back to article Redmond man unmasked: UK.gov open standards stalled

The government has had to delay closure of talks on open standards in public sector IT following what it called a "conflict of interest" involving a Microsoft consultant. The Cabinet Office has extended the consultation period by a month and will also re-run a roundtable that had involved the consultant. The Cabinet says that it …

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Anonymous Coward

More Turkeys lobbying to call off Christmas.

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Facepalm

Those f-f-f-f-facilitators. Just what we f-f-f-f-need to tighten the public purse-strings.

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Holmes

"help end single-vendor lock in"??

If that's the intention, they could just stop buying Microsoft stuff - job done.

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Re: "help end single-vendor lock in"??

But you can bet they would just start buying Apple stuff instead...

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Re: "help end single-vendor lock in"??

.. and Oracle...

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Go

FSF call to respond

Free Software Foundation Europe has prepared recommended answers to some of the questions in the consultation (http://fsfe.org/projects/os/uk-standards-consultation.en.html).

The consultation itself is here... http://consultation.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/openstandards/

Wouldn't it be a tragic for people who want to be productive and share to be denied this by a***holes who are basically buying monopolist rights to lock down marketplaces? That's what'll happen with FRAND... as Fair and Reasonable is open to a *lot* of interpretation.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: FSF call to respond

Aren't you all a bit late?

As far as I can see, most of New Labour's IT policy was driven by people who formerly worked for the government and then joined Microsoft (the remainder was driven by consultants who made a good meal out of it all).

Nobody made any big noises then, despite the fact that they effectively neutered the open standards in the eGIF framework (and other structures that were just emerging). The crowning glory was infiltrating the Government Gateway so it only worked properly with IE.

It may have escaped most people that openness had just been making its way into UK gov IT when New Labour came to power, and it got all thrown out - I assume it didn't fill up Tony Blair's private bank quick enough. Now the other lot are back, and they're trying again - I think it's correct to nail any conflict of interest to the wall, but I would advise not to focus on just one person.

After all, the main problem is an organisation that had no problem with destroying the ISO institute to get what it wanted, and if that isn't a hint of how far these people are willing to go I don't know what is. I wonder if the ISO institute recovered from that - it was at least good to demonstrate how many people were willing to accept sponsorship...

There is in principle no issue with using proprietary products IF they deliver value for money and do not result in a lock in. Personally, I think the UK government should (a) mandate ODF as document format (that way they are compliant with EU standards), (b) mandate the use of independently documented file formats and (c) punish any organisation playing games in this context with an immediate procurement ban. No wishy washy slap with a wet noodle, no, warn upfront and slam the door the moment they are found to get creative. MS OOXML is a good example of that, AFAIK it's still not properly defined.

The question is: where do they find someone with enough balls to do this? All you need is to buy some politicians dinner and he's history..

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Re: FSF call to respond

Probably true, though the opening of all ordnance survey data was under the previous gov.

let's hope the new one stays on this....

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Anonymous Coward

FRAND instead of RAND - Huh?

Not for the first time* we have an article that states Microsoft want FRAND and 'open sourcers' prefer RAND. However everyone, including the FSF suggest that these to acronyms are interchangeable (see link in Ben's comment).

So are we to assume that the article is implying the differences between the two camps are non-existent, or is there a difference between FRAND and RAND that's not readily apparent? Or a third option, the article's author is confused?

* I've read this sentence before, perhaps because it was lifted verbatim from an earlier article?

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aaccording to FSF

RAND is when -- "... the patent holder gives everyone a royalty-free patent license for implementing the standard. That at least permits free software to support the standard."

"The other option is a criterion called "FRAND", which claims to mean "Fair, Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory". What it really means is that the patent holder must publish terms and allow anyone to buy a license on those terms. The terms are often such as to exclude free software entirely from implementing the standard."

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Re: aaccording to FSF

@eulampios

That quote is from the following page: http://www.fsf.org/blogs/community/frand-is-a-fraud

It makes no mention of RAND at all. Whereas several other FSF pages define RAND (Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory) as a contraction of FRAND (Fair, Reasonable and Non-Descriminatory). RAND === FRAND, RAND !== Royalty Free

What you're looking for is something more like FAIB (Free As In Beer)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: FRAND instead of RAND - Huh?

You're right, as written it's nonsense. (F)RAND are two terms for the same (relatively vague) concept.

They might have meant RAND-Z or RF-RAND, two other terms for the one concept, which are roughly the same as RAND with the added restriction of being Royalty-Free (or Zero-royalty rate).

This not only makes them friendlier to Free and Open Source, which are practically incompatible with royalty bearing (F)RAND (hence why Microsoft thinks it's great), and stops incumbent cartels from keeping out new entrants that threaten their profits, but it aso just avoids a lot of political nonsense with people trying to jam unproven new tech and therefore patents into standards when it would make more technical sense to minorly rev the old tech based on the experienced gained with it in the field.

Strangely, the overcomplicated, works in theory, everything and the kitchen sink, patent-stuffed standards are regularly hailed as the "pragmatic" choice, with the people wanting to use tried and trusted technology with simple workarounds for any patent issues get painted as "idealists". Funny old world.

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Devil

Fees clawback?

I don't suppose they will be recovering the fees from this a**hole will they?

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Anonymous Coward

Pro bono?

"who had been paid by the Cabinet Office on a pro bono basis"

So does that mean he was actually unpaid? Or that he was paid because the Cabinet Office thought it would do some good. What do they usually pay people for?

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Re: Pro bono?

Puzzled me to. I suppose it is possible that he had his expenses reimburse.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Pro bono?

In this context, perhaps pro bono means working for a public body but not being paid by them because an interested third party organisation is paying instead.

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Coat

Re: Pro bono?

"What do they usually pay people for?"

Sex.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Pro bono?

it means he was working for U2.

I'll get my coat - it's the one with designer rips, and a pair of stupid sunglasses in the pocket

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Anonymous Coward

catalogue of errors

'Hopkirk, who represents the National Computing Center on Microsoft's Interoperability Executive Customer Council' - I doubt it - he's not worked for NCC for some time so unless he didn't declare that too?

'Paid by the Cabinet Office on a pro bono basis' - paid or not paid?

RAND = FRAND - though actually theirs no good definition. Open Sourcers and in fact some proprietary players want UK Gov to prioritise RF (restriction free these days).

'specify the release of IP in products' - er what? the debate is (mostly) about procuring products that implement standards with/without encumbering patents.

Given the debates been running in UK policy since before 2002 (first open source policy on avoiding lock-in) some background knowledge should be present.

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Anonymous Coward

Paying Microsaoft lackeys to advise them on open standards ?

Are those people in the UK government that low ? I thought just watching the planetary confrontation in the mobile phone arena (where each and every player is suing everyone else plus their dog) would give a clear understanding of RAND vs RF.

And they were not even being bribed!

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Linux

German Federal Government Whitepaper On OS

www.cio.bund.de/cae/servlet/contentblob/294268/publicationFile

Google Translate can help in translation.

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Stop

Office XML "Standard"

The officially published standard is in my experience very sparsely explained.

http://www.ecma-international.org/publications/standards/Ecma-376.htm

I wrote a powerpoint XML generator (which emits XML directly; no DOM-based Powerpoint procedure calls) and the usual process was to look in the documents above, find a very sparse hint, then just create a sample with the powerpoint program and finally look into the XML to find out what I have to do.

So for example, to render an arrow I would have to create a sample document and then look at the difference between an empty doc and the doc with the arrow.

It is a workable solution and the resulting generator is extremely fast and robust, but it surely is far from a "well-documented, open standard".

I can't compare it to ODF , as I haven't done anything equivalent with that.

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Stop

Re: Office XML "Standard"

From a quick look at the ODF specification

http://docs.oasis-open.org/office/v1.2/os/OpenDocument-v1.2-os-part1.html#__RefHeading__1415586_253892949

it appears ODF is more or less equally sparsely documented.

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Anonymous Coward

Small-fry

Governments would save a lot more if they looked at the telephony/backbone contracts and the invariable public-sector lock-in to Cisco's proprietary Skinny protocol. In comparison, money spent on MS is chump change.

.

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Thumb Up

@AC 27th April 2012 23:24 I agree with you.

"..........the invariable public-sector lock-in to Cisco's proprietary Skinny protocol. In comparison, money spent on MS is chump change."

However, I am afraid that the the members of the Anti-MS Choral Howling Society are so obsessed with the size of the teeth of The Demon Lords of Redmond that they have a tendency to miss the fact that there are other sharks out there with even bigger sets of oral cutlery.

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Pint

Undisclosed Microsoft ties?

Why that is unheard of! I am quite shocked! It is a good thing such rogues are so uncommon, and not a standard operating practice, or we would have to inspect every role in governance and industry for undue influence. Why someone might gain illicit control of an international standards body or, for example, an international mobile technology industry leader. Thank goodness this isn't common.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Undisclosed Microsoft ties?

> Why someone might gain illicit control of an international standards body or, for example, an international mobile technology industry leader.

Don't worry - they're not an international mobile technology industry leader any more!

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Childcatcher

Redundant gobbledegook and propaganda

The F in FRAND is totally redundant. Please explain the supposed difference between Fair and Reasonable. Unless they're interpreting "fair" as in "My Fair Lady". Oh, my beautiful, reasonably-priced and non-discriminatory lady, anyone? Sounds kinky.

Anyway, it's all just deceptive nonsense. RAND (or (F)RAND, if you prefer) pertains only to $MONEY$, and has bugger-all to do with free beer or freedom or fairness or anything else necessary to avoid vendor lock-in. It simply means a) you MUST license ... to anyone, and b) you must charge everyone the SAME fee.

It doesn't mean NO fee. It doesn't mean LOW fee. It doesn't mean "Oh, you're a GPL project, therefore you can use our proprietary, patent-encumbered technology without paying". It means "Give me the money, you snivelling freetard, and quit whining. Oh, and don't forget to tell your friends what Fair and Reasonable people we are, because that makes it sound like we're all about the freedom". In fact it has about as much to do with free beer or freedom as the canned goods aisle in Tesco.

The proprietor still has the home-field advantage, because he doesn't have to charge himself a "fee", obviously. And naturally it totally screws Free Software distribution, by turning what was previously unrestricted transfers into financially controlled transactions, unless the unfortunate licensee is a benevolent millionaire. And even then, any recipients who BECOME distributors then have to pay their own fee for the privilege. That's the Free Software equivalent of prison, no different than trying to distribute proprietary software.

They should call it SPE (Same Price for Everyone), and stop pretending this has anything to do with free beer, freedom, openness and interoperability. Better yet, stop using stupid acronyms, and speak plain English.

As far as I'm concerned being free (beer) should be an absolute requirement in order to be recognised as a standard. Anything else is just some monopoliser's proprietary product, and should be recognised (and shunned) as such.

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"As far as I'm concerned being free (beer) should be an absolute requirement in order to be recognised as a standard. Anything else is just some monopoliser's proprietary product, and should be recognised (and shunned) as such."

Amen to that.

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Bronze badge
Terminator

Re: "free as in liberty"

Oh yes, that goes without saying.

But the problem is many people have the (deliberately indoctrinated) impression that (F)RAND means "no cost", which it patently doesn't, and in this instance it's the cost, ANY cost, which screws Free Software. Not just because Free Software developers can't afford millions in "Fair and Reasonable" license fees, but because it stops unrestricted distribution and redistribution dead in the water - something that's absolutely essential for the Free Software model to work.

That's exactly why Microsoft is pushing (F)RAND so hard.

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Vic
Silver badge

Re: Redundant gobbledegook and propaganda

> a) you MUST license ... to anyone, and b) you must charge everyone the SAME fee.

Not quite; it means you must *offer* the same licence at the same fee to everyone.

Should that someone refuse your offer, things change. If it were not so, there would be no downside to using the patented technology without a licence - the only sanction would be to force the infringer to pay what he should have paid in the first place.

Vic.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Redundant gobbledegook and propaganda

> b) you must charge everyone the SAME fee.

Sadly, not even that is true. Most of these licence fee regimes have a yearly cap that means the big players don't pay as much as middle-sized orgs. If they were selling loo-rolls I could understand a bulk discount, but since we're talking about something that's supposed to be fair, reasonable and non-discrimatory.

Oh, they also charge different rates in different markets, based on percieved competition. See for example H.264 where they didn't quite have the web market sewn up thanks to Flash and VP6 so they made their product free there, while still changing in other markets. Some would think this anti-competive.

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Terminator

H.264 is NOT free

The MPEG-LA racketeer's spin may have made it sound like H.264 was "free", but that's only the case for "Internet Video that is free to end users". IOW the "free" only pertains to a certain end result, not every end result, and certainly not the programs used to produce that end result.

And just to spell it out, yes, that means the MPEG-LA claims "rights" over your content, just because it's encoded using the H.264 codec. As long as you give that content away for free, though, they magnanimously promise not to prosecute. Honest.

But that has no bearing over the software used to produce that content. Put bluntly, the MPEG-LA considers the use of H.264 technology in any Free Software project to be a patent violation. It's only because that specific Free Software (e.g. ffmpeg) is developed and (primarily) distributed outside the jurisdiction of software patents, and entirely by non-business interests, that it's beyond the MPEG-LA's means to stop it.

http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20100825006629/en

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Alien

The "offer" implication

Yes, I certainly didn't mean to imply that all 7 billion people must be automatically granted every (F)RAND license available, I simply meant that those who request one mustn't be denied.

Of course, the number of people who can in fact obtain such a license is still limited by their millionaire status, which makes such "offers" rather less "Fair and Reasonable" than they pretend to be, especially for non-profit, Free Software projects.

IANAL, therefore I'm not used to phrasing things in legalese.

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FAIL

Given all the conflict of interests between ministers and suppliers, this is nothing

This latest MS slight of hand is but a blip on the radar screen given the weeks news about Murdoch's pipeline in to the minister's office concerning satellite broadcasting rights.

When VietNam closed down a couple of software copy shops in Ho Chi Minh City and Ha Noi, MS set up office in Ha Noi to advise the national government on things computerised.

The government also undertook to eliminate hot MS software from it;s computers. Being honourable people, it did just that.

Then iIt promptly opted for Open Source software. Score for Linux!

Smart people.

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Alert

I like pipe dreams so here's one

I know it sounds crazy, but shouldn't the *public* money be used for developing software and stardards usable by the *public*?

It's not like the IT contracts are small by any measure or that one needs to develop every part of the software stack needed. Or even that there already are no free standards in basically every important place computers are used now.

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The idea is OK, but developing a standard is a tedious process, and not for everyone. That's why MS had to rig ISO - it had no time to do it properly (and no intention to, it was just to cut off ODF before it became too popular).

I can see especially consultancies drooling at the prospect of being put in charge of a standards - that's endless revenue for years to come, and you can see what a mess you can create by throwing a handful of money into ISO - how many national leaders simply ignored the majority vote?

Personally, I'd go for ODF, but if that's too hard, roll back to a de-facto standard - use the Office formats of at least 5 years back. You'll get plenty of bleating about loss of "features", but at least those formats are known and stable, and by freezing it a while back it stops the upgrade game (another MASSIVE source of costs which bring no improvement whatsoever).

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Anonymous Coward

One of many Microsoft shills

This seems to be the only way they can do business these days, by corrupt means...

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"the goat in the garden" parable

As the old Russian saying goes "don't let the goat in your garden", which can be translated into British English as: "don't let Microsoft in your open standards talks" and would be a good piece of advice.

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Black Helicopters

I've been Rewatching George Smiley

It used to be Russians. Just maybe, in the future, they'll be calling in Mr Smiley to flush out the Microsoft Mole.

Ballmer wouldn't make a good Karla; Karla would never have thrown a chair around, but Gates, yes! Or, maybe there is some head of Microsoft so secret that we have never even heard of them?

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Crooks

Yes, that's what I said.

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