UK governments must comply with open standards

The new policy is a major step forward for competition and innovation in the UK software market, the FSFE said

By Loek Essers, IDG News Service |  

All governmental bodies in the U.K. must now comply with open standards to prevent vendor lock-in and stimulate interoperability of government IT, the Minister for Cabinet Office announced on Thursday.

Compliance with the Open Standards Principles will make U.K. government IT more open, less expensive and better connected, the Cabinet Office said.

"The publication of the Open Standards Principles is a fundamental step towards achieving a level playing field for open source and proprietary software and breaking our IT into smaller, more manageable components," wrote Francis Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General in his foreword to the Open Standards Principles document.

The new policy does not cover open-source software, which is part of a different policy document.

"This is a major step forward," said the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) of the Open Standards Principles.

The new rules cover open standards for software interoperability, data and document formats, and should enable software to interoperate through open protocols.

A product choice made by a government must not force users, delivery partners or government bodies to buy the same product, according to the principles. Web-based applications should work equally well with a range of standards-compliant browsers irrespective of the OS, and products should not be tied to a single browser or desktop software.

The open standards policy must also ensure that suppliers can compete on a fair basis. By doing this, the U.K wants to remove competition barriers such as vendor lock-in, it said.

Open standards for software interoperability data and document formats may be implemented for both open source and proprietary software, according to the document. This environment should be "agnostic and plural" with regard to technology, suppliers and commercial arrangements, and also break down large IT contracts into smaller ones.

Furthermore, the implementation of open standards should be flexible and transparent, giving services the freedom to evolve according to changing user needs, expectations and technology innovation, the government said. Government bodies for instance should expose APIs (application programming interfaces) for its services "to enable value-added services to be built on government information and data."

Pan-governmental standards for government IT will be published on a Standards Hub website where adopted standards can be found. At the moment, the hub is in the early stages of development and as of Thursday did not show any standards.

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