Government-Mandated Open Source

by Jonathan Hassell

After reading the latest go-'round between Thomas Greene of the Register and
Tim O'Reilly, I find myself heavily agreeing with Tim and not seeing Thomas'
point at all.

There are two major points that make Tim's position overall the more sensible
one. I will make the disclaimer that these points are most applicable to the
United States and anywhere else democracy exists; however, they're likely
relevant elsewhere as well.

  1. Software should never deprive someone of their right to choose.
    Open source has been hailed by many because it offers them that one crucial
    element: choice. For so long now, people have been trapped into the Microsoft
    way of purchasing, training, using, and throwing out. It's been done on a
    Microsoft cycle - grab the latest bugfix/release, spend money to purchase,
    train, and deploy it, and throw it out two years later for more bugfixes...ahem,
    releases. Now that Linux and other open source operating systems are prime
    candidates for the server space (and some can even argue that Linux is ready
    for the desktop, although I do have issues with that stance), we're not roped
    in by Microsoft's cash-hungry enterprise.

    So it appears to me that we're looking at taking away the very quality that's
    made open source the viable industry force that it is today.


  2. The government should never deprive themselves of the tools to most
    effectively govern their constituents.
    Remember Larry Ellison's offer to
    donate Oracle software to the ill-fated effort to create a national ID card?
    What if Oracle were the best solution for that? Under this law, the government
    couldn't legally buy it for love or money, because I doubt Oracle is going to
    cough up raw code for its crown jewel. We'd be stuck with a nationwide
    identification system based on MySQL or something similar. While it's a great
    product, do you think we should trust it?

    That may be a roundabout way of getting to my point: choose the best tool for
    the job. Why limit the government's choice? That affects every last single one
    of us.

And really, that's cutting off our noses to spite our collective face.

What do you think the point of the law is? And how do you think government on open source only will affect you?


2002-08-21 07:51:21
Responisbility of a government
A government has two responisbilities:
* It has to do the best job possible
* It has to be open to its people

When a government uses closed formats when openinig up to its people, it makes people pay an extra tax in order to see that publication. This adds to the macro cost (=national) of that product. Therefore only open public dataformats are allowed.

When a government pays for the development of software, it is in the intrest of that government to use it as intensive and cheaply as possible. By making that software proprietary, I fail to see that democracy is helped.

When a democratic country like Peru decides that Open Source makes sense, consider the cost to the peruvian people when they actually have to pay for their proprietary software; given the annual average income, it is not PAYABLE/POSSIBLE.

Do you in conscience consider a government to do a good job when its people are close off to it?

On a Micro level, I am a computer professional; I am a certified Microsoft professional. I CANNOT afford to stay on the Microsoft merry go round. As a consequence I do not support Microsoft anymore.

2002-08-21 07:54:22
you misrepresent Greene's point
I had to reread Greene's article after reading yours because your characterization of it made me think I had missed something. On the contrary, I now think that you missed these points.

"Ensuring a citizen's right to communicate electronically with the...[government]...certainly doesn't depend on forcing every bit of software in use to be GPL'd. It does, however, require that open standards be mandated."


"The answer is legislation demanding -- yes, demanding -- open standards for Web access and document formats. Not particular standards, mind; that would be just another drag on innovation."


"Government should never be forced to choose a particular brand of software or type of licensing scheme; but it should certainly be forced to pinch pennies and consider open-source alternatives seriously."

All quotes support your first point about freedom. In fact, open standards are _necessary_ to ensure continuing freedom of choice.