"As it stands, it is a very strong document," said Karsten Gerloff, president of the FSFE, who said the interesting aspect of the policy was to see how the U.K. defined open standards.
Key is that patents that are essential to implement the standard must be licensed without royalties or restrictions that would prevent their implementation in free and open software in the new policy, Gerloff said.
"This is something that FSFE has been pushing for for years, because it's the only way to let everyone in the software market compete on equal terms," Gerloff said, adding that without this definition the document would not have been worth much.
It is a "major step forward for competition and innovation in the U.K. software market", he said. Small and midsize enterprises should particularly benefit from the new policy. In the past, only 6.5 percent of government IT spending went to such businesses and that should change due to the new policy, he added.
Another key point is that if a U.K. governmental body buys software they have to include in the price a calculation of what it will cost them to stop using that software in the future, Gerloff said. "It means that you can't just buy a proprietary solution and then say 'we can't move to free software because we're locked in, and it's too expensive to convert all those files.'"
"Like public bodies everywhere else, the U.K. government is sitting on millions and millions of files in proprietary formats," Gerloff said, adding that governments should stop digging themselves into a deeper vendor lock-in hole. "This is what the government has done, and we commend them on their courage in this point."
Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org