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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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  • by Lips (26363) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @07:38PM (#6953993) Homepage Journal
    I don't mind if govt uses open source or not. The best product for the situation should be used. What I do want do see is "open" document formats to allow them to switch software providers easily.
  • Mainstream Gets It (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hbo (62590) * on Saturday September 13, 2003 @07:40PM (#6954005) Homepage
    To have this analysis show up in The Economist rather than Slashdot or LWN, etc, is a bad omen for Microsoft.

    It's just as easy to lie as to tell the truth. What's hard is keeping the lie standing long enough to fool your target. The truth takes less energy to maintain.
  • So what? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2003 @07:43PM (#6954024)
    Microsoft is business; businesses must always compete hardball for government contracts, in any sector, be it software, hardware, equipment, construction. It's no surprise that it's offering special deals to preserve it's market share, that's what you'd expect any business to do.

    There are many businesses behind the open source movement: Red Hat, IBM, Sun. Don't doubt that they aren't competing just as hard for the same contracts. And open source has a big advantage over Microsoft - the number of vocal advocates that are willing to promote it without payment. In fact, you'll find many of them here on Slashdot.
  • by aussersterne (212916) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @07:44PM (#6954029) Homepage
    there are many areas where proprietary products are still far superior

    Yes, but considering the progress of OSS over the last decade, given time and continued success this will soon no longer be the case. It is only a matter of time before OSS dominates in 90% of market niches.

    That's what Microsoft is afraid of: the democratization of computing. Everyone must have access to the law; that is what the corrupt fear. In the same way, everyone must have access to software and information; that is what the software companies and IP cartels fear.
  • Closed format (Score:5, Insightful)

    by timelady (566419) <timeladyNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @07:48PM (#6954050) Homepage
    It was interesting that the various governments are interested in alternatives, in large part, because of the storage of information in proprietory format. This would only be enhanced by the latest proposed MSOffice document format being incompatible with even previous versions. But the best bit, imho is that the article metnions three groups/professions to benefit most from the move to Open Source: " large consultancy firms and systems integrators, such as IBM, which will be called in to devise and install alternative products; firms such as Red Hat or SuSE, which sell Linux-based products and services; and numerous small, local technology firms that can tailor open-source products for governmental users.numerous small, local technology firms that can tailor open-source products for governmental users". Hmm, don't critics of Open Source always say no way to make money from such a 'socialist/communist/root of all evil/hippy' model? And gee, helping small businesses, especially IT based ones, expand, profit, and employ more people, is HIGH on all government wish lists. Great to see an intelligent analysis in a respected magazine, too.
  • by FunWithHeadlines (644929) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @07:49PM (#6954053) Homepage
    Microsoft doesn't get it. They can put as much money as they want into their internal "slush" fund in order to match Linux on price. They can fund as many studies as they want that "find" Windows is cheaper. It won't matter. Choosing FOSS is not just about money. In fact, it's mostly NOT about money. It's about a principle: freedom.

    Governments want the freedom to set their own technology course, not be dependent upon a proprietary software company that is beholden first of all to its shareholders. Governments want the security of knowing precisely what their machines are running on, by checking the code themselves. Governments want the abililty to set their own upgrade schedule, not wait until a company tells them the new version is ready. Governments want the ability to squash bugs immediately, not just when a company decides that bug is worth fixing instead of just adding new features.

    Microsoft is so focused on winning the bottom line that they don't seem to have caught on to the biggest appeal of FOSS: Not free as in cost, but free as in speech. It's a principle that individuals find appealing, and now governments are finding that this freedom works for them as well. So no matter what Microsoft does, they can never compete on those terms. It's a principle now. Game over.

  • by Xenothaulus (587382) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @07:50PM (#6954060) Homepage
    "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."

    An understanding of customer needs.

    Exactly why governments are gravitating towards open-source, according to the article. They can tailour the code to suit their needs, instead of expressing thier needs to a company and then waiting for the product.

  • by FunWithHeadlines (644929) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @07:55PM (#6954079) Homepage
    " No, YOU don't get it. You obviously don't run a business. Principles like "free as in freedom" don't come into play when you're talking about the bottom line. That's a very, very naive viewpoint."

    Do tell. In fact, you have no idea what I do for a living, and your assumptions are laughable from where I am sitting. In fact, "free as in freedom" is directly applicable to the bottom line when you can control the destiny of the software your business depends on. While Microsoft tells you where you are going today, those who control their own software get to make that business decision themselves.

    And THAT is what helps you pay your bills.

  • by Tim Doran (910) <timmydoran.rogers@com> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @07:57PM (#6954087)
    hmm... I question your 90% number. Proprietary software tends to drive focus where the money is. OSS tends to drive focus where the work is interesting.

    So while OSS continues to make great inroads in the OS space, for example (lots of interesting work there), it's hard to picture a loose collection of programmers building a serious contender to SAP or PeopleSoft's product set. They're not interesting enough projects to inspire passion in peoples' free time, at least not the the necessary degree. And there's a LOT of money/effort spent on this dull sort of software.

    And I don't necessarily think that's important. Consider that ESR is driven by ideology: the chief benefits of computing should be available to everyone, regardless of thier ability to pay. That means operating systems and desktop applications, the web browser in particular. It means a great web server, a selection of good-to-great databases etc, all via OSS. It means everything important to the operation of the internet, which must never be owned by a corporation.

    There will be plenty of niches still best filled by proprietary applications, and I think that's okay.

    Random musings of the very tired...
  • by pr0ntab (632466) <pr0ntab@NOsPam.gmail.com> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @07:59PM (#6954095) Journal
    of a head's up to anyone who hasn't read the headlines on Slashdot, CNet, or google for the last 18 months or so.

    I think what's more telling is that it is sitting there in the Economist. Now you just have to wait for it to show up in Business Week as an editorial piece, and then It Must Be True, at least to managerial types of various calibers.

    The Economist has this characterization of being for people who have their finger on the pulse of things; who are levelheaded and are already in the know, so it may sort of be preaching to the choir. It's pretty spin free, so that awkward quote from the Microsoft rep "being customer-focused" sort of stands out, and I think that was intentional.

    Microsoft doesn't customer-focus unless you're entering a partnership agreement with them. Otherwise your wants and needs are averaged out across the board and shipped in a Service Pack. Meanwhile the article puts that quote agaisnt the backdrop of how open-source is being chosen precisely because it's easy to tailor for what you need.

    And you don't have to be a slashdotter to appreciate that irony. It's all right there.
  • Re:Economy 101: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Frymaster (171343) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:05PM (#6954125) Homepage Journal
    Make sure your market is not undermined by the competition, free or otherwise.

    well put. i am tired of hearing that capitalism is based on competition and risk. it isn't. capitalism is based on mitigating risk as much as possible and eliminating the competition if feasible. all capitalist systems tend towards monopolism naturally.

  • MS in Denial (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:09PM (#6954143)
    One of the items that often gets ignored in Microsoft's thinking is this: They were a small company with many competitors and Operating Systems were many and varied and had their niche; MS has changed the world by the proliferation of its operating system(s) and made it part of the INFRASTRUCTURE on which society relies. Once you control the infrastructure, you can't behave like MS currently is behaving - or the people and Governments will look for alternatives.

    They changed the world, but unfortunately, they can't change themselves and herein lies the biggest of their problems.

    The last statement in the article "But the signs are that many of them have already made up their minds." is very telling. Once you have known MS's past behavior, you know why they made up their minds.
  • by hbo (62590) * on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:09PM (#6954144) Homepage
    Well, the idea that OSS can compete with Microsoft is relatively new in the mainstream. But what I was referring to was the analysis of why a government entity might consider OSS to be superior to proprietary. Those are ideas that have some weight attached to them. specifically:
    • Massive peer review makes OSS more secure than comparable closed source products
    • Proprietary document formats raise issues when government information is stored using them.
    • When a government IT infrastructure is completely dependent on a (possibly foreign) corporation whose (proper) concern is shareholder value, it raises questions about the ability of the government to persue (properly) different goals using that infrastructure.



    • I've seen these issues well reported in the nerd community, but this is the first time I've read it in The Economist. Their circulation, shall we say, differs substantially from the user list at Slashdot. I think the ideas carry even more weight with decision makers in government and elsewhere when a mainstream publication like the Economist publishes them. And that, I think, is bad news for Microsoft.
  • by Black Parrot (19622) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:09PM (#6954148)


    > Lets not forget the biggest problem with open source software. It directly relates to the high unemployment rate currently being experienced in the tech sector. Programmers by the millions are unemployed because communists are undermining the great American capitalist economy by GIVING their software away. How do you expect to get work as a programmer when some guy next door is giving away the software for free? It's outright piracy and should be banned in the United States.

    The problem with your fantasy is that if not for FOSS the world market would have almost completely converged on Microsoft products by now, and there wouldn't be any programming jobs anyway unless you happened to land a job with Microsoft.

    And it's not like they'd need a lot of programmers once the competition was completely crushed, either.

    [Actually there will always be a need for people to program up special-purpose systems that can't be bought off the shelf or downloaded for the net, and those jobs will be there whether FOSS is available for free or not.]

  • by FunWithHeadlines (644929) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:12PM (#6954156) Homepage
    That's fine, it can be about the money for some people. All I'm saying is that there are some institutions that now turn away from closed-source out of principle. That's not you? Fine. But it is for some, and Microsoft will never be able to defeat that.

  • by koa (95614) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:21PM (#6954186)
    Actually, they did try to mung up the HTML standard. But not very sucessfully. Ever see "This page best viewed with MS IE v4.5 or better" ??

    They incorporated all sorts of browser specific code that only works on IE in the hopes that they could curtail the HTML standard into their own bastardised version of it.

    Thanks to Mozilla, Opera, Konqueror we didnt completely go down that road.

  • by Skapare (16644) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:26PM (#6954209) Homepage

    Microsoft thinks open source is anti-competitive? That's certainly not the case. There are multiple vendors of Linux, including big players like IBM, Novell, Redhat, SGI, Sun, and SuSE. And there are multitudes of small players. And if Linux isn't the best for you, there are other fully interoperable alternatives such as FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD that are open source, and still more like AIX and Solaris, that are proprietary. Looks like plenty of competition to me.

    The problem is Microsoft doesn't want to be in a posititon of having to choose between losing sales or losing a lock on customers. Even if Microsoft were to have been an early adopter of Linux, they would never be able to gain a total market domination in it. And they know this. Microsoft's big fear is having to scale back to what a competitive market really means.

  • by bgarrett (6193) <garrett@ m e m e s i s . o rg> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:27PM (#6954213) Homepage
    You obviously don't run a business where your software depended on a specific environment, which the vendor (Microsoft) has made obsolete, or has "patched" into utter brokenness. Freedom is important when you need a stable base for applications, because freedom comes with the ability to accept upgrades, or to stay where you are because what you have is what works best for you.

    This can even happen in the Linux world (with a lot of people complaining about RH's updates policy, when they're happily running RH7.3 machines).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:32PM (#6954228)
    That said, open-source is no panacea, and there are many areas where proprietary products are still far superior.

    Please notice the word "still"...
  • by ekuns (695444) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:37PM (#6954245) Journal

    Programmers by the millions are unemployed because communists are undermining the great American capitalist economy by GIVING their software away. How do you expect to get work as a programmer when some guy next door is giving away the software for free? It's outright piracy and should be banned in the United States.

    Wow. So it's Open Source that's causing the extinction of the Great American Programmer? Working at a company which is oursourcing coding to another country on the different side of a large ocean, I don't know that Open Source even registers on the radar as to why people are out of work. Please.

    And communist? You completely miss the whole business model of open source. And you seem to be under the impression that open source is something recent, when in fact it is as old as programming, the only difference is that now non-programmers are talking about it. Not to mention that name calling is the last argument of those who have no real argument.

    Besides, this "Great American Capitalist economy" is being weakened by a government that not only encourages wage deflation in the tech sector, but is actively participating is the process.

    But that's OK. You can blame open source if you just want to be angry and have something to rant about that doesn't require much thought or investigation.

  • by hbo (62590) * on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:42PM (#6954268) Homepage
    I don't think underestimating Microsoft is advisable. I think they do get the true nauture of OSS and the threat it poses to their businesses. They are trying to answer as many of those threats as they can. Linux threatens Microsoft on many fronts. One is price, and not just on the initial purchase. So they have a fund that can be used to ensure they lose no deals to Linux based on price. But as the Economist points out, Munich took Microsoft's "cheaper than Linux" offer and told them to keep it. There are other areas where they are having a hard time responding to the Linux threat. They can't match the massive peer review advantage of OSS without becoming a completely different company. But they can partially answer the advantage of open source code. Thus, their "shared source" program was born. Along with this goes FUD claiming that the peer review advantage of OSS is actually a weakness because bad guys can look at the source too. This probably plays well for them, but since it isn't true, it will only be useful for a while. Similarly, Microsoft spreads FUD about intellectual property in Linux. And in the same way, once the SCO suit is dealt with, they won't be able to use that angle either.

    So judging by their responses, I'd say Microsoft "gets it" completely. They are perhaps the most clever, and ruthless, practicioners of marketing the world has ever seen. Underestimate them at your peril!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:43PM (#6954270)
    You obviously don't run a business.

    And from the sounds of it, neither do you - at least not a successful one.

    Principles like "free as in freedom" don't come into play when you're talking about the bottom line.

    They should. Really.

    That's a very, very naive viewpoint.

    Yours, or his? Your viewpoint is so totally closed-minded it's unbelievable.

    I don't give a flying shit about "free as in freedom" when I have bills to pay

    You should. If your business uses computers, then you should care very much about "free as in freedom" - because it directly affects your bottom line.

    The company I work for is (like many others right now) having a hard time making ends meet - and my department (the only one that uses Free software) is the only one turning a profit.. in fact, we are the only reason the company is still in business. I attribute this directly to Free software.

    If someone in my department needs a feature or bug fixed for an app on his/her desktop, we are free to add that - we don't have to send a feature request to another company, wait a year or so for them to implement it (and hope that it gets done the way we want), and then have the "pleasure" of re-buying that software.

    If a customer says "boy, I wish your product would do X", we're not saddled with contacting some mysterious upstream vendor, and begging politely for them to implement it, so that we can start rolling it out, and (finally) charge the customer. Instead, we say "we'll get right on that", write the necessary code, and start billing.

    I doubt that most other companies, unless they're awash in profits, do either.

    This is the most telling.. Perhaps you hadn't noticed, but such companies are awash in profits because they care about Freedom (at least their own.)

    Think about it: MS, the biggest company that comes to mind when you say "awash in profits", is profitable precisely because they have freedom over their own code. And because they religiously deny that freedom to others, those others are typically not as profitable.

    If you really are a businessperson, you should open your eyes, and take a long, hard, look at what you're doing - because your view of Free software is probably part of why you're not as successful as you could be.
  • Re:So what? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by westlake (615356) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:45PM (#6954281)
    And open source has a big advantage over Microsoft - the number of vocal advocates that are willing to promote it without payment. In fact, you'll find many of them here on Slashdot

    Something of a mixed blessing, I think.

  • by swillden (191260) * <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:46PM (#6954284) Homepage Journal

    No, YOU don't get it. You obviously don't run a business. Principles like "free as in freedom" don't come into play when you're talking about the bottom line.

    You're offtopic. We're talking about government, not business, and government does have priorities beyond the "bottom line" (which governments don't even *have*, since the phrase refers to net earnings, and governments aren't profit-generating entities).

    Continuing your off-topic direction, I also disagree that businesses find no value in avoiding lock-in, and the freedom to find a new "vendor" at any moment is a direct effect of the "free as in freedom" principle, even if CIOs won't typically recognize the connection. Some other salutary effects of freedom on the bottom line are freedom from BSA audits, elimination of the overhead of managing licenses and the ability to get critical defects corrected on your schedule, not the supplier's.

  • Re:Economy 101: (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:50PM (#6954292)
    It's Economics 101. Not Economy.

  • by ekuns (695444) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:51PM (#6954301) Journal

    an open documents format would be suicide for company like Microsoft.

    In the short term, Microsoft generates lock-in and better profits with their proprietary file formats. In the long run, they are their worst enemy. Notice that PDF, as a format, is 100% backward compatible in that you can load EVERY PDF document ever made with current generation PDF viewers. With Word, there are a significant number of documents from old versions of the software that will not load in current versions.

    Companies and governments are starting to notice the cost of having to convert every single document to a newer format every couple years. Or the alternative cost of losing history and having old documents become unreadable. Where I work we've begun to have problems with all kinds of proprietary file formats (for making ASICs for example) where the company has gone out of business. I don't have confidence in code escrow schemes as a proprietary alternative.

    The issue of file formats is a real one.

  • Mixed feelings (Score:3, Insightful)

    by stwrtpj (518864) <p@stewart.comcast@net> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:52PM (#6954305) Journal

    As much as an advocate as I am for open source software, and a supporter of free software though not an outright fanatic about it, I have mixed feelings about the mandating of open source in government or any other area.

    The problem with mandates like this is that it, in a way, sanctions monopoly. Monopoly by open source/free software may not sound like such a bad thing, but I personally have a bad reaction to anything that presents a choice as my only choice.

    Example: There are forms of pornography that I find particularly repulsive (not talking obviously illegal stuff like pedophilia, but just things between consenting adults that would make my hair curl looking at it). However, that doesn't give me the right to mandate that YOU can't look at it. Moreover, if someone on high decreed "you can no longer look at this", I would fight it. Even though I have no intention of looking at this stuff, I made that choice, not someone else, and I would fight for the continued right to make that choice.

    I use open source software almost exclusively. My desktop runs Linux. My wife made the choice to try Linux and now runs it exclusively on her laptop. But that's our choice, not someone else's mandate. Yes, I would love to see the whole world go open source. But it has to happen by choice, not by mandate.

  • Re:Stop the FUD (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:52PM (#6954306)
    Yes, Microsoft is just another vendor

    But In order to provide what government need, it need to be open standard, allow government to switch to other product easier later.

    If Microsoft will provide the open standard format of .doc and . ppt file. Maybe MS Office will have a chance in the future.
  • by stwrtpj (518864) <p@stewart.comcast@net> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:58PM (#6954332) Journal
    What I do want do see is "open" document formats to allow them to switch software providers easily.

    In another post, I stated that I did not want to see a mandate of open source software, but a mandate that I could live with and see the benefits of would be exactly this, a mandate that document standards (and, I would add, communications standards) be open.

    Unlike the mandate of open source, a mandate of open standards would not be open to the risk of a legally enforced monopoly. Quite the contrary, it would make it much more difficult for a monopoly to be established. Anyone could implement the standard, whether proprietary or open source. Then the consumer could be left with a clear choice. With no vendor lock-in, the playing field would be truly level.

  • by whereiswaldo (459052) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:59PM (#6954333) Journal
    hmm... I question your 90% number. Proprietary software tends to drive focus where the money is. OSS tends to drive focus where the work is interesting.

    Who says development of free software has to be free? Money can potentially be made developing open source software, as long as the source code is then distributed under open source license terms.

    Say a government which has mandated OSS needs a certain application written for which there is not existing project. They pay someone to write it, and release it to the open source community. Or, ventures between governments could split the cost and share the results.
  • by C10H14N2 (640033) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:08PM (#6954364)
    Plus, we'd be indirectly supporting the effort of another, possibly communist country.

    Shit, so much for using Linux. Damned scandanavian socialist pinko bastards are just taking over the world. First they gave us reliable celluar phones, then reliable OS kernels. If we don't stop them, they might bring us other scourges like affordable healthcare and pensions. They must be stopped.

    Next thing you know will be trading with China. Oh, wait... In other news, the Senate just voted to allow Americans to travel to Cuba. The red hordes are coming. Trust no one.
  • Re:Economy 101: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:17PM (#6954383) Journal
    Yes all. Money makes money faster than hard work or good ideas.
  • by the gnat (153162) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:23PM (#6954400)
    Nice troll. Free markets do not imply the complete lack of government regulation; the government does not favor or promote any particular party, but certainly may set ground rules. I suspect even the most diehard economic conservatives would admit that we need institutions like the SEC to prevent fraud. Much of the modern concept of capitalism and free markets was developed in opposition to the mercantilist system, where the government dictated the terms by which the marketplace operated. A "liberal" economic system, on the other hand, does not have artificial barriers to entry. (Yes, you too may produce a copyrighted work of software, and there's no price to do so.)

    In the absence of copyrights, companies such as Microsoft would have found vastly more restrictive ways to keep their products proprietary. We would, no doubt, be using non-open PCs that required a vendor license, and would require a special personalized dongle for every single application. You'd see product activation schemes that would make Windows XP look pathetically simple. Massive organizations such as Microsoft would be able to finance such a regime, but small vendors trying to get started would not, and without copyright they would be at the mercy of bigger fish.

    In the context of government adoption, I don't see any incompatibility between free markets and official adoption of open source. The government, as a paying customer, may select whichever criteria it wants for purchasing software. A non-free market approach would be to mandate that all software imported to that country must be open-source, or that all software bought by the government must be made in that country. So Microsoft's complaints are pretty pathetic, particularly since they don't address the very serious problem of designed incompatability and non-standard formats.

    Your comparison to slavery is particularly offensive, by the way. No one is forcing you to listend to pop music or use Microsoft products, so stop whining about how The System is trying to keep you down.
  • by soloport (312487) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:24PM (#6954401) Homepage
    Apache runs 2/3 of the HTTP servers on the internet.

    No, Apache is not content-centric. In simple terms, it's a "file fetcher". It speaks HTTP. Apache delivers what ever "content" it is requested to [GET | POST | PUT] -- if it deems it a legitimate request.

    What has helped keep the Internet out of monopolistic harm's way has been the influence of multiple, larger forces: AOL/Time/Warner, educational institutions, govenment organizations, standards groups, etc.

    Microsoft may be the largest software entity in terms of revenue, but it is not the largest entity in terms of influence.

    Thank the gods for that!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:24PM (#6954402)
    I think M$ only has domination in desktop.
    And government not only using desktop computers.
  • Re:Closed format (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:27PM (#6954413)
    ...numerous small, local technology firms that can tailor open-source products for governmental users

    This is an important issue, from a political standpoint. Instead of the government sending their money to Microsoft, which would just be a net loss, they can spend it in the local economy and provide jobs and incomes to local workers. This not only helps politicians stay in office, but can also help create local software industries and development in undeveloped countries. A feedback loop is the result, where the development is spent locally, which helps generate skills, which allows more development to happen locally, which generates more skills, and so on.
  • Re:Mixed feelings (Score:4, Insightful)

    by the gnat (153162) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:29PM (#6954416)
    The problem with mandates like this is that it, in a way, sanctions monopoly.

    How? It's not like IBM or RedHat is the only company in the field. An open-source mandate of the sort being discussed only makes certain requirements of software being purchased by the government. Classified installations have their own requirements for software - is it creating a monopoly environment for the DoD to dictate that software engineering must be done in Ada, or that OSes pass security certification for specific uses? Microsoft would be free to compete in the same arena if it open-sourced Windows.

    I don't much care whether governments require open-source. Like many other people here, however, I do very strongly care about them requiring open formats so that I can use whatever software I want - but by your standards, that too would be creating monopoly conditions.
  • by argoff (142580) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:44PM (#6954460)

    The flaw with your argument is the assumption that rights, especially property rights, come about because of government, or derive from the consent of the governed. This is not true, the only thing that derives from the consent of the governed is the right to govern, otherwise the entire purpose of government is to secure rights that already exist independently of government and independently of social opinions. It is bacially a clever way of saying that what is right and wrong, good and bad, property and not property - is subjective. Sorry, rights are not voodoo.

    Your comparison to slavery is particularly offensive, by the way. No one is forcing you to listend to pop music or use Microsoft products, so stop whining about how The System is trying to keep you down.

    There seems to be this attitude that the suffering and losses of slaves was only something that happened "back then", was only meaningful "back then", and doesn't apply to us because we are too much in the "modern" age. I find it offensive that in the name of civilized society people just blow off, and treat as worthless, all that suffering like it could never have any pratical or meaningful value in the information age.

    You're right no one forces me to buy Microsoft products, but make no mistake - people are being forced and coerced by Microsoft and the RIAA. That's like saying that if you don't like slavery - don't own slaves !! It was a crock in that context back then, and it is a crock in this one now.

  • Re:Mixed feelings (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sniggly (216454) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @10:20PM (#6954551) Journal
    Mandating open source is like mandating tax paying people and entities to open their books so that the government can check it transparently. Even if MS has shared source how can that assuage the fears of a country like China if they can't compile that source themselves. The map is not the land, neither is the source necessarily the same source as what was compiled to create that particular application.

    I believe that it's the duty of democratic governments to mandate open source and open standards on its own hardware and in its own publications. This so that the government process can be audited by parliament instruments (meaning it's essential to the seperation of powers in the digital age) and so that all citizens and companies can interface with government without having to buy support for closed standards.

  • by The Revolutionary (694752) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @10:24PM (#6954567) Homepage Journal
    Inevitably, many are saying that while it is fine if the government uses or funds the best tool for the job, it would be wrong for the government to act on principle.

    These are principles:

    Every citizen has a right to utilize and benefit from electronic government services from the privacy of their own homes, without having to agree to an invasive and limiting EULA to acquire a "license", which can be revoked at the whim of a private corporation. The software tools which realize this right must be understandable, reliable, secure, auditable, and accessible.

    Every citizen has a legitimate expectation to access to the wealth of enabling information available electronically, for education, for health, for justice, to better themselves and help to provide a better future for their children and their children's children, in the privacy of their own homes. This access must not be only on the whim of a private corporation on the string of an invasive and limiting EULA. The software tools which realize this access must be understandable, reliable, secure, auditable, and accessible.

    The list goes on...

    We, through our government, have an obligation to, as we are able, fund the realization of these rights and legitimate expectations of our fellow citizens through the development, distribution, and deployment of Free Open Source Software.

    No longer must private entities be permitted to benefit from holding back -- monopolizing -- that right and legitimate expectation possessed by every modern person to better himself or herself, and his or her children through the increase and greater securing of knowledge, education, privacy, skill, and generally acecess to those services and goods each funds with his or her hard earned tax dollars, in this age of great information.

    There is no longer any excuse.

  • by mark-t (151149) <`markt' `at' `lynx.bc.ca'> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @10:30PM (#6954589) Journal
    Supposedly, one of the major reasons that Microsoft had for initiating their "shared source" system was to alleviate fears that the software may contain backdoors or some such thing.

    This reasoning is fatally flawed.

    Since the shared source system does not allow any organization which is given access to the source to see the *ENTIRE* codebase, nor does it grant priviledge to modify the codebase (which implies, in turn, that one cannot recompile it for their own system), how can any person outside MS realistically even tell that the source code that Microsoft has provided actually directly corresponds to the operating system running on that particular personal computer?

    The answer is that they can't. And frankly, if a company was going to be deceptive enough to put back doors into their software in the first place, you can bet your privates they'd be deceptive enough to lie about what their source code was.

    I'm not saying that Microsoft has actually done this, but they are pretending that this "shared source" system makes them look accountable, and it really doesn't.

    At least their reasoning for making the CE source available is more plausable.

  • by jc42 (318812) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @10:34PM (#6954615) Homepage Journal
    <sarcasm>It's obviously a good thing that governments are mandating the use of OSS.</sarcasm>

    Actually, there have been very few cases of governments mandating linux or any OSS. Rather, most of the stories have been about governments declaring that such software will be considered. This is something very different.

    And one could argue that the world is in a sad state when we need laws requiring that governments consider more than just one or two products. But fact is, we do need this, or in most cases the purchasing departments would only consider a very short list. And if you hadn't greased the right palms, your product wouldn't be considered at all, no matter how good or cheap it might be.

  • by jc42 (318812) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @10:47PM (#6954678) Homepage Journal
    Furthermore, to see MS's "shared source", you have to sign a NDA. This means that if you find some serious problem, you can't warn their other marks - uh, I mean customers - about it.

    And because of this, they can fix it at their leisure. Or not. Or fix it for you, and leave it in for selected other customers.

    If you're responsible for a government agency's security, you really should be aware of this, or you're not competent for your position.

  • by Mooncaller (669824) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @11:26PM (#6954857)
    Well your comment is silly because the comment you base it on is wrong.

    there are many areas

    There are a few areas were there exists a propiatary solution that is superior to any OSS solution.

    where proprietary products are still far superior

    Name any closed source package that is far superior to all OSS equvilents. Can't, do it. Why? 'cause there are none.

  • by Tony-A (29931) on Sunday September 14, 2003 @12:31AM (#6955069)
    Where I work we've begun to have problems with all kinds of proprietary file formats (for making ASICs for example) where the company has gone out of business. I don't have confidence in code escrow schemes as a proprietary alternative.

    The only way to avoid that mess is real live competition. Code escrow is essentially dead competition with a bunch of buts and maybes thrown in.

    Note that PDF is not just Adobe. There's also ghostscript and maybe others. This makes PDF a safe format to store stuff in so that you can recover it at some much later point in time. It will be better and easier to recover if Adobe is still around, but regardless of Adobe's survival and anything that Adobe does or does not do, those documents will still be readable 10, 20, 50 years from now.

    AutoDesk is much the same in that ALL of any .dwg (very proprietary format) can be exported to .dxf (very open format). (The .dxf format has been open longer than most /.ers have been alive;) Some CAD programs used to use .dxf for a file format. Those drawings would be readable by any current AutoCAD.

  • Re:Economy 101: (Score:1, Insightful)

    by yourmom16 (618766) on Sunday September 14, 2003 @01:09AM (#6955231)
    Government rarely removes monopolies. Look at the Microsoft Antitrust case. Government creates monopolies in many cases, however. Those monopolies not created by either government, FUD or vaporware, such as DeBeers, can only be eliminated through technological innovation. DeBeers' control of most of the worlds diamond mines won't keep them a monopoly much longer, now that synthetic diamonds are becoming feasible. The monopolies created by FUD, such as MS, are undermined when a much better competitor becomes well known enough, such as linux. Those created by government, such as the RIAA and the MPAA, can be eliminated by breaking the law(The company with patents on Motion Pictures around the turn of the century no longer exists, and the who moved to hollywood to escape the patents).
  • by Permission Denied (551645) on Sunday September 14, 2003 @02:16AM (#6955441) Journal
    All I'm saying is that there are some institutions that now turn away from closed-source out of principle.

    This is fine - private institutions can do whatever they want.

    However, governments cannot do whatever they want. They're spending our money.

    Let's say the state needs some program to perform a specific function. Say, they need a complex statistical analysis program to compile something out of census data. Let's say they have two choices: they can write their own program (and then open up the source for it) or they can buy a proprietary system. Say the proprietary system costs $10000 for this one-time calculation. Say developping an equivalent program requires $1000000 (and, to belay further arguments, we'll say the system they develop will only be useful for them and only this one time with their particular census data in that particular year).

    Now, which is more important? The "freedom" from opening the source for their own program, or $990000? You might say the "freedom" is more important, but it's not - part of that $990000 comes out of my salary and I do not approve of this quixotic endeavor; I question the usefulness of making such a specialized (eg, useless) program "free" (whatever is meant by that word).

    Now, I agree that in general goverments are the ideal place to replace proprietary software with open systems. But this is because most open systems cost less in the long run and I demand that my money is spent efficiently (the census data example was specifically concocted as a example of where proprietary software is less costly). If everyone (or a majority) agreed with the FSF's idea of "freedom" then governments would be obliged to migrate from proprietary systems. In certain situations, this is already the case: most people, if properly informed, would demand that all the source for any electronic voting system must be publically available with no restrictions. However, as long as the majority of people disagree with the FSF and believe that proprietary software can be legitimate, goverments are under no such ethical or political obligation and the only factor determining their choice in software should be cost.

  • Re:Mixed feelings (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Sigurd_Fafnersbane (674740) on Sunday September 14, 2003 @02:27AM (#6955478)
    The problem with mandates like this is that it, in a way, sanctions monopoly

    As long as everybody is entitled to participate I dont see how such a mandate can be said to sanction a monopoly.

    The customer defines the rules, and in this case the rules are that the customer wants to purchase a solution where it gets full control of the application after the purchase. The government might want to be able to maintain the application indefinitely and would like to be able to award contracts for maintenance and up-grades in an open tender at a later date.

    No-one bars Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, etc. from participating. The problem for M$ and enemies (I couldn't really write M$ and friends, could I?) is that currently they do not want to participate under those terms.

    If M$ had offered Munich a solution using Gnu/BSD and OpenOffice it is not impossible that they would have won the tender. If Microsoft had offered to improve OpenOffice import/export filters as part of the deal, they might even have had a very good chance of winning since they should be able to write better filters than anybody else, having access to MOffice sourcecode.

    M$ did not want to offer such a solution though since it would further undermine its monopoly.

    When your market goes away, you as a company have to evolve in order to survive. Successfull companies are the ones that are good at adapting. 15 years ago IBM had 150000 employees who were very good at selling typewriters. In 1992, a Finnish company (Nokia) was a conglomerate with a business model of producing toilet paper, pulp and rubber boots and selling these products to the Soviet Union in exchange for iron ore, oil, berries etc. Nokia could then sell these products in the west for profit. When they closed the Soviet Union, this business model evaporated overnight. Both companies have succeded in not only surviving but also to thrive and move themselves into new fields of business.

    I wonder whether M$ will be able to reinvent itself as successfully when its market goes away.

  • by pirhana (577758) on Sunday September 14, 2003 @04:07AM (#6955755)
    You dont understand the basic idea behind these goverments shift. They are going after Free/Open source softwares not just because they find it as the "best tool for the job". Instead many of them being democratic governments are going after TRANSEPRANCY and ACCOUNTABILITY. Proprietery software are not transperant inherently. Nobody knows what is there inside (may be spyware , backdoors... anything could be there). Any government which belives its actions should be transperant to the public can't use proprietory software for that reason alone. And this is the main reason why "zealots" demand for mandatory free software usage in government.
  • Re:Economy 101: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nnnneedles (216864) on Sunday September 14, 2003 @07:55AM (#6956192)
    "Everything is the states fault".

    Spoken like a true ignorant rightie.

    Blaming the MS monopoly or other monopolies for that matter (in Sweden there is a sugar monopoly) on the state, is so dumb my eyes hurt.

  • Re:Economy 101: (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 14, 2003 @08:54AM (#6956324)
    Hmmm... Free Market Monopolies (as opposed to legal Monopolies where the state simply takes the entire field to himself) are not almost always the result of state intervention.
    Free Market Monopolies can result from privatisation of previous state monopolies, but they, too are a result of the internal dynamics of a free market, especially a far from equillibrum market with very rapid development and few established structures, like the software market was and still is.

    The state now has first the task to serve the citizens. We find that letting the market organize itself is often an excellent way to do that.
    Thus often what is good for the market is good for the people.
    But that is only often and not always. In case of monopolies this breaks down. And in many many other cases as well.
    The principle guideline of state action is to benefit the people. The state represents the people and their interessts.

    Now for your abusive usage of the term freedom. Sure it's nice to be free from goverment intervention. And to be free from healthcare if you can't afford it, and to be free from any social net if the market doesn't like your skills.
    And does the market make you free to do the job you are best at? That suits you? Does the free market make you free as an individual to become a good human being by whatever meassure you wish to apply?
    Or does the free market just make you a good subject to it's own self regulatory forces which produce an ideal balanced state.... ideal and bvalanced by it's internal unhuman (literaly) logic?

    Your conception of freedom is skewed and naive. Taking bread from the guys in the palace and giving it to the guy who starves on the street, doesn't decrease any relevant freedom of the former and frees the later of hunger.

    Freedom is a balance. There are many systems and forces limiting our development as free humans. a to strong state does, and a too strong market does as well.
    Bith the state and the market are essentially inhuman as they are essentially automated procedures. They are the inhuman structures of our society, and those need to be kept at bay, used against each other to maximize our human freedom.

    True Freedom then is the absence of both, a free market and a state.
    And that is of course communism as Marx originaly formulated it.
    What travesty to try to achieve this utopia by increasing the state, through planned economy!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 14, 2003 @12:48PM (#6957457)
    Yes, and there are (were) many very useful and, yes, superior proprietary products that are no longer available because the distributor decided to take them off the market. They have been replaced by newer "improved" versions that are not what the customer wants, or are pushed out of the market by a larger competitor (e.g. DR-DOS). Open-source products protect my investment in hardware, software and data. If the developer loses interest in it, I can support it myself, rely on other open-source folks to do it, or even pay to have somebody do it for me. For an out-of-support proprietary product, such as Office 95, I don't have the legal option to do so, nor the necessary materials (source code) that would be required. So all the data has to be converted to the "new" format (even if the auto-converter works, that's non-value-added staff time), the new software versions have to be paid for, and perfectly good hardware must be replaced to handle the load imposed by an "upgrade" that I wouldn't need but for incompatibility with those who do have newer stuff. For these same reasons, I prefer my tax money be spent on long-lived open source solutions, not a biennial tribute payments to the pirates of Redmond.

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