Software tenders by European public administration often may not comply with EU regulations, illegally favouring proprietary applications. "These tenders could be protested against, and if necessary the tendering organisations could be taken to court", said Karel De Vriendt, head of the IDABC unit responsible for the Open Source Software Observatory and Repository (osor.eu).
The European Commission's IDABC on Monday published a draft of the 'Guidelines on public procurement and Open Source Software', at the Open Source World conference taking place in Malaga. The guideline shows how how public administrations can end discrimination against Open Source in public tenders. It also details how and when the characteristics of Open Source software, such as the right to use the software without restrictions, the right the study the software code, the right to adapt the software code when needed and the right to share the software with others, can be relevant requirements in public tenders.
"Many people assume there is a level playing field and that measures to promote Open Source are no longer needed. In fact, there is widespread bias in favour of proprietary applications", said Rishab Ghosh, one of the authors of the Guidelines. Ghosh is a researcher at UNU-Merit, a joint project by the institute of the United Nations University and Maastricht University in The Netherlands. UNU-Merit is one of the partners in the consortium, that on behalf of the European Commission, has set up, operates and maintains the Open Source Software Observatory and Repository.
According to Gosh, software tenders often have either implicit or explicit bias for software brands or even specific applications. Of a thousand government IT organisations, 33 percent said compatibility with previously acquired software is the most important criterion when selecting new applications. Ghosh: "This implicit vendor-lock in means that a tender, meant to last for only five years, leads to a contractual relation lasting ten, fifteen years or more."
Specifying Open Standards in software tenders could avoid such situations.
Ghosh and his fellow researchers also found many cases of explicit bias in favour of proprietary software. Of a sample of 3615 software tenders that were published between January and August this year, 36 percent request Microsoft software, 20 percent ask for Oracle, 12 percent mention IBM applications, 11 percent request SAP and 10 percent are asking for applications made by Adobe. According to Ghosh in these cases, a government organisation typically asks for a number of licences or a number of copies of a software application. "It is like requesting the latest Volkswagens and then expecting that everyone can sell these. We all know only Volkswagen dealers can do so."
Osor Guidelines Public Procurement and Open Source Software (pdf)