ODFA Hungary criticises government for supporting closed formats

Following the revelations of Edward Snowden, Microsoft openly admitted the introduction of backdoors into its products to help the NSA spy on governments and individuals. According to the ODF Alliance Hungary, this clearly implies that the issue of open standards is not only a question of budget but also one of national security. The now governing party Fidesz stood up for the independence from large software corporations while still in the opposition. However, as a governing party, they recently signed a long term contract with Microsoft to provide governmental institutions with software. Lobbying occurs not only on the government level. In order to understand why the adoption of free software is so slow, one must also consider the PR activity in education.

The Society of Hungarian IT Teachers explained that they normally teach from vendor-independent books. However, many schools do not even have IT teachers, but their sysadmins are entrusted to educate students on computer science. Often even without books. Now, if the sysadmins were socialized with Microsoft products, they will also teach the technology most obvious to them, i.e. Microsoft products. Teachers with an actual teachers’ degree in computer science are often not in the position to argue for free software solutions. In addition, Hungarian schools often can not afford to train their own computer teachers. The task of teachers’ training is usually taken over by large software companies that provide luxury hotels and wellness services to impress educators. Local, open source companies usually can not afford to spend all that money on marketing so there is practically no competition in this area. The ODF Alliance expressed concerns that people should understand how the products of software monopoles might appear to be free of charge, but actually cost a lot of tax-money.

The ODF Alliance Hungary also maintains a hall of shame for governmental institutions publishing crucial documents in non-free (typically in .doc) formats. They also list institutions using open formats, but providing them over vendor-specific technologies such as Silverlight. The requirement for open formats is that the format is openly published and can therefore be ‘programmed’ based on the specification. Microsoft managed to have their OXML format recognized by the ISO as an open format, although its specification is not open. This ruling has been challenged by several entities, but no decision has been made yet. In the planing phase of the Hungarian file format regulations, the ODF format was mentioned, convincing open format activists. However, the final version included a less strick condition of ‘open format’ for which the non-free OXML format also qualifies. An obvious sign of lobbying by the American software giant.

The summary written by Róbert Illés is based on the interview with Gabriella Ivacs by Gabriella Horn. The original article was published in Hungarian language on 20 September 2013.