Today’s lecture: “Open Source and Standards”

Today’s lecture was about Open Source and Standards. What made it special is that while there was a lot of theoretical background, most of that could be discussed based on the UK Open Standards Consultation last year. The questionnaire for the consultation covered pretty much all aspects discussed in the session. The KDE and the FSFE responses illustrated the position of the Free Software community. Here is the session summary:

Standards play an important role in increasing productivity and competition. After a brief introduction of the economic role of standardization, the idea of an Open Standard will be introduced. While there has been plenty of discussion around the definition of Open Standards, what constitutes such a standard is ambiguous. The requirements of Open Standards to be supportive for Open Source software will be discussed in relation to the definition of Free Software by the Free Software Foundation, and contrasted to the definitions applied by the International Telecommunication Union, and the European Interoperability Framework.

Standards can only be as open as the licenses of the essential patents that are necessary to implement them. The industry often pushes for the adoption of patented technologies under RAND or FRAND terms. The relation between FRAND terms and Open Standards will be analysed, and compared to the requirements of the Four Freedoms. It will be shown that again, openness applies to the standards themselves, and to the processes in which they are developed.

Open Source has caused a massive standardisation in the use of IT for institutions and individuals. The majority of the Open Source products are never made into formal standards, and usually innovate faster than standard setting organisations can keep up. Depending on the type of Open Source licenses applied, different network effects apply: When copyleft licenses are chosen, there are often converging network effects, leading into the development of a single dominating product like Linux. With permissive licenses, forking of derivative works is more common, as can be observed with the BSD family of operating systems. So while the Open Source licenses are guaranteeing the same essential freedoms, the projects may develop differently due to the economic effects caused by the choice of license.


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