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The Economist on Open Source in Government 331

Posted by michael
from the birds-eye-view dept.
locarecords.com writes "The Economist has an excellent article about Microsoft attempting to undermine the Open Source and Free Software movements. Particularly interesting are the issues relating to proprietary software and government and how other countries are mandating free software in government software projects."
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The Economist on Open Source in Government

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  • Economy 101: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Pig Hogger (10379) <pig.hogger@gmaCOWil.com minus herbivore> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @07:35PM (#6953967) Journal
    Make sure your market is not undermined by the competition, free or otherwise.
  • Economics 101: (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2003 @07:46PM (#6954035)
    Never compete with a free product to begin with.
  • by MoralHazard (447833) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @07:48PM (#6954049)
    I'm torn on whether to be surprised by this--the Economist has run stories before (there was one last issue on the SCO deal) that seem to be subtly, quietly favoring GNU/Linux.

    The part of me that says "I told you so" has been informed by recent experiences with managment/executives in our small business. They LOVE the fact that we run Linux on everything (well, there's a couple of BSD and Windows machines where we need them) and they never hesitate to brag about it to clients. They love feeling ahead of the curve.

    The surprised part of me read the article in the WSJ last month (on the SCO thing) that warned the "Linux crunchies" to be wary of SCO's ability to win scummy IP lawsuits. The article betrayed a complete lack of understanding of what the "Open-Source community" is (to the extent that it's anything at all). And the same execs that love having Slackware stickers on everything need to be reminded during every internal licensing audit that GNU/Linux IS free as in beer, too.

    They love it, but they don't get it. Makes me a little worried, sometimes, where they'll want to take it.
  • by snooo53 (663796) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:03PM (#6954114) Journal
    I mean really. Every time a large corporation tries to do something like this, it eventually backfires on them. Look at everything the RIAA has tried the past few years... and P2P has become even more universal in the computer world because of the publicity. They've only managed to undermine themselves by doing things to make people hate them.

    The same will be true of Microsoft... the more they attack open source software, they will undermine their own monopoly. This could end up causing a huge draw towards open source. Just like the RIAA they could have chose to embrace new technology (and ways of thinking), Microsoft could have embraced open source. Given grants to developers and kept their own business alive by forever by making good interfaces to those programs (after all, it's what they're good at). But instead, like the RIAA, they chose to go on the offensive and in the end it will kill their business if they don't change.

    So I say, bring it on Microsoft! You're only ensuring that in the future, with those tactics, Open Source will dominate the computer world, just like P2P is beginning to dominate the music distribution world.

  • by Tim Doran (910) <timmydoran.rogers@com> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:05PM (#6954129)
    hmm... except the bulk of this article was about OSS in government. Government faces many of the same cost control/performance issues as private enterprise, but government is NOT a business.

    Government must consider its responsibility to the people - locking its data in proprietary formats doesn't meet that responsibility. Heck, even if OSS winds up costing more than proprietary solutions, it's the right thing for government to do, since publicly-owned information will be available long after anyone can get their hands on a copy of some long-defunct proprietary software.

    The other point the article made was that this trend in government could trigger a trend in business, since there's a huge private sector that serves government.
  • by MoralHazard (447833) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:07PM (#6954139)
    Whoa, pally--for some of "us" (as in, people who read slashdot), it's NOT about a principle. At all. It's totally, entirely, wholly about money. And is that bad?

    We use GNU/Linux at work because it works really well for the small-to-medium environment we have. There are a gazillion more choices with Linux than with MS, and it's rare (in my experience, anyway) to find any specific apps at this level where OS can't do it better or equally well.

    Open source software (in our environment, for the tasks we have, and as we use it) installs fast, it's user friendly once you get to know it, and there's no license management, vendor contracts, or other ancillary bullshit to make headaches. It's just so simple, so easy, and it works so well.

    That's about the money, BTW, because time is money. GNU/Linux is a cheaper, better alternative to MS, and that's why we use it.
  • by The Analog Kid (565327) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:13PM (#6954163)
    Principles like "free as in freedom" don't come into play when you're talking about the bottom line. It does when your the client and you like the principal.
  • by ekuns (695444) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:22PM (#6954190) Journal

    I wish the zealots would at least concede that much before blasting the horrible , horrible, evil, closed, proprietary software.

    Um, are you missing the definition of the word "zealot"? By definition, zealots on either side of the issue will concede nothing! To misquite The Princess Bride, "I don't think that word means what you think it means."

    Sadly, I think it's human nature to look for a panacea. We never learn. There IS no panacea. (And all absolute statements are wrong.) I tend to advise people to be pragmatic in their zealotry. It's a good think I like to hear myself talk, because zealots don't like listen....

    Eddie the Penguin (as I'm known at work)

  • Well... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:23PM (#6954193)
    "Obviously" he doesn't run a business... maybe. But you "obviously" don't run a government. I work for one. It's non-profit. So much for your "bottom line" theory.

    Microsoft, and you, shall both adapt. Or become extinct. Just like Munich, we are going to pay more money to have interoperability. Because it's cheaper and has better ROI in the long run.
  • by sean23007 (143364) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:25PM (#6954205) Homepage Journal
    Microsoft and its allies have sought to discredit open-source software, likening its challenge of proprietary ownership to communism and suggesting that its openness makes it insecure and therefore vulnerable to terrorism.

    More strikingly, Microsoft has been imitating the ways of the open-source "community". Last year, the firm launched a "shared source" initiative that allows certain approved governments and large corporate clients to gain access to most of the Windows software code, though not to modify it. This is intended, in part, to assuage the fears of foreign governments that Windows might contain secret security backdoors.

    So, they're saying that the openness of the code makes it less secure and vulnerable to terrorism, while at the same time opening their source to prove that it isn't secure... If they willingly admit that open code can be verified as more secure, how can they accuse Open Source software as being inherently less secure because it is open? And how come nobody calls them on that?
  • by malfunct (120790) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:39PM (#6954254) Homepage
    Last I checked there were plenty of people working on completely closed proprietary software projects that are not owned by Microsoft. Microsoft really doesn't complete in THAT many markets, only the ones where you need billions of copies of the software. There are lots of less common pieces of software that MS has no interest in.
  • by big-magic (695949) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:01PM (#6954341)
    Although governments will mention many reasons for using Linux or *BSD, I think one of the primary drivers will be security. I'm not talking about security in terms of viruses or trojans, but about national security.

    Let's face it. Most governments don't trust each other as far as they can throw the Statue of Liberty. Even allied countries spy upon each other. So, you know it must scare the hell out of most countries to get a large part of their critical computer infrastructure from a company in foreign country. Especially when they can't even see the source code. I know that if Microsoft was located in Europe that the US government would worry about this. I have no idea whether anyone has ever tampered with Windows code for spying. But you know the paranoid security agencies in most countries will worry about this. And nothing that Microsoft can say will stop them from worrying about this. Even if Microsoft gave them the source code and they built their own Windows code, the compiler could be altered to secretly add malicious code. One of the Turing award lectures (I think it was Ken Thompson) talked about such bugging of compilers.

    Of course, using a free operation system will bring other benefits. And from a public relations standpoint, those are the reasons they will admit publically. But let's face it. A lot of this comes down to national security concerns. Even if the various governments don't admit it.
  • by eniu!uine (317250) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:03PM (#6954347)
    According to the article, IDC said total government software expenditure worldwide was $17b, but Microsoft's share was only 2.8b. What other software are they buying?

  • Re:Stop the FUD (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AchilleTalon (540925) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:04PM (#6954350) Homepage
    The goal of the government is not to save money. It's to provide basic services common to all citizen, like justice administration, vote laws to regulate relations between entities, provide security, education, health care system, collect garbages, etc.

    And, BTW, doing it at the best price.

    So, there is absolutely no contradiction in the mission of a government making mandatory OSS for its administration and the price tag. Making OSS a requirement is not necessarily related to the sole price consideration. As the example of Munich is showing us.

  • by krymsin01 (700838) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:15PM (#6954381) Homepage Journal
    Personaly, I think that eventualy the demands of interconnectivity between diverse networks will force it to happen. I think what we are about to see in the next ten years is a fracturing of the software world, but the data fromats are going to become increasingly homogenized to the make up for the difference in software preference.

    Just speculation, though.

  • by sniggly (216454) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:38PM (#6954442) Journal
    "controlling destiny" doesn't generally come into play. Things like initial cost, maintenance, training, support, downtime, possible upgrades, etc are things that I consider when I buy software.

    That's exactly what controlling destiny means. It's not just an obi wan kenobi thing you know... And you might not be a programmer but getting source code and being able to tweak it should be HIGH on your list if you're in any tech business.

    I'm glad the founding fathers thought a little different. Or did they have excess disposable income that they created such convenient constitutional freedoms?

  • by sniggly (216454) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:58PM (#6954496) Journal
    MS happens to be one of the largest advertizers on the economist.
  • by brian woolstrum (129212) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @10:34PM (#6954613)
    It isn't the only thing that nobody calls them on (at least not publicly)

    How about what can they do to prove the code their showing is really the source to what they are shipping?

    For being vulnerable to terrorism, (through virtual channels) how many spies work inside of Microsoft? There doesn't seem to be any agency of any government on the planet that can keep out foreign spies, why would anybody think that there aren't any inside of Microsoft.

    Another potential vulnerability, what is Microsoft's build process? How many locations can build Windows and the various update patches? For all we know, maybe it only gets built in Redmond. If that is the case, what would have happened if instead of taking out the WTC, they took out MS Headquarters and with it the ability to create windows patches. Here is another sticky little scenario: right before unleashing a few nasty worms and viruses, knock out power to the nortwestern portion of the US for a week or so.
  • by jpetts (208163) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @11:56PM (#6954955)
    Quote from the article: Jason Matusow, Microsoft's shared-source manager, says that developing software requires leadership and an understanding of customer needs?both areas where proprietary-software companies excel.

    This is one of the factors that ensure that Microsoft will ultimately lose the battle against open source: in many cases, the developer is the customer, and in every case the customer can become the developer. No proprietary-software company can win against this. Why is it that otherwise very smart people can spout nonsense like this as soon as they work for Microsoft. To a lesser extent it happens with Oracle, Sun or IBM, but it seems to me that critical faculties disappear very quickly once somebody is in the belly of the Beast of Redmond.
  • Re:Economy 101: (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gmhowell (26755) <gmhowell@gmail.com> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @11:57PM (#6954965) Homepage Journal
    Here I am, feeding the troll... Err... Leftwing whiner

    We are not supposed to base analyses of communism on failed models such as the Soviet model. Why then do you think it is any better to base an attack on a semi-failed model of US capitalism? Over the past 200 years, there have been many well-regarded economic analyses that show that only a few markets lead to a single player. Even in those cases, it is unlikely to last except when there is government support. If there is government support (and the US gov't buying tons of, say, MS operating systems IS support) you aren't talking about capitalism. You are talking of a failed attempt at capitalism.

  • by HangingChad (677530) on Sunday September 14, 2003 @12:16AM (#6955025) Homepage
    For the Economist that was a pretty honest article. Considering the crowd that was about as close to a rousing endorsement as you're likely to see.

    It's interesting to see the US being backed into positions by the rest of the world. Like foreign governments latching on to open source. Makes it glaringly obvious that our recalcitrance is a thinly veiled concession to corporate interests. That would make open source software doubly inviting overseas. In one move they can hit back at the US and Microsoft. Pretty tempting just for the value of the political statement, technology justifications aside.

    We really are our own worst enemy sometimes. I really hope we can heal the rift some day. We'll get a chance at a good start in Nov. '04, but it's going to be a long road.

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Sunday September 14, 2003 @12:43AM (#6955122) Journal
    it's hard to picture a loose collection of programmers building a serious contender to SAP or PeopleSoft's product set.

    GNUE will be a serious contender in about 2-3 years. At that point, SAP, Oracle, MS, and PeopleSoft/JDEdwards will be charging large prices for their stuff (like they are not already). GNUE will have enough time behind it to get all the core pieces in place and dissatisfied customers from the above will start backing it like Linux is today.

    OSS is a very serious contender in nearly all aspect. Most of it is simply in the process of being developed.
  • Re:Economy 101: (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris@bea u . org> on Sunday September 14, 2003 @02:21AM (#6955455)
    Spoken like an ignorant leftie that has never studied economics. Monopolies are not a result of capitalism and leading capitalist thinkers have understood their danger for at a century or two. Monopolies are almost always the result of intervention in the free marketplace by the State. However many respectable (Capitalist, as opposed to Marxist) economists will grudgingly admit to the State having both the power and the responsibility to break up Monopolies when they appear.

    Personally I'm more Libertarian than that. I hold that the only power the State should have over monopolies is to correct it's mistake that lead to it. For example in Microsoft's case the government should adopt a pure POSIX requirement in government purchasing. That and an open document interchange format would level the playing field without undue meddling in the marketplace. All the state would be doing is ceasing to assist the monopolist by using it's influence over it's subjects[1] to enforce the monopoly.

    [1] Free people are citizens, unfree ones are subjects. We stopped being a Republic over a century ago.
  • by snolan (604108) on Sunday September 14, 2003 @08:02AM (#6956200) Homepage
    From the article:
    • Oracle, the world's second-largest software company, need not worry (yet) about governments switching to open-source alternatives to its database software.

    I disagree, at least for small databases that are OLTP in nature. Postgress and MySQL both have duplicated all the relevant featurs of Sybase/Oracle/DB2, and at a fraction of the cost in systems - let along license fees.

    I am guessing that just as Linux has eaten the low end sales of HP-UX, Solaris, Irix, classic AIX, and Digital UNIX systems - MySQL and Postgress will much on the soft underbelly of database software (OLTP servers with 4 database engines or fewer that have database footprints of less than 100GB).

    Scaleability, and a few decision support features are all that are left and this "battle" will have been won, and the only Oracle can do is a holding action much like IBM Mainframes have done against desktop computers.

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