USA and the Russian Federation. With friends like those, who needs enemies? Look at the European Parliament's report on NSA activities, published just in September 2001, just before you-know-what.

So some people are telling us that while hardware bugs are a solid physical reality, software bugs don't exist. Anything is possible. Even that. But we should check. Can't hurt. Only, without full access to the source code of both the operating system and relevant applications, including the possibility to compile it ourselves, No one can check for trap doors, Trojans etc...

This is the reason why open source is more secure than "closed source": any suitably qualified person can look under the hood, see if there are any security weaknesses (intentional or otherwise) and make an informed decision about whether to use, fix or discard the software.

One colleague wrote in "Your letters" under IntraComm: "If I were responsible for the Commission's IT security, I would most certainly want to know what's "under the hood". I'm not convinced that the people who are currently in charge do." Neither is SID.

In June, European Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes on the Commission's pledge to buy open-standard software told an audience: "This policy, adopted last year, needs to be implemented with vigour".
European Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes

In the meantime, under the teleworking schemes you are required to have Microsoft Office suite installed on your PC at home if you wish to stay compatible with DIGIT's Reference Configuration. And what an endorsement for Microsoft that is, telling the whole world that every Official of the EU institutions is obliged to use its Operating System, Office and email products. SID is on the underdog's side; we wish Ms Kroes well in her struggle against the richest software corporation in the world.

We can all do a bit more than just wish. We can sign this petition to the European Parliament:

For the Secretariat of SID

Created by: admin last modification: Monday 24 of November, 2008 [22:50:23 UTC] by admin

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