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Open Source Ardor Cools at WSIS

10/13/2003, Stephen Ball:

A push at a series of international "information society" conferences to adopt open source software as an aspect of electronic "common land" has assumed a lower profile with the apparent entry of lobbying from proprietary business interests.

A "plan of action" being prepared for the December World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) championed wide adoption of open source software in June.

Suggested text in the draft then promoted open source awareness, the creation of intellectual property mechanisms supporting open source, and the formation of a UN "Programmers Without Frontiers" body to support open
source software (OSS) in developing nations. "Open-source/free software shall be adopted by all public authorities and bodies," the draft stated ambitiously.

The Club of Rome economic think-tank came out particularly strongly in favour of open source in its submission to WSIS in August. It labelled OSS as one of the "common goods of mankind" and an aid to advancing the productive use of ICT in developing countries, where proprietary software is particularly expensive in real terms.

The latest form of the plan of action, however, replaces the open source endorsement with a recommendation to "encourage research and promote awareness among all stakeholders of the possibilities offered by different software models, and the means of their creation, including proprietary,
open source and free software, in order to increase competition, freedom of choice and affordability, and to enable all stakeholders to evaluate which solution best meets their requirements."

Observers at the latest preparatory conference to the summit (Prepcom-3) in Geneva, said the changes were made after input from several nations uneasy with excluding mentions of proprietary software from the plan, and from the business lobby, which came out strongly against open source.

Delegates from the US and European Union, they said, were prominent among those asking that commercial software interests get a fair representation.

The summit itself is due to be held in Geneva in December. Prepcom-3 was to have been the last preparatory conference, but emergency meetings have been scheduled next month to knock still vague documents riddled with alternative phraseology into a more definite shape before the summit.

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