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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@noSpaM.gmail.com> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @07:35PM (#6953967) Homepage Journal
    Make sure your market is not undermined by the competition, free or otherwise.
    • 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.

      • At a higher level of abstraction, capitalism is darwinian.
        The zero-sum games balance out in the long run.
        While the trend of world governments away from MS is alarming, particularly if there is a lot of MSFT in your portfolio, it really is a cause of rejoicing for the rest of us.
        The death of the 800 pound gorilla will foment a golden age of IT employment. Somebody has to figure out what to do with the bazillion different configurations that are going to come out of all this.
        Massive Shift! Multi-lateral
      • Re:Economy 101: (Score:5, Informative)

        by Citizen of Earth (569446) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @10:35PM (#6954619)
        Lots of people rag on "captialism" without realizing that what they are complaining about is the shortfallings of our own systems from being capitalistic. Government intervention is necessary to remove corruptions like monopolization from the system. And "we, the people" are needed to remove corruption from the government.
      • 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.

      • Re:Economy 101: (Score:4, Interesting)

        by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris.beau@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.
        • Re:Economy 101: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by nnnneedles (216864)
          "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.

  • Interesting (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bame Flait (672982) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @07:35PM (#6953969)
    Looks like the Department of Defense has actuallygiven the nod [egovos.org]to open source - or at least recognized its existence.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Some foreign national cyber-terrorist could include malicious code in our govermental code. Think of the security implications. Plus, we'd be indirectly supporting the effort of another, possibly communist country. The majority of Microsoft's money comes from the US government, their biggest client. To paraphrase Harry S. Truman, "What's good for Microsoft is good for the United States."
  • 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.
    • by trompete (651953) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @07:41PM (#6954017) Homepage Journal
      That's all good for us as end-users and customers, but an open documents format would be suicide for company like Microsoft.
      I'm glad that Opera, Mozilla...etc,etc,etc and Apache server kept Microsoft from controlling the HTML standards completely!!
      • I'm glad that Opera, Mozilla...etc,etc,etc and Apache server kept Microsoft from controlling the HTML standards completely!!

        Apache, maybe (although I have no idea what Apache has to do with HTML), but Opera and Mozilla? Are you fucking kidding? With something along the lines of 3% usage, how can you say they've had *anything* to do with influencing standards? That's insane.
        • Apache runs 2/3 of the HTTP servers on the internet. Check out their site [apache.org] or look at netcraft to see the facts. Microsoft is the minority when it comes to web servers; therefore, open standards can still exist.
          As far as the other browsers being such a small part of the market, their share will only grow as more people use Linux and OS X. Microsoft can make IE as proprietary as they want, but it won't matter at all if Apache is delivering the content.
          • I think what the guy was saying re: although I have no idea what Apache has to do with HTML was that Apache, as an HTTP server, has nothing to do with HTML, the document format, in the same way that Apache has nothing to do with the GIF format, the JPEG format, or any other MIME type (nothing to do other than serve it up, that is).
          • 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 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.

      • 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

        • 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.

    • by stwrtpj (518864) <p.stewart@comcast.PARISnet minus city> 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.

  • 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.
    • The article says essentially, "Microsoft has competition". It doesn't imply, nor do I believe, that they're in any trouble whatsoever. They're just not able to stomp all over the competition so freely anymore (although, they do still stomp the shit out of Linux in 99% of their markets, I'm sure).
      • 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.
    • The economist is hardly mainstream, it's certainly not a geek edition but caters for pretty much just as niche an audience. Still it's nice to see something else from them other than last months article on how the solution to viruses and worms such as blaster is to install a firewall and virus scanner. Not a word about alternatives such as macosx or linux. Not even saying run something other than IE/Outlook..

      I think of them pretty highly when they're talking about the economy and politics. In fact it's ha

  • 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.
    • Re:So what? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by westlake (615356)
      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 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.
    • They love it, but they don't get it. Makes me a little worried, sometimes, where they'll want to take it.

      I have experienced the same things. Management initially did'nt belive in Linux, we (as in consulting) convinced them into testing it for some tasks like web servers, DNS, firewall, proxy.
      Management love it because, quote: "Linux rocks". Its free (as in management-no-pay-free) and stable.
      But some of them never got the concept behind Linux. GNU? Open source/free software? Freedom to change the code?

  • Closed format (Score:5, Insightful)

    by timelady (566419) <.timelady. .at. .gmail.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.
    • Re:Closed format (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      ...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,
  • 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 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 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.

        • 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

    • 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!
    • 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.

      Nahh, they get it. They're smart people, and it's pretty obvious. But they really have no response to it, so they're doing what they can. They're trying not to lose on price, they're FUDding in several directions (security, IP [e.g. SCO], economic impact, TCO, etc.), and they're doing their shared source thing. None of that addresses this

  • 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.

  • Phew (Score:5, Funny)

    by tarquin_fim_bim (649994) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @07:53PM (#6954070)
    "Politicians in India have called on its vast army of programmers to develop open-source products for the same reasons."

    All you MS developers are safe now. There'll be no outsourcing there any more.
  • by pr0ntab (632466) <.pr0ntab. .at. .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.
  • 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.

    • I mean really. Every time a large corporation tries to do something like this, it eventually backfires on them.

      I wonder if Microsoft's big "win" in the antitrust case isn't backfiring? Sure, Microsoft got off practically scott-free, but this showed the world that the U.S. government won't control it's unruly child. I think other countries now realize that they have to pay more attention to protecting their own interests because the U.S. goverment sure isn't going to.
  • 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.
  • Governments like open-source software, but Microsoft does not - printer friendly [economist.com]

    The original [economist.com] link in the /. story goes to a page with some ad(s), however, the ads never materialize from the 3rd party server, which blocks the story from being shown at all! Control that ad server and censor what The Economist publishes on the web ;-). Smart people use CSS [csszengarden.com] instead, not HTML tables.

  • 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 dark-br (473115) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:26PM (#6954207) Homepage
    The Brazilian government plans to migrate from
    Windows to Linux 80% of all computers in state institutions and state-owned
    businesses, informed the daily newspaper "Valor". This will be a gradual
    migration, that will begin with a pilot project in one ministry and which will
    be completed over a period of three years, according to official sources cited
    by the financial daily.

    The goal of the migration is to save money by finding alternatives to
    expensive proprietary licenses. Highlighting the gradual phase-in approach
    that the Brazilian government has adopted, Sergio Amadeu de Silveira, the
    president of the National Institute of Information Technology, stated that "We
    are not just going to do a hasty migration". He proceeded to say that "our
    main concern is the security and the trust of our citizens. The biggest
    resistance to any change comes from the existing cultural inertia".

    The government, De Silveira explained, created two weeks ago the "Chamber for
    the Implementation of Software Libre" to pave the way for the upcoming
    migration.

    A small part of the 2,095 million reals (about USD $700 million) that the
    Brazilian government budgeted for information technology spending goes to
    Microsoft, owner of the Windows OS. The government's decision to adopt Linux,
    according to De Silveira, will boost the popularity of the operating system
    among businesses and consumers. Moreover, it will foster the production of
    local software and "democratize access to knowledge", said De Silveira.

  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:36PM (#6954242)
    It's obviously a good thing that governments are mandating the use of OSS. Thus, OSS must be superior. Consider, for example, some technologies that the US government has mandated:

    - Ada over all other programming languages
    - ISO OSI protocols over the TCP/IP suite
    - Interlaced HDTV

    An official government stamp of approval on Linux can only be viewed as evidence that it's the best technical solution available.
    • by jc42 (318812)
      <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 mo
  • by argoff (142580) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:41PM (#6954264)
    Microsoft would not exist in the way that it does without a particular type of government granted monopoly called - copyright. It is not like other property rights which have natural limits in supply and demand, it is an atrificial one where Microsoft controlls all the supply. It is not true to free market philosophy any more than slavery was in the 1850's. Yeah they bought and sold those slaves like commodities, yeah the economic strength of the plantation system rested on slavery, yeah the business men who ran it were universally considered educated and ethical - and just doing normal honest business - but it was all bullshit. Slavery had to go, it had always been a burden and was always far more about controll rather than property - but as society entered the industrial age our society could no longer bear the social restrictions allowed by slavery.

    Well now we are entering into the information age, and copyrights are looking far more like an untenable and eternally unenforcable restriction every day and less like a property right every day. They are not about property, commerce, freedom, or markets - but controll, and so is Microsoft and the other's like them such as the RIAA who have held themselves accountable to the same forces.

    • 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" ec
      • 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

  • Mixed feelings (Score:3, Insightful)

    by stwrtpj (518864) <p.stewart@comcast.PARISnet minus city> 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: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.
    • 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 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?

  • 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.

    • 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 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.
  • 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 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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