The Government Gateway is central to the Government's strategy to improve communications between Government, citizens and businesses, specifically through exchanging data via the internet in a secure manner.

The Government's published policy is that 'UK Government will only use products for interoperability that support open standards and specifications in all future IT developments' - Office of the e-Envoy, 15/7/2002. Such a policy is very welcome, as if it is adhered to any software developer can produce software to run on any computer platform to talk to the Gateway.

This is fine, but in practice the Gateway is essentially proprietary in that only Microsoft customers and developers can access it properly. This was admitted to us only after we had wasted several months trying to develop a means of talking to the Gateway using open standards components.

The published documentation claims that the Gateway is standards-compliant and not tied to a specific vendor. In fact the Gateway does not comply with certain current standards, which makes it almost impossible for an independent software developer to either compete with Microsoft on equal terms, or use a non-Microsoft platform.

Both the Government and Microsoft have told us that the Gateway will be fixed, but neither are able to offer a firm date for this.

David's talk will relate the problems we have experienced in developing software for the Gateway, and described how we have worked around the problems to develop a partial Gateway Open Source software solution.

The Gateway talk will be followed by a discussion on the important issue of Software Patents. This is currently being considered by the European Parliament, and if the legislation is adopted will have considerable adverse effects on all software developers.