Dutch parliament makes an open source decision

An “open source police” and an open source hotline will enforce compliance with new rules as part of a plan unveiled by the Dutch parliament last week that will mandate the use of open standards and open source within government organizations.

Plans to embrace open standards first emerged five years ago but have been pulled afloat only recently. Members of parliament attending a committee hearing unanimously praised the decisiveness with which Minister Frank Heemskerk pushed forward despite fierce lobbying by Microsoft to derail the plans.

The governmental guidelines from the departments of internal and economic affairs, titled “The Netherlands open and connected,” forces the national government to adopt open standards by May 2008. It also has to favor open-source over proprietary software if a viable open-source option is available. Local governments have to follow by the end of 2008.

“I am incredibly satisfied,” said Martijn van Dam, a member of parliament from the ruling Labor Party. “The storm of protest that Microsoft has attempted to stir up is one of the greatest endorsements of this plan,” he said in reference to Microsoft’s lobbying.

Arda Gerkens of the Socialist Party added: “The fact that a monopolist complains this plan would impede the market economy is beyond irony.” The plan mandates the use of open standards across all government bodies. Organizations that wish to deviate from the open-standards policy can request a temporary stay but have to demonstrate a timeline showing a planned implementation date, a policy described as “comply or explain/commit.”

Currently, the Open Document Format (ODF) is the only standard that meets the criteria for document standards. Microsoft’s Open XML is expected to qualify once it clears certification by the International Standards Organization (ISO). Governments will probably be able to keep using Microsoft Office with plug-ins that allow the suite to open, edit and save documents in ODF.

The rules are less strict about the use of open-source software. Open-source has to be picked over proprietary applications only if both offer viable solutions. The government already requires custom code built exclusively for government organizations to be open-sourced.

Unfair affirmative action

The implementation of open standards was approved without opposition. Members of parliament, however, did question the impact of the open-source requirements on local IT vendors.

Opponents have described the open-source clause as ‘unfair affirmative action’. Several local proprietary software developers generally oppose the plans, while consultants such as Cap Gemini and Logica CMG, as well as multinationals including IBM, Red Hat and Sun Microsystems, have spoken out in support of it.

For example, Cordys, a Dutch vendor of integration software founded by ERP pioneer Jan Baan, sides with Microsoft in opposing the open-source clause. “The government plans fail to balance freedom of choice with license models,” Cordys marketing manager Vincent Hunnik told Webwereld, an IDG affiliate.

“It is odd that the government is limiting choices by formulating rules. Open source is a viable alternative [to proprietary software], but often a combination of licensing models is to be preferred.”


The minister also promised to form an ‘enforcement brigade’ that will actively hunt for policy violations, and form a ‘closed standards desk’ where citizens can log complaints about closed standards.

The new policy allows The Netherlands to comply with European rules enforcing open standards. In an interview with Webwereld, however, Heemstra claimed that the country has gone beyond the European requirements.

“We’ve seen much interest from abroad in the plan. It already has been translated to English. And, by the way, it has also been published in the Open Document Format.”

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