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The EU Commission's Digital Agenda Plan
Wednesday, May 19 2010 @ 03:16 PM EDT

The EU Commission has just announced its 5-year plan for IT, which they call its Digital Agenda:
The Agenda outlines seven priority areas for action: creating a digital Single Market, greater interoperability, boosting internet trust and security, much faster internet access, more investment in research and development, enhancing digital literacy skills and inclusion, and applying information and communications technologies to address challenges facing society like climate change and the ageing population. Examples of benefits include easier electronic payments and invoicing, rapid deployment of telemedicine and energy efficient lighting. In these seven areas, the Digital Agenda foresees some 100 follow-up actions, of which 31 would be legislative.
What interests us at Groklaw the most on that list of seven areas is interoperability, I'd wager, and here's the goal they set for that:
Improve ICT standard-setting and interoperability

To allow people to create, combine and innovate we need ICT products and services to be open and interoperable.

I can't help but think of Microsoft's recent bragging about not being fully interoperable with Google Docs. I think they're not yet on the interoperability train that is already leaving the station, and I hope they hop on board before it's too late. Meanwhile, ECIS has issued a statement, commending the EU Commission on its Digital Agenda, particularly the part about interoperability:
We're pleased the European Commission has given broad support to interoperability, and gratified it believes government acquisition of software should adhere to open standards.

Here is the ECIS statement in full:
ECIS commends European Commission for its Digital Agenda

BRUSSELS, 19 May, 2010 - ECIS is gratified that the European Commission's “Digital Agenda” released today sets a timetable for making sure that government-purchased software adheres to open standards, so it will work smoothly and easily together, thus ensuring citizens have open access to their governments.

The European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS) is also pleased that the Commission frowns on software that is hemmed in by closed, proprietary standards.

“As our name suggests, interoperability is a central tenet of our group,” said Thomas Vinje, counsel and spokesman for ECIS. “We're pleased the European Commission has given broad support to interoperability, and gratified it believes government acquisition of software should adhere to open standards.”

The broad-ranging Digital Agenda focuses in part on the importance of making software work together. Among its conclusions are that because all technology is inherently standards-based, “Interoperability between these standards is the only way to make our lives and doing business easier – smoothing the way to a truly digital society.”

The Digital Agenda says member states should by 2013 carry out goals enunciated in April by EU Telecommunication Ministers during their meeting in Spain, whose Granada Declaration calls for the “systematic promotion of open standards and interoperable systems” for governments across the European Union.

“That approach assures that governments will avoid granting a monopoly to a proprietary software company, which can then charge citizens for the software they need to access and interact with their governments,” said Vinje.

Open standards permit inter-operation without the necessity of paying special fees. For example, the common electric plug is designed to an open standard. Anyone may build an electric plug without paying a royalty to design prongs to the right size and shape for a power point. In software, two of the best-known open standards are those that created the Internet and those that created the World Wide Web. Anyone may write software that works on the Internet or the Web, without paying special fees.

“These open standards have transformed the way we do business,” said Vinje of the Web and the Internet. They are clear examples of the way that open standards promote creativity and competition.

“Open standards will help create such things as health records that will be readable anywhere in the European Union, using a variety of software from a number of providers,” said Vinje. “They set the stage for economic growth. We're gratified that the Commission is backing this approach."

Open standards are distinct from “open source.” Using the latter, a group or company makes public the underlying source code of its program. Open standards are aimed at allowing pieces of software to work seamlessly together. Proprietary software business models based on open standards and open source business models both allow a high degree of interoperability and consumer choice. ECIS strongly believes that in adopting measures to implement the Digital Agenda, the EU should take care in ensuring that one particular model is not favoured over another, as long as the aims of openness and interoperability are met.

That last part means that Microsoft could implement an open international standard like ODF if it wanted to, despite being a proprietary software business. So far, it doesn't do so in a way that really works, and the only obstacle I know of, as reflected in their remarks about Google Docs, is a lack of a desire to actually do so.

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