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Commission updates open source strategy

EU flagThe European Commission has announced the updating its strategy for internal use of open source software. The Commission, which is already using open source for many of its key IT services and software solutions, will further increase the internal role of this type of software. The renewed strategy puts a special emphasis on procurement, contribution to open source software projects and releasing more of the software developed within the Commission as open source.

Highlights

The specific objectives of the renewed strategy are:

Equal treatment in procurement

The Commission will ensure a level playing field when procuring new software. This means that open source and proprietary software will be assessed on an equal basis, being both evaluated on the basis of total cost of ownership, including exit costs.

Contribution to communities

The Commission services will increasingly participate in open source software communities to build on the open source elements used in the Commission’s software.

Clarification of legal aspects

To enable easy collaboration with the open source communities, Commission developers will benefit from appropriate legal coaching and advice on how to deal with the intellectual property aspects of open source software.

Open source and interoperable software developed by the Commission

Software produced by the Commission departments, and particularly software produced for use outside the Commission, will be released as open source under the European Union Public License (EUPL) and published on the Joinup platform. The software produced should aim to be interoperable and use open technical specifications.

Transparency and better communication

The updated strategy emphasises improved governance, an increasing use of open source in the field of security and this strategy’s alignment with the EC’s ISA Programme, enabling the modernisation of cross-border and cross-sector eGovernment services.

LibreOffice to take to the cloud

Google Docs and Microsoft’s Office 365 could soon face proper open source and open standards opposition to cloud-based office productivity services according to the post below from yesterday from the chief scribe’s own blog.

LibreOffice banner

LibreOffice, the best free and open source office suite produced, is set to become the cornerstone of the world’s first global personal productivity solution – LibreOffice Online – following an announcement by IceWarp and Collabora of a joint development effort, The Document Foundation blog reports today. LibreOffice is available as a native application for every desktop operating system and is currently under development for Android. Furthermore, it is available on virtual platforms for Chrome OS, Firefox OS and iOS.

“LibreOffice was born with the objective of leveraging the OpenOffice historic heritage to build a solid ecosystem capable of attracting those investments which are key for the further development of free software,” says Eliane Domingos de Sousa, Director of The Document Foundation. “Thanks to the increasing number of companies which are investing on the development of LibreOffice, we are on track to make it available on every platform, including the cloud. We are grateful to IceWarp for providing the resources for a further development of LibreOffice Online.”

Development of LibreOffice Online started back in 2011 with the availability of a proof of concept of the client front end, based on HTML5 technology. That proof of concept will be developed into a state of the art cloud application, which will become the free alternative to proprietary solutions such as Google Docs and Office 365. It will also be the first to offer native support for the Open Document Format (ODF) standard.

“It is wonderful to marry IceWarp’s vision and investment with our passion and skills for LibreOffice development. It is always satisfying to work on something that, as a company, we have a need for ourselves,” says Michael Meeks, Vice-President of Collabora Productivity, who developed the proof of concept back in 2011 and will oversee the development of LibreOffice Online.

The launch of LibreOffice Online will be announced at a future date.

Document Freedom Day: why open standards matter

DFD promotional posterToday is Document Freedom Day, an annual international celebration of open formats and open standards and an opportunity to promote their use.

The use of open standards is definitely gaining ground, particularly where it matters, such as in dealings with government bodies. This was amply illustrated last year by the UK Cabinet Office’s announcement of the adoption of open standards for collaborating on government documents.

Why do open standards matter?

Open standards are vital for interoperability and freedom of choice. They provide freedom from data lock-in and the accompanying vendor lock-in. This makes Open standards essential for governments, companies, organisations and individual users of information technology.

What is an open standard?

An open standard refers to a format or protocol that is:

  • Subject to full public assessment and use without constraints in a manner equally available to all parties;
  • Without any components or extensions that have dependencies on formats or protocols that do not meet the definition of an open standard themselves;
  • Free from legal or technical clauses that limit its use by any party or in any business model;
  • Managed and further developed independently of any single supplier in a process open to the equal participation of competitors and third parties;
  • Available in multiple complete implementations by competing suppliers, or as a complete implementation equally available to all parties.

How do open standards affect you?

April, the French open source advocacy organisation, has produced a handy graphic in English to illustrate the difference between open and closed formats. Click on the image below for the full-sized version.

April's open formats graphic

Examples of open standards

Many open standards are in wide use. Here are 3 examples:

  • Plain text (.txt);
  • HTML, the language of the web;
  • ODF, the default file format of free and open source office suites such as LibreOffice and OpenOffice. ODF can also be handled by Microsoft Office versions from Office 2007 onwards.

Document Freedom Day is being promoted on social media by the use of the #DFD2015 hashtag.

Reposted from the author’s own blog.

Make an origami unicorn and win an Ubuntu Phone

publicity for Ubuntu Unicorn competitionAn Origami Unicorn Challenge has been announced by the Ubuntu Insights website.

Origami has long been associated with good fortune and represents the visual style for the Ubuntu Phone and Ubuntu is inviting people to create their own Origami Unicorn for the chance to win an Ubuntu Phone.

The stages to participate include:

  • Create a Unicorn Origami form from a single sheet of paper
  • Take a photo of your custom creation
  • Upload to instagram with the hashtag #fingertipchallenge

Ubuntu has also provided a guide to making an origami unicorn (PDF). The most number of likes on Instagram wins an Ubuntu Phone.

Bristol student co-author on paper at Warsaw cryptography conference

photo of Sophie StevensBristol University reports that one of its students is co-author on a paper to be presented at The Theory of Cryptography Conference (TCC-2015), one of the world’s top cryptography conferences being held in Warsaw this week between 23rd and 25th March.

Sophie Stevens, a mathematics undergraduate, is co-author on the paper “Key-Homomorphic Constrained Pseudorandom Functions” with colleagues from Georgia Tech University in the United States and the Institute of Science and Technology (IST) in Austria. Sophie contributed to the paper during a summer internship at IST under the supervision of Krzysztof Pietrzak. The paper has other connections to Bristol since another co-author, Georg Fuchsbauer, is a former member of staff from the University’s Department of Computer Science.

The paper presents constructions of a family of functions, indexed by a key, which look like they produce random outputs, but for which one can “add” the keys to two functions to obtain another function in the family. The constructions are mainly based on an old area of mathematics arising from the geometry of numbers. Recent years have seen an increasing number of applications of such functions to construct cryptographic schemes with special properties.

Professor Nigel Smart, Head of Bristol University’s Cryptography group,remarked: “It is no mean feat to have a paper accepted at the TCC conference. Many cryptographers, including myself, have never had a paper at this conference. For Sophie to accomplish this at such a young age shows she has a glittering career in front of her.”

Slow progress to superfast broadband

image of fibre optic cableThe small village of Adderley sits just inside north Shropshire, barely a mile from the Cheshire border. Nothing has really changed there for years (the chief scribe grew up nearby. Ed.). And for the last 6 years, residents have been frustrated by slow local broadband speeds.

However, there’s now been one major change.

Saturday’s Shropshire Star reported that Adderley has now been hooked up to ‘superfast’ broadband, usually classified in UK as anything over 24 Mbps.

According to the Star, the average download speed in Adderley has increased from 0.45 Mbps previously to nearly 59 Mbps.

The village’s new connectivity was provided under a scheme provided by a partnership called Connecting Shropshire, comprising Shropshire Council and BT.

While villagers are absolutely delighted with their new fast connectivity, the effort to get the village connected was stuck firmly in the slow lane: it’s taken the village more than 6 years to get better broadband speeds.

This is not the first time that there has been criticism of the slow and expensive roll-out of decent broadband to rural areas (news passim).

Moreover, back in autumn 2014 campaigners running the Shropshire and Marches Campaign for Better Rural Broadband severed ties with Connecting Shropshire (news passim).

More on open standards at Bristol City Council

The Secretary has just blogged again about Bristol City Council and open standards on account of fresh information that came to light over the weekend.

It is reproduced verbatim below:

Following the post on Friday on Bristol City Council‘s response to my open standards FoI request (posts passim), more information has come to light.

It was all sparked by a discussion on Twitter between myself and Alex, a leading member of the Bristol & Bath Linux Users’ Group (BBLUG).

It all revolved around what was really meant by the phrase “not fully digital” in respect of PDF files.

My speculation was that if text documents are scanned, these are usually converted to image-based PDFs with which the screen readers used by blind and visually impaired people can have problems.

It turned out this was a good point, but not the real reason.

The latter was supplied by Gavin Beckett, BCC’s Chief Enterprise Architect, who actually responded to my FoI request. It seems Gavin’s main reason for describing PDFs as “not fully digital” is that PDF is basically an attempt to make electronic files emulate paper. The move by the council away from PDF to HTML when responding to citizens is that more mobile devices (tablets and smartphones) are now being used by the public to communicate with the local authority and the latter wishes to provide the same – i.e. “fully digital” experience to all.

Finally Gavin promised to follow up with his colleagues my gripe about using MS formats for responding to FOI requests. He conceded this was one example where PDF would be better.

Open standards at Bristol City Council

Bristol Wireless’ secretary has just published the post below on his blog concerning his recent Freedom of Information Act request to Bristol City Council on the local authority’s use of open standards:

A response has been received today to my FoI request to Bristol City Council on open standards (posts passim).

The reply was received in a record 10 working days and reads as follows:

Bristol City Council has been a long-term supporter of open standards wherever possible. We have frequently voluntarily adopted national government policy on open standards and open source, recognising the benefits of this approach.

We adopted StarOffice in 2005 and moved to the Open Document Format as our standard for office productivity files at the point it was incorporated in the StarOffice / OpenOffice.org products. We had to move to Microsoft Office in 2010 due to the lack of standards support in the local government applications market, partly due to the fact that national government policy was not mandated at local level and therefore did not have the desired effects on the document standards context. However we retained the ability to create, open and collaborate on ODF by implementing LibreOffice alongside Microsoft Office on all council PCs. Therefore we are already capable of using ODF to collaborate on government documents.

In terms of publishing government documents to citizens, we have historically used PDF, but are now attempting to replace all information, advice and guidance, and application forms with fully digital services. Over time this will replace old PDF documents with HTML. If there are documents that meet a user need to download and read offline, we can produce PDF/A format from the open source PDF Creator software that is also available on every council PC.

I’m very pleased to note that BCC has LibreOffice installed on every council machine. They kept that quiet! Perhaps they’ll use it to send me replies to my FoI requests in future instead of the propensity to use MS Office formats. But just to make sure, I’ll include a plea for a reply in an open format in all my future requests. :)

Read the original FoI request and response on WhatDoTheyKnow.

City of Light makes enlightened move

Paris coat of armsThe City of Paris has become a member of April, the leading French free and open source advocacy organisation. Making the announcement, April reported that the council wants to intensify its commitment in favour of free and open source.

Following a resolution in December 2014 from the council’s Green group and subsequent negotiations conducted by Emmanuel Grégoire, the Assistant Mayor in charge of administrative modernisation, the city council consented had endorsed the city’s membership of April.

A city council press release points out that “Paris is already very involved in the development, promotion and defence of free software. For its own use, it already avails itself of many free tools: 60% of its servers run GNU/Linux. The city is also developing software for [such tasks as] the drafting and awarding of public contracts, managing city council meetings, professional competitions and examinations which it then donates into the public realm.” It has also developed the Lutèce free software package which runs its website.

Emmanuel Grégoire stated, “I am very please that our free Lutèce software is now being widely used by major institutions, in particular the City of Marseille and Météo France,” and stressed that “Paris is going to intensify its commitment to free software within April.”

For its part April is pleased to have the City of Paris amongst its 4,200 members. “This membership not only confirms the commitment of the City of Paris to free software, but also the fact that it acknowledges the interest in strengthening the free software movement in which April has been playing a major role since 1996,” declared April president Jean-Christophe Becquet.

And the City of Light? The region was occupied by a tribe called the Parisii when the Romans conquered the Paris basin in 52 BC. After making the Ile de la Cité (where Notre Dame now stands) a garrison camp, the Romans began extending their settlement in a more permanent way to Paris’ Left Bank. The Gallo-Roman town was originally called Lutetia (“City of Light”) and more fully, Lutetia Parisiorum (“Lutetia of the Parisii”).

Somerset villages to get satellite internet connection

satellite antenna for internet accessLuxembourg-based satellite operator SES has announced that its Astra Connect for Communities solution will be used in a UK government-funded market test pilot (MTP) project to assess which technologies and commercial models are best suited to provide superfast broadband (download speeds of at least 24 Mbps. Ed.) to the final 5% of UK households that would not have broadband access otherwise. SES is working with UK ISP Satellite Internet to provide satellite broadband to the Somerset villages of Simonsbath and Luxborough on Exmoor, each of which has around 200 residents.

The villages will be equipped with a satellite distribution node (SDN) and a WiFi head-end providing residents with internet speeds of up to 25 Mbps. A feasibility study for the project has already been carried out and the deployment in Luxborough started in January.

Further installations in Somerset are due to take place later this year.