A protest by Swiss proprietary software vendors is delaying the publication as open source of OpenJustitia, a document management system (DMS) developed in-house by the federal court. The court planned to unwrap the DMS in late August, but will now wait until after the court's control committee in the parliament has looked into the complaints. This committee will consider the case sometime after the summer.
The federal court (Bundesgericht) began development of its internal document management system in 2007. The IT department decided to develop OpenJustitia "after finding that none of the existing solutions on the market satisfied met the technological and quality needs" of the court.
Two years later it decided to make the source code available as open source, under the GPLv3, planned for this summer. It also started to present the DMS to interested courts in the country. OpenJustitia offers courts an efficient way to search through court decisions, the Bundesgericht explains in a statement.
Swiss newspapers on 1 July wrote how this caused one Swiss IT vendor, Weblaw, to fear that it will lose a number of bids with such courts for its own, proprietary search engine. The vendor, in a statement sent to Inside IT: "Instead of operating an oversized IT department funded by tax-payers, the Federal Court should investigate the existing products available on the market. This would be sustainable and cost effective."
The vendor is supported by Swiss ICT, an IT trade group. The Neue Zürcher Zeitung on 1 July quoted Swiss ICT's chairman Thomas Flatt: "It is incomprehensible that a state institution interferes in a market where several competitors are active. This is not about open source or proprietary solutions, but about using the term open source to conceal cross subsidization."
Flatt is ceo of Abraxas, one of the country's largest software companies and formed in 1998 out of the IT departments spun off by the Cantons of Zürich and Sankt Gallen. It is one of the companies named in a statement by the Federal Court as one of the vendors of software solutions for courts, published on its website on 5 July: "The code is available on equal terms to any participant of the open source community. Courts and IT service providers that develop applications for courts (including Delta Logic, Abraxas, Weblaw and Eurospider) and other interested parties, can use the code to develop their own software solutions."
In the statement, the federal court defends its decision to open source its DMS. "The federal government has to ensure an effective and efficient use of resources: making the publicly funded system available to other courts, helps to save public money and ensures an efficient use of resources." The court add it is not offering commercial IT services, but merely sharing part of its work with others, free of charge. "The first five users (courts or service providers) will receive one week of introduction for free."
Whether or not Swiss public administrations can share their software applications as open source, is made a question for the Swiss parliament. Free Democratic Party parliament member Hans Hess is taking the unwrapping of OpenJustitia to the Federal Court's control committee in the parliament (Geschäftsprüfungskommission), reported ZDnet. "Commercial services are not on the list of tasks of the Federal Court. This will be clarified and possibly prevented", it cites the MP.
The Swiss parliament will also vote on a law that encourages the Federal Court and all other public administrations to make their in-house applications available as open source. That law was proposed in April by Thomas Weibel of the Green Liberal Party.
The Federal Court next received supported from the Parliamentary Group for Digital Sustainability. In a statement published on 5 July, the group calls the sharing by public administrations of their software solutions a strategic option, benefiting all stakeholders, governments, businesses and citizens. "This is not Utopia, as shown by various examples from neighbouring countries. The European Commission's OSOR project offers nearly 2500 open source projects for public institutions, in use all over Europe by public administrations."
(Update: added one sentence in the first paragraph.)
Statement from the Bundesgericht (PDF, in German)
Statement by Digitale Nachhaltigkeit (in German)
Neue Zürcher Zeitung news item (PDF, in German)
Zdnet news item (in German)
Inside IT news item (in German)
Netzwoche news item (in German)
Swiss IT magazine news item (in German)
Silicon news item (in German)