Complaint Lodged Over EU Parliament’s Exclusive Use Of Microsoft SystemsPublished on 6 March 2008 @ 5:56 pm
Intellectual Property Watch
By David Cronin for Intellectual Property Watch
BRUSSELS – A formal complaint has been lodged with the European Parliament over how its information technology systems rely almost exclusively on software manufactured by Microsoft.
Advocates of open standard software, which is developed on a not-for-profit basis, allege that the Seattle-based giant enjoys an effective monopoly or ‘lock-in’ within the European Union institutions. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and EU officials are unable to read attachments sent with emails if these are in an open document format that is incompatible with Microsoft’s Windows, the operating system found in most of the world’s personal computers.
Three organisations have jointly filed a complaint, claiming that the current situation limits the possibilities that EU citizens have to communicate with their elected representatives.
OpenForum Europe, the European Software Market Association (ESOMA) and the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) say that the open document format has been approved as an international standard since early 2007. Yet the systems found in the EU institutions, it says, only support products that are based on proprietary protocols – codes subject to a patent and which are not made public.
Graham Taylor, chief executive with OpenForum Europe, said his aim is to ensure that individuals can freely communicate with MEPs. “You can only achieve that if you maintain openness and interoperability,” he said, speaking in the European Parliament on 6 March. “You haven’t got that. You are actually forcing citizens to purchase specific software.”
The complaint will be considered by the Parliament’s petitions committee, which monitors the implementation of EU law.
David Hammerstein, a Spanish member of that committee, pledged his support for the complaint. He said that he regularly is unable to read documents emailed to him, simply because of their format. “There are millions of people, who use interoperable, free and open software who cannot communicate with MEPs,” he added.
According to Hammerstein, the situation in the EU institutions contradicts the strident position that the Union has taken against Microsoft for anti-competitive practises. In 2004, the European Commission – the EU’s executive arm – imposed a €497 million euro fine against Microsoft for allegedly ‘bundling’ Windows with MediaPlayer, an application used to view sound and video files on the Internet. The fine was upheld by the European Court of First Instance in September last year.
Hammerstein added that the principles of interoperability and of fair competition are contained in EU law. “It is high time that they become European practice,” he said.
Authorities within the Parliament in charge of public procurement have expressed concerns that allowing attachments from open document formats could have security implications. But these concerns have been rejected by the open standard lobby.
A number of national and regional administrations have already taken steps to ensure their computer systems can accept open standard documents, they say. Action plans have been devised, for example, by the Dutch government and by the administration in Extremadura, Spain, to ensure that open source software can be widely used by public and, in some cases, semi-private bodies.
ESOMA representative Benjamin Henrion stated that the service whereby sittings of the Parliament can be watched online relies heavily on Windows. As a result the EU’s only directly-elected institution is not accessible to those who use open standard software, he said.
A Microsoft spokeswoman declined to comment.
Details of the complaint can be found on www.openparliament.eu.
David Cronin may be reached at email@example.com.
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