Tonnerre Lombard

Archive for the ‘Open Standards’ Category

European Parliament solicits opinion on the Parliament Register

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

The European Parliament is currently conducting an opinion poll about the Parliament Register. The survey covers merely how the query system works (which, in my opinion, is very spartanic and doesn’t really exceed the power of the early 90s) and how the results are presented.

This survey however provides every EU citizen with a chance to promote the use of open standards in the Parliament register, which currently hands out MS Word .doc files. Thus, I would like to ask everybody to participate in the survey.

Gnome did not go Mono

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

There has recently been a lot of rumors about the article Gnome goes Mono and jumps into the patent trap. There are some things that should be clarified about this.

  • Gnome did not go Mono. At least so far. The plans towards that direction appear to have been quite fruitless.
  • There are people stating that the Microsoft .NET patents only cover the System.Data and System.Windows.Forms namespace. This implies that no patents cover the concept of .NET per se.
    There has been no thorough patent analysis on this subject, and it should also be noted that patents, other than copyright, are a very broad so that rewriting the subsystem or class in question does not suffice. The class must be modified to make it work in a way that is not described in the patent claims. This means that, for a sufficiently unclear patent, it may not be possible to provide affected classes in nay way because any implementation would constitute a patent infringement.
  • Nobody is saying that Mono or .NET per se are evil; the point of criticism is that the legal situation is very unclear and potentially tainted.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Preliminary injunction against Microsoft contract

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

The contract granted by the Federal Department of Construction and Logistics to Microsoft has been put on hold by the Federal Administration Court due to a pending case. The injunction explicitly excludes «all licenses required for vital operation of the federal infrastructure».

The reason for the injunction is the court case of other potential competitors against the department which had granted the contract to Microsoft without a tender, violating the federal law on acquisition.

See also:

Berner Zeitung on a slander campaign against the Canton Solothurn

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

The Berner Zeitung currently appears to be on some sort of crusade against the Office for Informatics and Organization (AIO) of the Canton Solothurn. The subject is the Linux strategy of said canton.

(Please note that not all comments in the referenced articles are referenced below since there are so many of them, and most of them already falsify themselves.)


Back in 2001, the Canton Solothurn decided to migrate their entire IT infrastructure to a Linux desktop and Linux servers. Nowadays, most of the migration is complete and the old Windows NT terminal server farm exist in downsized form for legacy reasons.

Some applications still aren’t migrated, as evidently specialized applicatons aren’t always available initially for Linux.

A crusade against the strategy

The Berner Zeitung, however, is attempting to draw an entirely different picture of the migration. They recently published articles like «Kritik an der Pinguin-Strategie», «Wieder Ärger mit dem Pinguin» and others, all bashing the Linux strategy of the canton. Most of the articles mention complaints of users of the platform that they cannot do their work reasonably with the new platform.

One problem mentioned in such an article was, for example, that the office of justice received a PowerPoint presentation for some event and had to lend a laptop from the cantonal police to display it. This story is quite evidently nonsense, since the document could easily have been opened with OpenOffice. The other stories aren’t any better though.

Anonymous astroturfing site

The articles frequently cite a web site named Linux Windows, whose URL is not being linked to here in order to not affect the page rank. It is hosted at npage dot ch, which should help people to find it for reference.

This site is of really questionable quality. It is hosted with a hoster who refuses to provide any information about the people hosting sites using their services, and the site does not give any hint about the identity of the operator, who describes himself as a government employee.

The welcome site states explicitly that everybody who has something to contribute to the web site is allowed to publish to the guest book. However, all of the more insightful comments submitted in favor of the strategy, correcting statements about prior postings et cetera are never passed while some of the more superficial ones are permitted to simulate openness.

The entries posted to this site are then alltogether terrible. The issues mentioned are mostly minor temporary issues or general comments deprived of any basis. One comment claims for example that Open Source per se was bad because hackers have built backdoors into it, an argument which can be falsified easily by browsing through the FSF web sites or typing the claim into Google. Also, it neglects the fact that initially, all software was free software.

Instead, the owner of this site could have provided something constructive like a bug tracker, where fixed issues could be marked as such. This would have allowed constructive cooperation between the cantonal employees and the AIO.

Official «media management» by UDC

The conservative party UDC also published an article on the news site mentioning the debate and taking sides heavily against the Linux strategy. The article states that the canton is facing expenses of several hundred million swiss franks ­ — mentioning farther down that these expenses occur in the event that the strategy is changed and new Windows and Office licenses would have to be purchased. Under these circumstances it appears to be a good argument for keeping the strategy.

Another argument mentioned is that «the canton is sending out documents that its citizens cannot read». Were this the case, then at least there is a way out for the citizens which is free of charge: the installation of the OpenOffice suite, which can be done in only a couple of clicks.

However, the comment completely ignores that starting from Office 2007, Microsoft Office users have been sending out documents in the new OOXML .docx format by default. Reading these files requires a current version of MS Office, which has to be purchased. But even without this, reading newer Office files with older Office versions has always been a problem.

Official response

Mr. Bader from the AIO has been interviewed by various newspapers about the raised issues; his comment was that no such deterring problems are currently known to them. Most of the cantonal employees I’ve been in contact with also confirm that there are only occasional issues with the system which are usually fixed quickly. (This would probably also be the case with a Windows environment.)

It seems not to be a coincidence that these articles all appeared after the appeal to the decision of the Federal Office of Construction to grant a CHF 42 Mio contract to Microsoft without a tender, because the Canton Solothurn has been mentioned in the reasoning of the appeal as an example that alternatives to the Microsoft solutions exist. It is not known who is directing this slander campaign against the canton, but either way this person is mostly raising the ridicule of the community, rather than having a real effect.

Other renowned newspapers are already reporting that the Canton Aargau is considering to follow the good example of Solothurn and to migrate their IT to open source software. This makes it pretty clear that Open Source is indeed a viable alternative.

As a closing note, it should also be mentioned that our company is working with an exclusive Open Source environment and has been doing so since its early days in 2000. We have yet to encounter serious difficulties.


Federal government grants 42 million franks contract to Microsoft — without tender

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

The Swiss federal government published in the Swiss Official Gazette of Commerce that it has granted a maintenance contract over CHF 42 million to Microsoft — however, without a prior tender. The monopolist apparently had been granted the contract under exclusion of any potential competition.

The Federal Office of Construction and Logistics (BBL) apparently signed the maintenance contract over Windows and Office licenses, SharePoint et cetera in February already. A tender had never been held, so competitors had never been given a chance to demonstrate their own products. This, however, is clearly against the official regulations for acquisition of resources. A speaker of the Open Source corporation group /ch/open announced that the decision would be contested in front of the Federal Court which, incidentally, is a known user of the suite.

In a television interview on the popular Swiss talk show «10vor10», the responsible official defended the decision with the rather bogus words «We cannot be expected to migrate everything to Open Source software over night.»

In the meanwhile, the decision has caused a lot of press echo. Not only IT newspapers such as ProLinux, Inside-IT and IT Reseller Online have published articles detailing the deal, there were also articles in the Neue Züricher Zeitung (NZZ), 20 Minuten (print version only) and Infoweek as well as the aforementioned emission of the popular talk show «10vor10».

Not to be outdone, some parliamentarians announced shortly after the SHAB article that they created the «working group digital sustainability» which is pushing for more use of Open Source software in the federal government. Enough precedence cases exist already, with the canton Solothurn using the Linux operating system on the desktop, and other cantons introducing a variety of Open Source tools. But surely, it won’t happen over night.

OpenISO website launched

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

Starting from today, there is a new standardization organization doing its work in this world. It is known under the name OpenISO, and is an organization created by Norbert Bollow (who some of us might remember from

OpenISO is an organization which set out to create truly open standards, not based on a reasonable and not discriminatory (RAND) basis. OpenISO wants all information required to implement its standards to be free, so everyone can freely develop competing poducts that implement its standards.

So far, OpenISO has released a number of standards in the network area (such as the telnet protocol), and is now aiming at ECMA 376 in a Call for Participation.

OOXML: an obstacle to accessibility?

Friday, November 30th, 2007

The Adaptive Technology Resource Center (ATRS) released a list of issues which have been raised in their analysis of the OOXML specification with regard to accessibility.

According to the paper, the standard itself contains a number of questionable regulations which might pose a threat to the ability of the programmer to make the implementing software accessible to disabled people. The main point of criticism is that some proprietary formats have been used in areas where free W3C standards are already in existence and covering the same functionality. However, while the W3C standards have been developed with accessibility in mind, the notion of accessibility is apparently missing entirely from the OOXML standard.

As an example, some of the specifications for insertion of images do not allow for image formats which permit access to disabled users. The ATRS then goes on to demand the revision of these issues. A long list of references to objections regarding accessibility and related issues is referenced at the end of the paper.

Bale (Canton) switches to Linux, PostgreSQL

Friday, November 30th, 2007

The department of Military, Police and Justice (JPMD) of Bale (Canton, BL) in Switzerland is after the canton Turgovie (TG) the second cantonal administration to switch to Free Software solutions.

The Central Service for Informatics (ZID) of Bale (Canton), which is responsible for the migration, wants to switch to SuSE Linux Enterprise Server version 10 and PostgreSQL version 8.2. The JPMD is thereby considered as a test platform for the rest of the cantonal administration, which is going to follow the example if considered appropriate.

Both cantons are using the software Fabasoft eGov Suite 7.0, a public services request tracking system not heavily unlike RT but including contact data and document management, which is usable for both Windows and Linux. The software also offers a standardized interface for exchange of data with other public service providers.

For more detailed information, please read the Linuxkommunale article on how Bale (Canton) switches to Free Software

Gnome goes Mono and jumps into the Patent Trap

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

A couple of years back, the Gnome desktop environment developers have taken the decision to reengineer the Gnome desktop around the Mono framework. This decision has mainly been influenced by the main Mono developer Miguel de Icaza, who is a very vocal employee of Novell. Recent developments thus request us to recall the pieces of the puzzle in order to understand what might really be going on.

Reasonable doubt has been rased to whether or not Mono can actually be deployed freely. Mono itself is basically a free and halfway portable implementation of the .NET framework developed by Microsoft. However, the .NET framework itself is subject to a large amount of software patents, which cover the concepts used within the .NET framework. Since these are concepts and not individual implementations (which are covered by Copyright, which is certainly untouched by a reimplementation), they most likely also apply to the Mono framework.

To Novell itself, Icazas employer, this is not a significant problem, since Novell has closed a patent deal with Microsoft not so long ago which undoubtedly also covers the .NET patents. However, all conventional Linux and Open Source vendors would not be able to distribute Gnome as it would be covered by the .NET patents Microsoft owns.

This amounts to an easy way for Novell to effectively lock in Gnome users to their own products. Gnome would no longer be a real Free Software project, even though the code remains freely available. It is expected that this type of patent issues will be raised many times, causing severe damage to the economy with the time. The only way of mitigation will be a transatlantic patent agreement which clarifies Art. 52 EPC: Software is not patentable.

US Aid offering cheap monopolist products to the third world

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

The U.S. Agency for International Development (US Aid) is offering cheap access to hardware and training curriculae for Microsoft operating systems.

The project in question is a US$236’000.- project to unbind the «Unlimited Potential» of the industries of Sri Lanka which could be enhanced with information technology. It will be executed by Info Share, an NGO which develops IT solutions for NGOs, and Unlimited Potential, a Microsoft welfare organization, whose main purpose is to spread Microsoft in the developing world.