The Dutch parliament has approved a plan that will mandate the use of open standards and open source within government organisations. An "open source police" and an open source hotline will enforce compliance with the new rules.

The decision was made despite fierce lobbying from Microsoft. The governmental guidelines from the departments of internal and economic affairs, titled The Netherlands open and connected, forces the national government to adopt open standards by May 2008.

It also has to favour open-source over proprietary software if a viable open-source option is available. Local governments have to follow by the end of 2008.

"I am incredibly satisfied," said Martijn van Dam, a member of parliament from the ruling Labour Party. "The storm of protest that Microsoft has attempted to stir up is one of the greatest endorsements of this plan," he said in reference to Microsoft's lobbying.

Arda Gerkens of the Socialist Party added: "The fact that a monopolist complains this plan would impede the market economy is beyond irony."

The plan mandates the use of open standards across all government bodies. Organisations that wish to deviate from the open-standards policy can request a temporary stay but have to demonstrate a timeline showing a planned implementation date, a policy described as "comply or explain/commit."

Currently, the Open Document Format (ODF) is the only standard that meets the criteria for document standards. Microsoft's Open XML is expected to qualify once it clears certification by the International Standards Organisation (ISO). Governments will probably be able to keep using Microsoft Office with plug-ins that allow the suite to open, edit and save documents in ODF.

The rules are less strict about the use of open-source software. Open-source has to be picked over proprietary applications only if both offer viable solutions. The government already requires custom code built exclusively for government organisations to be open-sourced.

The implementation of open standards was approved without opposition. Members of parliament, however, did question the impact of the open-source requirements on local IT vendors.

Opponents have described the open-source clause as 'unfair affirmative action'. Some Dutch proprietary software developers have opposed the plans, while consultants such as Cap Gemini and Logica CMG, as well as multinationals including IBM, Red Hat and Sun Microsystems, have spoken out in support of it.

For example, Cordys, a Dutch vendor of integration software founded by ERP pioneer Jan Baan, sided with Microsoft in opposing the open-source clause. "The government plans fail to balance freedom of choice with license models," Cordys marketing manager Vincent Hunnik told Webwereld, a sister title of Computerworld UK.

"It is odd that the government is limiting choices by formulating rules. Open source is a viable alternative [to proprietary software], but often a combination of licensing models is to be preferred."

The new policy allows The Netherlands to comply with European rules enforcing open standards. In an interview with Webwereld, however,government minister Frank Heemskrek claimed that the country has gone beyond the European requirements.

The minister also promised to form an 'enforcement brigade' that will actively hunt for policy violations, and form a 'closed standards desk' where citizens can log complaints about closed standards.

"We've seen much interest from abroad in the plan. It already has been translated to English. And, by the way, it has also been published in the Open Document Format."

Dutch threaten to sideline Microsoft here