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[Oct 04, 2003] Slashdot UN Summit Tones Down Open-Source Stance

Doesn't really matter does it? (Score:4, Insightful)
by Interruach (680347) on Saturday October 04, @01:05PM (#7132946)

They want to promote OSS and non-free software equally. Fair enough. The most important thing is open standards, at the end of the day if people want to spend money on something that they can't change that's up to them.

I don't see how this will make a difference anyway. People have heard of linux, bsd, apache, mozilla, openoffice and so on. And once the word is out they'll give it a try. And once other people have tried and found success it becomes a viable option. No-body likes policies dictated from the top down: And even in places where they have a windows-only policy you can still find the occasional linux/*bsd box or mac.

I was a UN Programmer (Score:2)
by CowboyRobot (671517) on Saturday October 04, @03:55PM (#7133797)

I worked at the UN in New York for a few years, developing sites for their education, peacekeeping, and oil-for-food departments. (that last one is still up, although the program is defunct, obviously).

The UN now is a completely Microsoft-dominated organization. The Web sites are exclusively ASP/VB MS SQL Server, etc. There was some interest by a few of us to move toward PHP while I was there, but the bureaucracy is so thick, that once a standard becomes adopted, it's impossible to change.

The UN still has serious problems with corruption (although it's better than it used to be). It is very easy for a company to bribe its way into a position of influence. It seems very likely that Microsoft might, say, offer free software to the UN in exchange for favors.

That said, there is no reason to be concerned about pro-MS bias at the UN. The UN cannot pass laws! The implication in the article is that the UN drafts have weight and meaning, and that they will result in policy changes in the member states. But they have no significance whatsoever. The UN cannot legislate. The most they can do is pass guidelines. They also have a list of human rights 'mandates', and environmental suggestions, and everyone ignores those as well.

The UN is the most non-technical organization I've ever seen. In some offices they still use manual typewriters and rotary telephones. It is a nearly entirely paper-based operation. So the idea that they would even have an opinion about what developing countries should do regarding technology makes me laugh. 'Programmers without Borders' is just a name that will have political value, but I seriously doubt anything will ever come of it.

World Summit on the Information Society

You can read more about WSIS here:

UN Summit Tones Down Open-Source Stance - Computer Business Review

By Kevin Murphy

International governments have toned down their proposed endorsement of open-source software models, following lobbying by businesses at a preparatory meeting of the World Summit on the Information Society, which is set to run this December in Geneva.

The WSIS, run by the UN and International Telecommunications Union, met last week to debate dozens of topics relating to international cooperation on IT issues, but open-source emerged as a key issue.

Language in an August draft of the WSIS Plan of Action that would have advocated the use of open-source software, particularly in developing nations, was toned down in the September 26 draft, to give equal weight to the value of proprietary software.

The August draft promoted open source awareness, the creation of intellectual property mechanisms supporting open source, and the creation of a UN "Programmers Without Frontiers" body to support open source software in developing nations.

In the new draft, these are replaced with a more general description of how governments should "promote awareness among all stakeholders of the possibilities offered by different software models... including proprietary, open-source and free software".

The changes were apparently made after input from several nations uneasy with excluding mentions of proprietary software from the Plan, and from the business lobby's delegation, which came out strongly against open-source.

Delegates from the US and EU were prominent among those asking that commercial software interests get a fair representation in the Plan, and that certain provisions should be deleted. Commercial interests also came against the provisions.

"Business has consistently stated that it is essential for governments to ensure technologically neutral policy towards different software models," said the delegate from the business lobby, during the conference debate.

"Governments cannot know, case-by-case, what software solution is best for every user," she said, urging the deletion of the open-source provisions. "Each user should be allowed to make a choice that meets their individual needs."

In recent years commercial software interests, notably Microsoft Corp, which faces the constant threat of having its market share eroded by Linux, have had to lobby hard to keep governments from openly preferring open-source over proprietary software.

Microsoft has gone so far as to offer governments the unprecedented chance to view Windows source code, primarily to help quash security fears, and more than a dozen countries have so far taken up its offer.

And earlier this month, a trio of east Asian nations proposed the creation of a new operating system specifically to reduce the region's reliance on Microsoft. China already promotes a local variant of Linux as its OS of choice.

The WSIS, which expects more than 50 heads of state to attend its December meeting, also expects to debate dozens of other hot IT topics during the meeting. The overriding theme is bridging the so-called "digital divide" between IT haves and have-nots.

Other issues set for debate include the archiving of and access to government information, access to wireless spectrum, government subsidies of internet access, internet taxes, and international cooperation on information security.

Spam, a current hot-button topic acknowledged to need global cooperation, also gets a look in. The August draft of the Plan of Action called for this cooperation, coordination with ISPs, the education of users, and the prosecution of spammers.

In the latest draft, these rather general proposals were scaled back further. The 100 words the August Plan offered to the spam problem were reduced to the sentence: "Take appropriate action on spam at national and international levels."

[Mar. 16, 2000] Public Software Working Group, an effort by the Internet Society Task Force to promote Internet access -- proposal:

ABSTRACT: Access to Internet is not possible without the use of appropriate software. We propose the creation of a working group whose purpose would be to make access to software possible for everybody. We believe that technological approaches such "open source" and "free software" hold the key in realizing the ISOC goal "Internet is for everyone". This is particularly important for economically disadvantaged people and for developing countries.


The Software Access Working Group set itself the following objectives:

  1. establish a clearinghouse of information about open source development and how it relates to Internet access. This will be a web accessible resource.
  2. encourage local ISOC members to lobby their governments in adopting open source policies.
  3. prepare case studies and encourage documentation about government policies that promote open source use and adoption.
  4. work with software companies in getting software donations that can then be distributed to people in need. Pursue funding opportunities to accomplish this.
  5. promote its work by identifying and collaborating with people and organizations that will support this proposal. This includes open source developers, community activists, computer companies as well as international organizations such as UNESCO and W3C.
  6. Encourage open source developers to work on solutions that directly address problems of the third world and developing countries.
  7. Collaborate with other working groups on issues of mutual interest so we do not duplicate work.

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Access to adequate sources of information for both decision makers and members of civil society is key for the understanding and implementation of sustainable development. However, for a variety of reasons, access in developing countries is limited and finding information on crucial topics is difficult. The rapid development of information technologies and information systems has facilitated access to information sources at relatively low costs. A few developing countries are now taking advantage of the new situation by connecting to the Internet. But still access to all sectors of society within each country remains a problem. The Sustainable Development Networking Programme is a UNDP initiative that addresses these issues.

Access to information in developing countries is limited. There are many reasons for this ranging from social, cultural and political factors to lack of an adequate infrastructure to guarantee information flows within countries. National governments have hitherto been in a privileged position in many developing countries when it comes to getting information on specific developmental issues. Many key decision makers do not receive up-to-date information needed to implement key policies, and other sectors of society, like non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and national businesses, have an even more restricted access to information. Developing countries have been for many years net exporters of information. It is not surprising to find more information on a specific developing country in Washington, for example, than in the country itself. Moreover within most countries the little information that exists is either in private hands or it does not flow out from government institutions. The rapid development of information technologies and computer-mediated communications has started to change this. For the first time in history the democratization of information seems plausible at relatively moderate costs for users from all nations.

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