The EU’s Digital Agenda puts the focus on technology as a way to help all European citizens

In May, our Vice President for European Affairs John Vassallo wrote about the newly announced EU Digital Agenda program, which followed on from the call in the EU Ministers’ their April “Granada Declaration” to use information and communication technology (ICT) more effectively to help address Europe’s priorities. The actions that the Commission will be pursuing in the Digital Agenda are an important step in this direction, and can help spur Europe’s competitiveness and its broader innovation and economic growth agenda.

This is the first of the blogs that we will be doing on specific issues raised in the Digital Agenda. I want to describe in a little more detail here, Microsoft’s support for interoperability and openness, which the Digital Agenda and the Granada Declaration refer to as an important component of eGovernment and other digital services.  By the way, it’s not just governments that want and need interoperability and openness! Small and large companies alike have all kinds of ICT hardware and software that they want to work together. Many use a combination of commercial software like Microsoft’s and “open source” software. Many have different kinds of legacy mainframe and other equipment that they want to talk with each other and with their newer PCs, servers and devices.

We want to be clear that Microsoft believes in interoperability and openness.

From the very beginning, one of the big benefits of the PC revolution was that the operating system – MS-DOS and then Microsoft Windows – was designed to work interoperably on competing computer manufacturers’ hardware. Before that, you often had to buy the hardware manufacturer’s own operating system to go with the hardware. This step forward triggered an explosion of different competing PC-based hardware and software products that we all still benefit from today. And as a result, lots and lots more products and services work together than ever did before.

Microsoft has made enormous strides over the last ten years in opening up its own technology even further. In settling our legal case with the EU last year – and in fact offering more openness than the EU required because the market wants and needs it – we have opened up our operating system “protocols” so that application and even competing operating system vendors can build hardware, software and services that interoperate even better.

We have detailed in a recent paper entitled Now and Then the many ways in which Microsoft has opened up its products and business for interoperability in recent years, in ways that previously would have been unimaginable. We very much take the view that interoperability is good for everybody!

It’s a mixed-source world, and we’re all living in it.

Some try to maintain the old antagonism between “proprietary” software (i.e. sold under commercial software licenses) and “open source” software, but Microsoft and pretty much the rest of the technology vendor and user community has moved into a world where different types of software co-exist and interoperate side by side.

The Microsoft Windows operating system interoperate seamlessly with “open source” software applications, more than 80,000 of them by our latest count. We also offer an open-source project hosting site and work on numerous open-source technology projects and collaborative efforts with companies whose businesses use or even rely principally on open-source software. Read more about the “mixed-source” world, and a fuller explanation of Microsoft’s own open-source activities.

The important thing is that technology users are allowed to benefit from competition and effective choice among all kinds of interoperable ICT products and services.

The truth is that technology users today have diverse needs that neither a single vendor, nor a single way to make software, is likely to meet. Users buy ICT software, hardware and services based on what they want to get done. The factors they consider include how well the product or service does the job, how well it interoperates with other technology they own or may acquire, and the value they get for the overall cost.

That’s not to say that every open-source solution is necessarily going to be the better one, or indeed more interoperable or more “open” than a commercial-software solution, whether offered by Microsoft or by any of the other vendors reliant on paid software licensing that make up the majority of the technology industry! We have made this point in our recent response to the European Commission’s consultation on the European Interoperability Framework, where the Commission quite properly recognized that the competitive factors of administrative neutrality and value for money reflected in EU procurement law deliver the best interoperable solutions to users. We also noted that consideration of all available options, both open source and proprietary in the context of software, is consistent with current public procurement policy and indeed an obligation of procurement officials.

Some vendors’ recent calls to give their open source software a discriminatory preference in procurement, or semantics that would confuse true interoperability with “open source”, are actually calls to give users less choice among their technology products and services – with all the dampers on competition and innovation that come with that.   We certainly do not ask for procurement preferences for our own products, but rather expect that everyone should and will be able to compete on the basis of technology excellence, total cost of ownership, reliability and other competitive factors.

Vigorous competition will continue to improve interoperability and openness in the ICT sector.

Microsoft looks forward to continuing to deliver open, interoperable products and services that meet customers’ needs in this mixed-source world in which we all are living. It is the users’ needs that matter, and the users that ultimately should benefit!

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