Thursday, May 21, 1998


Ralph Nader's Consumer Activists Meet UniForum's Open Computing Advocates; Monopoly Fighters and Open Standards Experts Talk Strategy

Columbia, MD - At the UniForum Association's Spring '98 Conference in Ocean City, MD, Ralph Nader and his pro-competition, anti-monopoly campaign met with the ideas and achievements of the UniForum Association, an international association of computer professionals that has long advocated a more diverse and interoperable marketplace. The participation of public-interest activists in a forward-looking industry conference produced some new ideas and potential alliances in their collective battle for user empowerment.

At a keynote presentation on Monday, May 18th, Nader lauded the contribution that the open standards movement has made so far, citing TCP/IP and Linux as examples of what a free and interoperable computing marketplace can do. He went on to acknowledge open technologies like Unix and Apache as critical elements in the Internet explosion of the past several years, and the role that the Open Source movement played in inspiring Netscape to open their Communicator source code to the public.

Citing his own experiences as a consumer activist, he urged conference attendees to consider government procurement policies, and how they might be utilized and influenced to better serve the cause of open computing. Historically, he pointed out, the standardization of many different industries has started with meeting the requirements of the federal government. Additionally, he pointed out that this might also be one of the best ways to increase private sector acceptance of open computing.

Many attendees said they found Nader's angle enlightening; the activist approach clearly put some new ideas into the mix, and put a new spin on some old ideas. After signing autographs for his new book, Nader and his colleagues left the conference pledging to follow up with UniForum members on the issues raised.

Especially interesting was the timing of the Justice Department's filings against Microsoft the very same day. Some conference attendees reported that the Department of Defense, while falling short in its required procurement of UNIX 95-compliant products, was continuing to purchase non-compliant Windows NT. So, while one hand of the federal government was attacking Microsoft as monopolistic, the other was apparently failing to support the open technologies that it was legally required to purchase.

The UniForum Association is a non-profit membership organization advocating the development and use of computing technologies based on open, public standards. Open computing standards significantly increase the rate of innovation and provides users with more choice in computing systems. The most prominent example of the power of open standards is the Internet, built on an open internetworking standard called TCP/IP, which is what enables the diverse types of software and hardware to be linked together effectively.