Open source alone won’t give us the freedom we want.

jzemlin's picture

A recent report titled “Roadmap for Open ICT Ecosystems” developed at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard law school based in part on input from 13 different countries suggests that government policies should “mandate technology choice, not software development models.”

The report defines open standards, which it distinguishes from open source, based on six elements including the nature of its control, evolution, and availability, and explains how propriety software can exist within an open standards environment. Specifically it mentions:

“Open standards and open source do share common ground. Both result from a community oriented, collaborative process in which anyone can contribute and access the end product — either standard specifications or source code. There is a complementary relationship with the implementation of an open standard in open source, which promulgates adoption of that standard”

The report goes on to recommend “mandating interoperability in procurement language, preferring open standards when applicable and adhering to the principles of openness whenever possible.” It also provides an example of how the government of Japan has developed software procurement guidelines that dictate that open standards and open document formats shall be given priority in government procurement.

Vendor lock in and lack of choice can occur in both the proprietary software arena as well as the open source world. An example cited is “functionality lock-in – when a vendor extends a standard (open or closed) with added functionality that creates a new kind of lock-in. In such situations, a functionality enhancement turns into a functionality lock-in.”

The Linux community has understood this model for years which is why all major Linux distribution vendors follow through on their promise of true freedom and certify to the Linux Standard Base. End users of technology, governments, application developers and academics should heed this report.