Weblog:   The Growing Politicization of Open Source
Subject:   What about the quality of the software purchased by the government
Date:   2002-08-16 14:54:24
From:   zwack
Response to: What about the quality of the software purchased by the government

Ummm... Thanks for your rant... I think...

You did not answer ANY of my questions though...

So hopefully we can get a clear understanding of what I suggested, and then you can explain why I am wrong...

"Can you say that you know the company that made Linux? Hmm, who would be responsible if a bug in OpenOffice..."

Well, I still had a vendor in there, one who was willing to provide support. The government is going to buy a solution from somewhere. If it's Linux and they buy it from RedHat then RedHat would be responsible for supporting that software. If it's StarOffice and they buy it from Sun then Sun provide the support... If it's OpenOffice and they buy it from "OpenSource 'R' Us" then OpenSource 'R' Us would provide support.

They don't have to accept responsiblity for the bugs, just provide support. They should try and fix the bugs or get someone else to, but they need to provide some form of support. If you think I am being easy on them with the "don't have to accept responsibility for" bit then I would suggest you go read some EULAs from Microsoft... or indeed anyone else.

What I want is for the mandate to be for Open Standards for the file and data formats. This makes sense to me... And as you like your car analogy it's like me saying "Here are the sepcifications for a tyre for a '65 Mustang..." And then looking around to see who made tyres that fit that specification. I could get Firestone or Michelin or any number of other brands of tyres made to that specification. They're not all made by one company. Similarly if I was to say "Here is the file format for a word processed document..." Multiple vendors could produce software that could read and write the same document. Some of them might be closed source, some of them might be open source... Some of them might even involve people following procedures in a manual that caused them to produce a file using an ascii text editor that met the standard. I don't care. But I can look at the specification, write my own tool to manipulate it and do what I want with the document. Multiple vendors providing software that can interact is true CHOICE. If I like the spell checker in tool 1 but the Mail merge in tool 2 there is nothing to stop me using 2 for a mail merge and 1 for the spell checker. If tool 3 has a mail merge that's almost as good as that in 2 and a spell checker that is almost as goos as that in 1 then I might decide that 3 was good enough for my needs and only use that. If however each vendor only supports their own proprietary data formats then I have to choose one tool that will do... And if Tool 3 didn't exist I would have to decide if Mail Merge or Spell Checking was important to me. And if I choose tool 1 and the manufacturer goes out of business... What then? I have to either convert my data to work with tool 2 (and data conversion is not a fun process) or I have to keep using tool 1 and doing without any new features.

I don't agree with RMS that all developers should have to use GPL. I think that that is your choice. (I do, but I made that decision, nobody forced me to). Equally I don't agree that I should be forced to use proprietary products because nobody knows what their data format is.

If Governments mandated Open Standards for File and Data Formats that would encourage software that can interoperate. Interoperability is good for everyone except the dominant market leader. Vendor Lock-in is bad for everyone except the vendor that you are locked in to. Interoperability encourages TRUE innovation. If the market leader can retain their market share by providing new features that people want then everyone benefits. They might have to work a bit harder than with lock-in... But it gives everyone a fair chance.


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