Letter warns of open source 'threat to eco-system'

Microsoft-funded pressure group warns against encouraging open source software development

A leaked letter to the European Commission has revealed the extent of lobbying by proprietary software groups to prevent the widespread adoption of open-source software.

Sent in response to a recent report on the role of open-source software in the European economy, Microsoft-funded pressure group, the Initiative for Software Choice (ISC) warned of potentially dire effects if too much encouragement was given to open source software development.

Any action by the EC would "disrupt the entire software eco-system" and the report itself looked "more like a marketing document than a serious survey" according to the letter -- written by Hugo Lueders, director of the European branch of the ISC, addressed to Mrs Francoise Le Bail, the deputy director general of the European Commission's industry arm, and provided to Techworld.

You can view the entire letter here.

The ISC is an organization created to oppose government efforts in Europe, the U.S., South America and elsewhere, to give preference to open-source or open standards-based systems. According to critics such as Bruce Perens, the ISC largely pursues a pro-Microsoft agenda, though the group itself emphasizes that it has more than 300 members.

Lueders sent the letter on Oct. 10 to leaders of the Commission's Directorate General for Enterprise and Industry, in response to an EC-commissioned study into the role of open source software in the European economy (referred to by Lueders as Free/Libre/Open Source, or FLOSS).

In the letter, he criticized the study as biased and warns that its policy recommendations, if carried out, could derail the European software economy. The report, titled "Study on the Economic Impact of Open Source Software on Innovation and the Competitiveness of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Sectors in the EU", found that open source plays a positive role in the economy and recommended its development be encouraged through measures such as tax credits.

Biased?

Lueders said the report seemed biased, since it paid little attention to the non-open source economy. "Balance in this regard is missing... making the study look more like a marketing document than a serious survey," he wrote.

The E.U. shouldn't encourage open source development, he argued. First of all, it's unnecessary, since open source is already successful -- the report notes that 40 percent of companies are using open source, a figure expected to grow by 20 percent a year. In any case, if open source isn't more widely used, it isn't for the Commission to say that that is a bad thing, since the market should be left to make its own decisions, according to Lueders. "In practice the market so far has largely opted for the proprietary model, a choice which should not be ignored, regardless of the purported advantages that the FLOSS system offers," he wrote.

Those in favor of encouraging open source say that market decisions aren't enough to result in a healthy economy, since proprietary software often locks users into particular choices.

Lueders argued that open standards -- those that don't require a licence to implement -- aren't necessarily such a great thing. Rather, "a variety of different standards" should be maintained for the market to run most efficiently. That includes both "licensed and non-licensed (FLOSS-friendly) standards (i.e. non-RAND standards)". Any action that could dislodge non-open-source-friendly standards "would significantly disrupt the entire software ecosystem", Lueders argued.

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