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Quebec Govt Sued For Ignoring Free Software 388

Posted by samzenpus
from the what-about-the-cheap-stuff dept.
Mathieu Lutfy writes "The CBC is reporting that 'Quebec's open-source software association is suing the provincial government, saying it is giving preferential treatment to Microsoft Corp. by buying the company's products rather than using free alternatives. ... Government buyers are using an exception in provincial law that allows them to buy directly from a proprietary vendor when there are no options available, but Facil said that loophole is being abused and goes against other legal requirements to buy locally.' The group also has a press release in English."
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Quebec Govt Sued For Ignoring Free Software

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  • by rossz (67331) <ogre@@@geekbiker...net> on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:08AM (#24775873) Homepage Journal

    Ok, I'm not Canadian, but this applies to everyone when their local government is pissing away money for no good reason.

    It's one thing for a business to choose the more expensive option, the people making the choices must eventually answer to their stockholders. Well, as a voter, I'm a stockholder in my country. Wasting truckloads of money for no good reason means I'm going to vote your ass off the board of directors.

    Most of the time, alternatives such as Openoffice.org are more than adequate for the job (and usually a better choice). Sometimes there are special needs which will allow for an exception, e.g. a large investment in Excel macros that are essential and very expensive to convert.

    Local schools seem to be the worse offenders. They constantly bitch and moan about lack of funds, then piss away a pile of cash on a site license for Microsoft Office so they can teach their word processing course. Openoffice.org (and a few others) are perfect for the job. They are free and the cover everything necessary to learn word processing - which should be covering typing skills and how to lay out a well designed document - not how to use a specific product.

    • by amdpox (1308283) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:21AM (#24775923)
      I completely agree - our school has a phenomenal amount of money spent on Microsoft and other proprietary licenses (300+ Windows machines with office and photoshop elements, 5-10 windows servers (eugh), and the monstrosity that is SharePoint to "manage" everything... I haven't seen the bill, but it must cost a fortune. Sure, I can understand needing Windows for now - there are _some_ classes that use software other than web and word processing. But spending money on Office when OO.o does absolutely everything we use it for? Inexcusable.
      • by Rakishi (759894) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:43AM (#24776079)

        School's get absurd discounts on software I believe and MS software does connect well together. For example open office updates would need to be controlled separately from MS updates (which are possibly centrally managed).

        In my personal opinion it's also a lot harder to fuck up a windows network setup and windows networking is a lot more intuitive (ie: you need less knowledge to passably manage it). I've had to recently deal with a school's linux network and I feel like gouging out both my eyes with a spoon. The rats nest of possible programs, setting, distros, incompatible utilities (ie: this works with X, Y and Z but not your version of Z) and so that is possible of linux alone makes me want to gouge out one eye.

        • by erikdalen (99500) <erik.dalen@mensa.se> on Thursday August 28, 2008 @04:04AM (#24776217) Homepage

          Well, IMO amateurs shouldn't be sysadmins.

          • by minsk (805035) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @04:11AM (#24776263)

            Unfortunately, many professionals shouldn't be sysadmins either.

            One side of the coin is that folks with honest training and experience can sift through a wide range of possible technologies, then find and properly maintain the best one for the situation. The other is that the amateurs have a motivation for easy, so seem less likely to dig themselves incredible, embarrassing, money-sucking pits...

            And this is government. If you're not cynical about the kind of professionals they hire, you're not paying attention :)

        • by Bert64 (520050) <bert AT slashdot DOT firenzee DOT com> on Thursday August 28, 2008 @04:04AM (#24776221) Homepage

          Any third party app installed on windows needs to be updated seperately... A linux distro on the other hand will typically supply all the apps you're going to require and update them al centrally.

          As for all the myriad of possible distros, you just standardise on a single distro across the board and use the apps supported by the distributor.
          The problem of incompatible versions happens on windows too, and is often worse, even microsoft apps can have incompatibilities with each other and as soon as you throw third party apps into the mix the problem gets much worse, but the apps supported as part of a linux distro will typically be tested fairly well together. Also since the linux apps are far more likely to use documented formats, the chance of third party apps working with them is higher too.

          • by Mista2 (1093071) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @07:59AM (#24777355)
            This is also looking a t a school network form the wrong end. MS want you to use fat heavy clients filled with their software, fomr the OS , browser, plugins, silverlight, Outlook and the rest of Office etc. A School network might be better served by a light thin client, talking to more powerful centrally managed servers. You don't need to map drives and attach to print servers from every client, just the servers. Our campus has 100 desktops, sitting idle most of the time. 20% might be in use at any one time, and then the biggest CPU user seems to be the AntiVirus client when they boot up and have to scan every file 8). To do Citrix with this number of clients costs hundres of thousands of dollars. You can get 80% of the citrix functionality with X based terminals at a fraction of the cost. If you still wanted to go proprietary, I love Suns Sunray terminals and Sun Global Desktop, and their smartcard logins. MS does not have to feature here unless ther is some productivity software you need on windows, and then you could use just a few windows terminal servers for this. Or virtual dekstops etc. - you name it, it does not have to be a fat Windows client on every desk.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Bert64 (520050)

              More importantly...

              Kids will break and/or steal machines (or their components which are smaller and easier to hide), using worthless computers (old machines make great thin clients on the cheap) or thin clients which are useless without their server reduces the likelihood and cost of theft.

        • by Daengbo (523424) <daengbo AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday August 28, 2008 @04:05AM (#24776225) Homepage Journal
          But you can have a single copy of OO.o installed on a file server from which all the clients run the software (ro). In that case, you only need to update the software in one place.

          Naturally, preferences and documents are saved on the client.
          • I have also seen ssh clients that allow you to run the same command simultaneously on a LIST of ssh servers. All you need is a good 4096bit SSL cert and "sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade -y" and all is well.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by buttle2000 (1041826)
          I'd disagree with you. My experience is that a Linux network once set up correctly will just keep going and going. There are many good options to centralize a schools desktops, from nfs exports to thin clients.

          Unfortunately, at the school where my kids go, the physical network is a complete mess (network cables running under doors and such) because the IT admin is a job that rotates between all teachers every year, none of whom have any real idea.

        • by hdparm (575302)

          School's get absurd discounts on software I believe and MS software does connect well together. For example open office updates would need to be controlled separately from MS updates (which are possibly centrally managed).

          Not quite, at least not everywhere. In NZ, govt signs a deal with MS to supply primary and secondary schools with set number of windows and office licenses. Few years ago the figure was NZ$50 mil. This is lot of misappropriated taxpayer's dough.

        • by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @07:50AM (#24777297) Homepage

          you've never managed a incredibly botched Active Directory setup.

          9 times out of 10 the only real way to fix it is to wipe the servers and start fresh. at least with linux I can change all the settings without reinstalling the entire freaking server OS and all it's apps.

          AD is not fun when it's borked.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by John Jamieson (890438)

          Two points.

          1. Many schools pay high costs for MS software.

          2. It is much easier to lock down and support a Network of Linux Computers.

          I have friends that became so frustrated with the cost and work maintaining classes of Windows PC's that they deployed LTSP. They have never looked back!
          They now can buy many things for the tech labs that they couldn't before because of the new surplus of cash and time. (setting up audio workstations for multimedia training etc.)

    • I'm not going to comment on that one it would be too easy :)

      As an expat canadian I wasn't aware of any such law but I was from Ontario perhaps they have a different law in Quebec. Anyways, fair competition only seems to make sense to me. Seems rather odd for a open source software organization to fight this fight though. Unless they represent for profit service companies I don't think they'll be able to prove any loss in court so the case could get thrown out on that grounds. They probably would have been

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Daengbo (523424)
        I think as taxpayers they can sue for damages in the form of increased taxes.

        Competitive bidding should be the norm, and exceptions to this rule should be rare. Once a spec is given and bids are in, there'll be an obvious choice.

        When time or special circumstance doesn't allow bids, there certainly needs to be a detailed report on the reasons one vendor was chosen over another. Someone needs to put his ass on the line and say "Symphony, StarOffice, Openoffice.org, and Gnome Office don't meet our needs" f
        • by donaldm (919619) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:40AM (#24776947)

          When time or special circumstance doesn't allow bids, there certainly needs to be a detailed report on the reasons one vendor was chosen over another. Someone needs to put his ass on the line and say "Symphony, StarOffice, Openoffice.org, and Gnome Office don't meet our needs" for reasons a, b, and c. When an accountant comes back to audit the department, he'll back those up or pay the price.

          In theory you are correct however that is not the way Government departments work. In Australia we have a taxation year between 1st July to the 30th June and at the beginning of the tax year most Government departments receive a budget allocation. It would be a very courageous IT manager that could go to his/her department head and say we can slash our budget by upto say 60% by choosing open software such as Open Office and the savings could be spent on upgrading the IT infrastructure.

          What normally happens in the above scenario is the upgrade never happens because there are few people in authority that will sanction this since they perceive that the old hardware is good enough because you normally can extend the life of the current equipment with open software and the IT managers budget is slashed. Of course when the time comes to replace the ageing equipment the IT manger is accused of overspending.

          Most IT managers are well aware (or should be aware) of this double standard and to keep their jobs and credibility take the easy way and buy Microsoft products since all senior department heads know about Microsoft and appear quite amenable to a three or four year hardware and possibly software update cycle even though in the long term it is much more expensive, however this can be easily and consistently budgeted for with only an acceptable increase per year.

          Actually it is very easy for IT department heads to justify proprietary software over open software since they only have to point to many Microsoft and so called unbiased web sites that show Microsoft software has a much better Total Cost of Ownership than open software. The "How to Lie with Statistics" technique.

          Do I think this is right? I don't but that is Government business politics for you.

          • by Gazzonyx (982402) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @08:41AM (#24777769)
            Simply put - Microsoft is the new IBM; you won't get fired for choosing Microsoft, even if it doesn't play out so well.

            Whenever I put myself on the line for a Linux box (server, desktop or otherwise), I always know it's going to have out-perform (in whatever metric is important to the person considering it) the competing Microsoft option by a factor of two to be considered equal.
    • by jambox (1015589) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:43AM (#24776081)

      Local schools seem to be the worse offenders. They constantly bitch and moan about lack of funds, then piss away a pile of cash on a site license for Microsoft Office

      I agree most secondary school IT teachers seem to think IT education == Microsoft training. But it's worse than that - in the UK, most schools actually buy all their MS stuff from a reseller such as RM Computers. Which is a giant rip because, for example with servers, they just take Windows 2003 and bolt a load of "admin tools" onto the side. They deliberately make it non-standard and harder to use so they can then charge the schools giant support contracts. It also doesn't help that most school IT techs are completely hopeless.

      I speak from bitter experience, BTW.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Hal_Porter (817932)

        RM machines is a complete scandal in the UK. Originally they developed machines from scratch like 380Z and Nimbus. Then as those lagged behind PCs they switched to making PCs. But schools still buy their Wintel PCs from RM, despite the fact that there is no reason for single sourcing, apart from tradition.

        And I suspect that RM's founders are well connected in educational circles.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by jambox (1015589)
          UK schools have never provided anything like sensible IT education. There was no real IT class in my school and no PCs until I left to go to 6th form college. Up until then it had been Acorns and RM Nimbuses, as you say.

          That we have an IT industry at all is testament to pupils doing individual study at home and then going to University; the education system through the eighties and nineties was a massive disadvantage to our economy. If someone had pulled their finger out in 1985, who knows, Google or Yaho
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by TheRaven64 (641858)
            I had a great IT education in the UK from ages 7-11, which had time on the BBC micro learning the basics of programming in BBC BASIC and Logo. From 11 onwards it went downhill a bit, with a room full of Windows / DOS machines. Still some Logo and Pascal, but a lot of word processor, spreadsheet and 'database' stuff (where I conspicuously failed to be introduced to the notion of a table or a query), and a bit of control programming (writing code for the BBC to control various external devices).

            If someone had pulled their finger out in 1985, who knows, Google or Yahoo may have been British

            In 1985, the

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by joelstobart (1238490)

        RM might be bad, but MS are far worse. They (in the UK will charge schools for installing linux[1]. They, on anti-competitive grounds wont let people know how much MS in schools costs [2]

        "This relates to circumstances where schools using Microsoftâ(TM)s School Agreement licensing model, are required to pay Microsoft licensing fees for computers based on Linux, or using OpenOffice.org. Finding ourselves in a position whereby a school pays (say) £169 for a device only to be faced with for exa

    • by dontmakemethink (1186169) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @04:36AM (#24776383)

      Ok, I'm not Canadian, but this applies to everyone when their local government is pissing away money for no good reason.

      It's one thing for a business to choose the more expensive option, the people making the choices must eventually answer to their stockholders. Well, as a voter, I'm a stockholder in my country. Wasting truckloads of money for no good reason means I'm going to vote your ass off the board of directors.

      Most of the time, alternatives such as Openoffice.org are more than adequate for the job (and usually a better choice). Sometimes there are special needs which will allow for an exception, e.g. a large investment in Excel macros that are essential and very expensive to convert.

      Local schools seem to be the worse offenders. They constantly bitch and moan about lack of funds, then piss away a pile of cash on a site license for Microsoft Office so they can teach their word processing course. Openoffice.org (and a few others) are perfect for the job. They are free and the cover everything necessary to learn word processing - which should be covering typing skills and how to lay out a well designed document - not how to use a specific product.

      I love Quebec, but when it comes to politics, I hang my head. For example, you cannot even put up a poster in english. The stop signs say "arret", french for stop. In France, they say "stop".

      I can only imagine what the politics would be like in a school board...

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by oliderid (710055)

        I love Quebec, but when it comes to politics, I hang my head. For example, you cannot even put up a poster in english. The stop signs say "arret", french for stop. In France, they say "stop".

        From a foreign Frenchspeaking point of view. There are Frenchspeaking orthodoxes using French words almost forgotten on the other side of the Atlantic and a quite funny French with English words. Sometimes the mix is incredible you feel like speaking to a XVIIth person working for a hi-tech marketing department :-).

        But I would go back any day :-). Great people, great country, for frenchspeaking people, there are "our" americans ;-).

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Pig Hogger (10379)

        I love Quebec, but when it comes to politics, I hang my head. For example, you cannot even put up a poster in english. The stop signs say "arret", french for stop. In France, they say "stop".

        You can put up a poster in english. However, businesses are not allowed to put-up a sign, a business sign, in english. The idea is to drive the point home to immigrants that they can't expect to live here without speaking french.

        And businesses are not human, so they cannot enjoy human rights. No human has ever been pr

    • by ThePhilips (752041) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @05:24AM (#24776583) Homepage Journal

      Ok, I'm not Canadian, but this applies to everyone when their local government is pissing away money for no good reason.

      WTF?! Do you even following politics?

      Business is greatest influence force in politics.

      This is classical form of corruption: business makes a undertable deal with local politicians so that they buy their products. The statue that all procurement deals have to be public and open to competition - is the most often ignored statue. (Also popular (in 3rd world) are preferential investments, but they are quite hard to hide and rarely happen in developed countries.)

      This is essentially how politicians make money. Or you thought that they simply do their thing out of pure altruism and patriotism? [Sarcasm intended.]

    • I work in a government office (I bet you didn't see that one coming!) and I'm always suggesting (F)OSS alternatives to the expensive proprietary commercial crap everyone loves. The problem is that the other guys in my IT department, and in some cases any higher-ups who end up having a say in it, are terrified of it because (in their opinion):

      - When something goes wrong, it's time to play the blame game, and if they can't call up a large corporation and bitch they don't feel that their ass is covered. This i

  • En franÃais (Score:5, Informative)

    by millette (56354) <`ofni.ettellim' `ta' `nibor'> on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:12AM (#24775883) Homepage Journal
    Plus d'info en francais [waglo.com] et sur le site de l'association FACIL, pour l'appropriation collective de l'informatique libre [facil.qc.ca].
  • by Xuranova (160813) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:26AM (#24775949)

    Don't you have to be somehow affected by defendant's actions to sue them? Is the Quebec's open-source software association harmed by this directly? Or do they have a plan to sell tech support contracts once the free software is installed?

    • by millette (56354) <`ofni.ettellim' `ta' `nibor'> on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:37AM (#24776041) Homepage Journal
      The FACIL association doesn't provide technical services. It's a group to promote free and open source software as well as open standards. FACIL believes local companies can provide the needed tech support and wants to make sure they at least get a chance in this market.
    • by renoX (11677)

      >Don't you have to be somehow affected by defendant's actions to sue them?

      Probably, but where do you think the money the government spends with Microsoft comes from?
      It's an association from Quebec after all: every citizen who pay taxes are harmed when governments don't really open the bidding process.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MadKeithV (102058)
      Through the tax system every taxpaying Canadian is harmed by this directly.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by MikeUW (999162)

        What's this all talk about Canadian this and Canadian that? The article is about Quebec - doesn't anyone outside Quebec know that it is a sovereign nation?

  • Would any Canadians out there rate how easy it is to conduct litigation in Canada? On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being common sense, and 10 being frivolous.

    Most Slashdotters are familiar with the difficulties associated with Linux, but cannot judge the decision of FACIL representatives without being able to make a comparison against the difficulties associated with bringing a lawsuit.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by topham (32406)

      Unfortunately even if Canadians can comment on your question most of us can't comment on it in regards to Quebec. They have a distinct legal system from the rest of Canada.

      No, I'm not kidding.

      Frvivolous suites are substantially more rare in Canada than in the U.S.; Although I think there are more common in Quebec.

  • by Legion_SB (1300215) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @04:14AM (#24776273) Homepage

    It's his new laws that took horses from the mounties, wine from the Frenchies, and sodomy from Newfoundland. Apparently that wasn't enough, he's taking open source too.

    Oh well.

    There's no Canada like French Canada
    It's the best Canada in the land.
    And the other Canada - is a bullsh*t Canada!
    If you lived here for a day, you'd understand!

    (for those who don't get it, click [wikipedia.org])

  • Ironic (Score:3, Funny)

    by HuguesT (84078) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:18AM (#24776859)

    So, after all you *can* be sued for choosing microsoft :-)

  • by Mathieu Lutfy (69) * on Thursday August 28, 2008 @11:55AM (#24780355) Homepage

    The issue is getting great coverage and will be having a television news report today, Thursday 28th of august, on the 22h news of Radio-Canada (francophone equivalent of the CBC). It will also be aired on RDI (the 24h news channel of Radio-Canada) at 21h.

    From what I've been told, there will be reactions from other board members of the association, our lawyer, university professors and last but not least, the Quebec government.

    If you're in the area, don't miss out the press conference on Friday the 29th of August, 10h30, 7275, Saint-Urbain, Montreal, suite 201.

    Finally, the best way to support Facil is of course by spreading the news, but also to become a member or to donate to the association (sorry if the website is not well translated, we are working on it). We are getting into a lengthly legal battle which will hopefully send a clear message to other governments. This is only the start.

    Thanks for all the great comments!

    Mathieu

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