Tech Industry

EU site pushes open-source education

A new Web site reaffirms the European Union's interest in promoting wider use of open-source applications to cut costs, escape proprietary constraints and stimulate the local software industry.

The European Commission, the European Union's executive branch, has launched a Web site aimed at improving understanding of open-source software.

The site adds to the EU's substantial moves to support open source, which is seen by many EU member states as a way of cutting public-sector costs, stimulating the local software industry and fostering interoperability free of proprietary constraints.

The Free and Open Source Software (F/OSS) site, launched earlier this month, is part of the EC's Information Society program, which focuses on technology's impact on government and society. It brings together information about EU research programs and e-government initiatives related to open source.


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"In recent years, the software market has shown signs of entering a much more volatile and vigorous period...due to the emergence of F/OSS," the EC stated. "F/OSS creates new opportunities for software and service providers, which may be a unique opportunity for the European software industry."

Open-source software, also sometimes called "free software" or "libre software," is characterized by the lack of control by a single entity, a key difference from proprietary software, the workings of which are usually kept a tight secret by private companies. Broadly speaking, open-source software licenses allow developers to modify and redistribute the software's source code, as long as the modifications are returned to the community.

The EU has launched a number of open-source initiatives since 1998, and currently funds 20 research projects directly supporting open source, under the Fifth Framework Programme (1998-2002). In preparation for the Sixth Framework Programme, the EC has recommended that governments encourage the use of open source as a way of ensuring interoperability.

Interoperability, particularly in the area of server protocols and document formats, has emerged as a key concern of governments looking to limit the power of software giants such as Microsoft. A Danish study recently recommended that the EU investigate alternatives to Microsoft Office formats, possibly by creating a new XML-based format or supporting existing open-source formats, such as those of OpenOffice.org.

Some German government bodies, including the city of Munich, are actively promoting open-source alternatives as a way of reducing reliance on Microsoft, and some U.K. government bodies are testing the open-source approach.

The debate around current attempts to modify patent laws has centered partly on how the proposed changes would affect Europe's open-source software industry. Critics said the original draft directive would have encouraged software patents, stifling open-source vendors.