Hungary’s decision to back open standards is seen as evidence that the government is ahead in adopting open approaches to IT, but some experts are skeptical about the announcement
The Hungarian government has voted to require interfaces with public sector IT systems to be based on open standards.
In an announcement this week, the Hungarian Open Standards Alliance – a group supported by proprietary players including IBM and Novell – said that the Hungarian Parliament had amended a legislative act known as LX of 2009 to mandate the use of open standards in public sector infrastructure.
“Hungarian Parliament has made the use of open standards mandatory by law in the intercommunication between public administration offices, public utility companies, citizens and voluntarily joining private companies, conducted via the central governmental system,” the OSA said in a statement.
But while the move has been reported as evidence of the Hungarian government’s support of open source software, the wording of the statement suggests that the public sector is still free to use closed or proprietary applications as long as the actual connections or “sockets” between those systems are deemed to be open.
“Sockets can be used regardless of whether the IT systems of interconnecting organisations and individuals use open source software (that is, one whose code is publicly knowable and useable) or closed source software (that is, one whose code remains private property),” the OSA statement explains. “Provided they use these sockets, the IT systems of connecting organisations and individual users will be able to communicate not only with the central system, but – regardless of the operation system they use – with each other, making them interoperable. This contributes to real competition between open source and closed source software.”
Rather than being a push towards adoption of open source software, the announcement appears to be geared towards making more public sector services available online. this is achieved by by creating open web services that citizens or other government departments can access, without the need for permission or a licence from whichever vendor’s software was used to create the application being accessed. “For example, applications can be created to help the citizens, free of charge and in a user-friendly way, in finding out all the information and documents concerning them, held by public administration offices – as well as by public utility companies and, in general, the central system and all of its users,” the OSA states.
But while the announcement could be viewed as a step-forward, Hungarian open source experts have questioned how committed the Hungarian government is to adopting non-proprietary software. Earlier this month, Hungarian open source experts disagreed with claims made by open source database company Ingres, that Hungary should be seen as leader in Europe when it comes to open source adoption.
“The reality is that most of the government projects are still awarded to proprietary software vendors and open source alternatives are not invited to the discussion tables,” Gábor Szentiványi, chief executive of Hungarian open source integrator and Red Hat partner ULX. “We hope that Hungary will reach a similar state in terms of open source leadership as France for example where the government provides clear leadership and guideline to the public sector in terms of realising the benefits of open source and open standards.”
In November, the EU Open Source Observatory and Repository for European public administrations (OSOR) — a site for information exchange about community developed software — reported that five open source groups including the Hungarian Open Document Format Alliance (ODFA) are petitioning the Hungarian government to disclose how much it spends on proprietary software licences.
In an open letter to the Hungarian government’s procurement agency — Directorate General for Central Services (KSZF) — the ODFA states that last year the government spent around 9.5 billion Hungarian forints (£32m) on Microsoft software and has already spent €6.3 million (£5.7m) on educational licenses and millions more on consultation and services from the software giant. “Please make your calculations known to the public which will prove that open source will not be a viable low cost alternative,” the letter states.
The Hungarian open source groups claim that by ditching the use of expensive proprietary software, the Hungarian public sector could cut its software costs by half over a three year period. “According to some EU countries’ experience, there can be 40 to 50 percent cost savings achieved by moving to open source software in the third year after migration. This figure is also supported by some Hungarian case studies which we are sure the government is aware of,” the open letter states.
The UK government is similarly under pressure to improve its use of open source software. In September, open source users and vendors called for more teeth to the UK government’s open source strategy, saying that the policy is simply being ignored.”The UK has one of the best-written policies out there — the problem is policing it,” said Steve Shine, vice president of worldwide operations at Ingres. The problem is that large procurements simply ignore it, and this is not being picked up, he added.
In September, open source groups reacted angrily to the news that a Swiss government contract was given to Microsoft without any public bidding. Vendors including Red Hat and other open source players called on a Swiss federal court to overturn a three-year contract issued to Microsoft by the Swiss Federal Bureau for Building and Logistics, to provide Windows desktops and applications, with support and maintenance, for 14 million Swiss Francs (£8m) each year.