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EU open-source document reflects Microsoft influence

Microsoft's efforts to alter a European Commission open-source policy draft suggest the Redmond giant knows much is at stake.

It's fascinating to see governments around the world embrace open source as a way to boost local economies and improve sovereignty. It's even better when the policy process itself is laid bare, allowing outsiders to see the partisan meddling that goes into a publicly articulated policy.

The European Commission is in the midst of preparing a report entitled "Toward a European Software Strategy," (PDF) with a draft released on Tuesday to Wikileaks. The draft is fascinating for all that it says about how open-source software affects the European software industry, but it's equally intriguing for all that some of its editors want it to unsay about open-source software.

One such editor is Jonathan Zuck, president of the Association for Competitive Technology, a lobbying organization with strong ties to Microsoft. There is nothing wrong with Microsoft making its voice heard in the software strategy development process, as it stands to gain or lose much in the process, but it does make for some interesting political gamesmanship in the document.

While the draft doesn't make it obvious who is saying what, there are numerous instances where editors have tried to soften the appeal of open source or downplay its significance, repeatedly trying to insist that open source not be called out as more significant than proprietary software.

In one area, an editor crossed out this section:

Proprietary vendors charge their users twice, once at the deployment phase (through support contracts), and once at the procurement phase (through licensing fees).

And replaced it with this comment:

PAPER SHOULD FOCUS ON OSS AND NOT DWELL INTO UNSUPPORTED AND UNNECESSARY STATEMENTS AGAINST PROPRIETARY SOFTWARE.

This commentator further suggests that European companies may be more prone to open source because they lack the capital to start "real" software businesses:

European IT companies also have fewer alternative growth strategies than their US counterparts due to smaller/more risk adverse venture capital community and fewer IPO opportunities.

Fascinating. It somehow overlooks the European origins of venture-backed open-source companies like MySQL, JBoss, Alfresco, Trolltech, etc. But who needs facts?

The redlines (literally, comments and additions in red) seem to come from Jonathan Zuck, and demonstrate an attempt to deny any unique nature to open source, and turn it into something that the European Union need not do anything in particular to foster. As edited, the policy paper remains a strong endorsement of open source, but highly diluted from its original intent.

Again, there's nothing wrong with Microsoft protecting its interests in a market where it stands to gain or lose much. Microsoft competitors, however, would do well to analyze how it seeks to influence both IT buyers and policymakers with respect to open source.


Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.