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Government Open Source United States

New Hampshire Passes 'Open Source Bill' 260

Posted by Soulskill
from the congratulations-bill dept.
Plugh writes "In a victory for transparency and openness in government, and saving tax dollars, New Hampshire has passed HB418. State agencies are now required by law to consider open source software when acquiring software, and to promote the use of open data formats."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

New Hampshire Passes 'Open Source Bill'

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  • To what degree? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by TriezGamer (861238)

    And just how much consideration is required? "Yeah, we looked at it but didn't trust it, so it was immediately discarded" is technically a consideration.

    • Re:To what degree? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 04, 2012 @09:35PM (#38931223)

      I. For all software acquisitions, each state agency, in consultation with the department of information technology, shall:

      (a) Consider whether proprietary or open source software offers the most cost effective software solution for the agency, based on consideration of all associated acquisition, support, maintenance, and training costs;

      (b) Except as provided in subparagraphs (d) and (e), acquire software products primarily on a value-for-money basis, based on consideration of the cost factors as described in subparagraph (a);

      (c) Provide a brief analysis of the purchase decision, including consideration of the cost factors in subparagraph (a), to the chief information officer;

      (d) Avoid the acquisition of products that do not comply with open standards for interoperability or data storage; and

      (e) Avoid the acquisition of products that are known to make unauthorized transfers of information to, or permit unauthorized control of or modification of a state agency’s computer.

      II. All state procurement documents related to software acquisitions shall include language that requires adherence to this section.

      • by Gerzel (240421)

        Those last two are a doozy if followed. Especially if you make a strict interpretation of what is unauthorized.

        • Those last two are a doozy if followed.

          WGA is banned too. I wonder what Microsoft will make of that...

          (g) It is not in the public interest and it is a violation of the fundamental right to privacy for the state to use software that, in addition to its stated function, also transmits data to, or allows control and modification of its systems by, parties outside of the state’s control.

      • Re:To what degree? (Score:5, Informative)

        by advocate_one (662832) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @03:21AM (#38932971)

        (d) Avoid the acquisition of products that do not comply with open standards for interoperability or data storage

        Try holding Microsoft's feet to the fire with that one please... they have an "open specification" but they don't follow it...

        Starting with Microsoft Office 2007, the Office Open XML file formats have become the default[3] file format of Microsoft Office.[4][5] However, due to the changes introduced in the Office Open XML standard, Office 2007 is not entirely in compliance with ISO/IEC 29500:2008.[58][59][60][61] Microsoft Office 2010 includes support for the ISO/IEC 29500:2008 compliant version of Office Open XML,[59] but it can only save documents conforming to the transitional schemas of the specification, not the strict schemas.[6][62]

        the above quote is from wikipedia

        Plus it's got patents involved with it that aren't compatible with GPL

    • Re:To what degree? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Bloopie (991306) on Saturday February 04, 2012 @09:38PM (#38931243)

      I know this is Slashdot and people will rush to post moronic questions just to get first post that would be easily answered if they would bother to read the links, and that will get modded up instantly by other morons . . . but the text of HB418 is actually quite specific. For example:

      I. For all software acquisitions, each state agency, in consultation with the department of information technology, shall:


      (d) Avoid the acquisition of products that do not comply with open standards for interoperability or data storage; and

      (e) Avoid the acquisition of products that are known to make unauthorized transfers of information to, or permit unauthorized control of or modification of a state agency’s computer.

      There's a lot of other stuff too, including stuff about open data formats.

      • Re:To what degree? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Seth Cohn (24111) on Saturday February 04, 2012 @10:42PM (#38931551)

        Bingo. And the Open Data stuff uses the suggested principles formulated by the Open Government Data group including Prof. Larry Lessig.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by PopeRatzo (965947) *

        but the text of HB418 is actually quite specific

        Hard as I have tried, I just can't come up with a snarky comment about why this law is a bad idea. I'm sure there will be efforts made to do so below. However, the rest of us might take this opportunity to identify the trolls and shills by the quality, or lack, of their efforts.

        I'll tell you one thing, there are some state legislators in New Hampshire who won't be finding fat checks from industry lobbyists in their xmas stockings this year. (Or maybe they w

        • by Seth Cohn (24111)

          They made no effort to send me a fat check before or since.

          Nor did they influence the Senators enough to kill it there. So perhaps they realize that Open Source has won.

          • Re:To what degree? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @12:25AM (#38932081) Homepage Journal

            I think that open source won long ago. The primary driving force behind closed source is Microsoft. And, Microsoft no longer has the world's population trying to force feed cash to Microsoft. Things are changing, Microsoft has less money to spend on bribes, and those stocking stuffers are more targeted now.

            Eventually, the world will realize that it makes no sense to pay licensing fees for something that has a free equivalent.

            The biggest obstacle to adoption of open source now, are all those kids of the '90's and '00's who grew up using Microsoft, believing that manipulating Microsoft's GUI made them "computer scientists". It's a slow process, but stupidity and ignorance can be healed.

        • Re:To what degree? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by hairyfeet (841228) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `8691tsaebssab'> on Sunday February 05, 2012 @12:11AM (#38932001) Journal

          Well I think its a fine idea IF and only if they are allowed to pick what they consider the best tool for the job that fits instead of having to take FOSS even where the FOSS solution doesn't work. For example if you were forced to take a completely FOSS replacement for the integration of WinDesktop plus AD, GPOs, Exchange, and Sharepoint what you'd get is a big fucking mess of software that was frankly never designed to work together and written by different teams with different goals. That is because nobody has spent the money to develop a complete top to bottom solution like the above using only FOSS so what is out there is pretty much DIY, or at least it was when i looked at it last in 09. There are other cases where NOT using the FOSS solution would be stupid, for example webservers. Significant money has been spent developing FOSS for this role and its solid, well maintained, and robust. There is a good reason why Apache runs the web and that's because its solid and well maintained.

          So as long as they are allowed to use the best tool for each job and not forced to pick one OR the other simply by philosopy I think its a smart idea. Now watch all the hatred i get for daring to say that FOSS isn't the answer to everything and every job, but the simple fact is sometimes it works, sometimes it don't. For a final example I would never recommend Linux for SMB desktops simply because getting QuickBooks running with full functionality on Linux is damned near impossible and SMBs live and die by QB and there simply isn't a FOSS equivalent to the depth of QB when it comes to SMB management. Conversely I wouldn't think of using anything BUT FOSS in the embedded space, the FOSS dev boards like Arduino are well known, have plenty of add ons, and most of the code is already written and free to use, its a no brainer. But I always try to use the best tool for the job instead of treating code as a religion so what do I know.

          • by unixisc (2429386)

            I'd think that the goal behind this move would have been to avoid being too dependent on any single company for solutions, given that if that company folds, they'd have to re-invest in another solution again. Think of companies who were using VMS at one time, and had to leave once DEC and Alpha went away. I'm sure that at that time, the idea of DEC not existing would have been far fetched, just like the idea of Microsoft or Quicken not existing is inconceivable to people today.

            I agree that it's a good t

    • by bogaboga (793279)

      You took it from my mouth! Good question, but I'm also skeptical about the effectiveness of the provision below:

      (b) Use open standards unless specific project requirements preclude use of an open data format.

      Here's how closed format shills will dissuade this state from helping open source software gain any meaningful foothold.

      They will tout the need to inter-operate with other 'established' closed formats (which 90% of the world uses by the way), and they will have a point.

      As an example, when it comes to LibreOffice's ability to read and write Microsoft Office formats with high fidelity, this open sou

      • Can you provide examples?
        • by Gwala (309968)

          Open any Office 2007/2010 document in LibreOffice?

          We run a mixed shop with some employees using OO/LO and others using actual Office. The docs prepared in Office get suitably and consistently mangled in OO; to the point of unusability (e.g. bulleted lists dissapearing, tables vanishing, etc.).

          • by rrossman2 (844318)

            I had to update my resume (word 97/2003 format or whatever the "standard" is).

            The weird thing is OpenOffice opened "more correctly" than Libre did. While the font was off, the breaks between pages were all correct along with the rest of the formatting. Libre had it all messed up.

          • by Gerzel (240421)

            The same thing happens the other way. I use LO at home and MSO at school.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by bogaboga (793279)

          Wan to to see probems with LibreOffice's MS Office conversions? Head here [] for a more recent 'complaint' by one user.

          Want to see to what extent close source shills will work to defeat open source implementations?

          I have an example [] from more than half a decade ago; still relevant today as those folks are still living with the repercussions of that decision.

          • by Seth Cohn (24111)

            Actually, I was concerned about that incident greatly, which is why this attempts a different sort of approach... The Open Government Data principles don't attempt to enforce A standard, just standards that fit the principles. You can be closed source and meet the principles.... it's just much harder to do so, as open source tends to work toward those same princples, and closed source doesn't always.

      • There have been plenty of posts pointing to Microsoft Office' inability to open, or to save, older Microsoft Office documents. I don't even use Microsoft Office, so I've just read those posts for amusement.

        Try running this search on Google: "Microsoft office can't read". Office can't do this, office can't do that, office won't read Microsoft's own proprietary formats without some addon kludge.

        Personally, I'd rather have problems with Open/Libre Office than to pay a hundred dollars for a "polished" produc

    • Seriously, I live in New Hampshire, and I emailed RMS about this bill last year. He said that if the bill called it Free Software instead of Open Source, he'd get behind it.
  • Meaningless (Score:3, Insightful)

    by afabbro (33948) on Saturday February 04, 2012 @09:30PM (#38931197) Homepage

    "Didn't meet our requirements."

    With that statement, any choice can be made. It is impossible to legislate what people "should" do, particularly when dealing with large bureaucracies.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jamstar7 (694492)
      Back in the day, we used to say 'Nobody ever got fired for specifying IBM.' Nowadays, it's more like, 'Nobody ever got fired for specifying Microsoft.'
      • by Seth Cohn (24111)

        I used this exact line MANY times in explaining to people why we needed to pass this bill.

      • by jmcvetta (153563)

        Maybe, with legislation like this, it will become "nobody ever got fired for choosing open source".

    • Re:Meaningless (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Will.Woodhull (1038600) <> on Saturday February 04, 2012 @10:27PM (#38931479) Homepage Journal

      "Didn't meet our requirements."

      With that statement, any choice can be made. It is impossible to legislate what people "should" do, particularly when dealing with large bureaucracies.

      While true, this requires the minions to say so in writing, with their names attached. Which provides the demi-minions above them with grounds for low performance ratings, and so on up to the top of the heap. Where a challenger for some elected position could accuse the incumbent of failing to control costs, etc, using all these brief reports as concrete ammunition.

      I have been employed by an agency of the Federal government, never for any State governments, but I believe when it comes to the hired staff they all work the same way. If you make the civil servants have to state their reasons for decisions in any kind of written report, suddenly those decisions become a lot more rational. They don't know who their boss will be after the next election, and if they want to advance, they've got to be good at covering their asses.

      Looks to me like NH has found a way to make the CYA attitudes of its Sybil serpents work for the benefit of the populace. Way to go, Granite State!

  • by MrEricSir (398214) on Saturday February 04, 2012 @09:32PM (#38931207) Homepage

    It's interesting to see how a government defines what "open source" means. Some of the wording might actually restrict certain packages, for example:

    Is documented, so that anyone can write software that can read and interpret the complete semantics of any data file stored in the data format;

    As a professional open source developer myself, I have to admit that documentation isn't often a strong point of open source, and internal file formats are no exception.

    • by sjames (1099)

      The source itself is the documentation. It may not be as clear as purpose written documentation in some cases, but it is necessarily 100% accurate and can often be linked into other software for instant compatibility.

      On the other side, some purpose written documentation manages to be so unenlightening and impenetrable that reverse engineering proves to be less effort.

      • by MrEricSir (398214)

        In an ideal world there's no difference between what a software does and what it's supposed to do. But in the real world any non-trivial software will be imperfect.

        Developers shouldn't be in a situation where they rely on unintended quirks in external code or file formats. You don't want someone else's bugfix to become your bug; that's why "real" documentation is so important. Looking at the code doesn't cut it.

        • by sjames (1099)

          On the other hand, if you implement to the documentation, you will fail to inter-operate with the actual software. It won't matter that you're technically correct, it will be considered your failure and your software will be useless.

          If you implement to the actual software, you may get bitten in the ass later, but it'll be fixable by looking at the diff and for the most part you'll be inter-operable.

    • by jmcvetta (153563)

      Actually that is part of the definition for "Open standards". So it's referring not to internal storage, but to "encoding and transfer of computer data". I think it's pretty reasonable to require that a standard be documented.

  • "consideration" (Score:2, Insightful)

    After due consideration, we've decided to reject this proposal.

    ctrl-c, ctrl-v

    ctrl-c, ctrl-v

    ctrl-c, ctrl-v ...

  • by Seth Cohn (24111) on Saturday February 04, 2012 @10:37PM (#38931531)

    I'll answer any questions people have about the bill... post comments below.

    This will be the FIRST Open Source and Open Data bill in any of the 50 states.

    I'm very happy... And yes, I'm a geek. I've got a slashdot UID of 5 digits, have contributed to the Linux kernel and other project, tech edited a book on Drupal, and been doing techy things for over 25 years now...

    • by Leebert (1694) * on Saturday February 04, 2012 @10:54PM (#38931617)

      I've got a slashdot UID of 5 digits, have contributed to the Linux kernel and other project, tech edited a book on Drupal, and been doing techy things for over 25 years now...

      But have you ever (and I'm quite serious about this) worked on a government project where acquisitions are made, to understand the kind of "We'll get what we want, it's just a matter of the right amount of paperwork" shenanigans that go on? And as such, do you honestly think the CIO of any agency will actually care?

      I'm also curious -- the legislation that others quoted doesn't make any mention of the size of the acquisition. Does this mean that every credit card purchase of software will require such justification to be sent to the CIO? And if so, do you honestly expect anything other than copy and paste boilerplate explanations that will be so numerous and repetitive as to be essentially meaningless?

      Perhaps those issues are addressed, but to be honest, it seems like one of those "sounds like a great idea" measures that will increase the amount of paperwork that people have to get their jobs done, and at best will only provide some technical person a little bit of fodder to demonstrate to management that his suggestion to use some sort of free software to accomplish the task isn't completely off the mark.

      • by Seth Cohn (24111) on Saturday February 04, 2012 @11:18PM (#38931747)

        The CIO of NH (ie the Commission of NH DOIT) supported this legislation, because it will enable them to track and review purchases for EXACTLY that sort of reason. And in State Government, nothing is ever 'credit card purchase' of software, or shouldn't be.

        So I'll reverse the question to you: Have you ever worked at State Government?

        • by Leebert (1694) *

          So I'll reverse the question to you: Have you ever worked at State Government?

          No, I have existed solely at the Federal level, although from what I can gather by friends who have and do work in state government, it's not all that different, at least in my state (MD).

          I'm surprised that there aren't any provisions for small-value credit card purchases that can be approved at a lower level. *shrug*

          I really do hope it works out well, in all sincerity. I have my doubts, but like R2D2, I have been known to make mistakes... from time to time...

      • Perhaps those issues are addressed, but to be honest, it seems like one of those "sounds like a great idea" measures that will increase the amount of paperwork that people have to get their jobs done,

        There does seem to be one potential advantage. If they go with open source, they don't have to fill out the paperwork, right? Seems like they shouldn't have to, anyway, since there's no point. If that's the case, call it a benefit that plays the lazy nature of your usual bureaucrat against themselves. You

      • by datavirtue (1104259) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @03:56AM (#38933113)

        Agreed, the arrogance is thick in government bureaucracies. EVERYTHING is political, nothing is done on merit or because it is the most efficient. It is really tiring to watch this day-in and day-out when you come from the business world or a non-profit where you had to make choices based solely on efficiency or merit. Having worked in one of these government environments I can safely say that any lifer (employee of ten years or more) is sucking down tax payer money, floating jobs to their friends, and trading favors on a constant basis. This reality is also openly talked about as these people feel immune from accountability.

    • by lupine (100665) * on Saturday February 04, 2012 @11:13PM (#38931719) Journal

      Can you move to Wisconsin and run for governor?

    • by Nemyst (1383049)

      Do you have a twin brother we can steal for Canuckland?

    • by kermidge (2221646)

      Reading quickly through the bill, seems pretty good; hope it works out. If nothing else I think it's a good start. I particularly liked the open data stuff; anyone who's had to deal with files through different versions of various word-manglers and such, or changing storage media, should appreciate it.

      One thing that stood out, though: Why is the judiciary exempted?

    • by gQuigs (913879)

      In the bill it provides a cost estimate. With a net positive effect, including this line, "The Department also estimates, based on a review of the FY 2012 and FY 2013 budget, state expenditures could decrease by approximately $300,000 in FY 2012 and each fiscal year thereafter through the implementation of open source software. "

      There is a breakdown of the estimate for the cost part, broken down into possible new employees/time. Is there any breakdown of the estimated $300,000 in savings?

      Awesome bill. How

      • by Seth Cohn (24111)

        That net positive was the result of political work. This was originally 2 bills, one Open Source, one Open Data... Both bills had high price tags on them, and it was clear both were fairly bogus numbers (IMHO).
        I removed language that caused some of the estimates, and got them to agree that the positions needed for one could be met by the 3 positions in the other bill, and that cost savings of $300k were a bare minimum. (Originally, due to 'Consider', not a requirement, the cost saving was $0, plus 10 peop

        • So really, I've spent about 7 years or so learning how to get stuff like this done.

          Pay attention to Seth here, folks. I was with him at the State House in 2006 when we tried and failed, and I testified for his bill as an open source entrepreneur this time around when we won.

          Others have tried and failed to get something like this through. At least in the US, this is a prime and major success. You guys should be taking notes and seeking to replicate his success in your local jurisdictions.

  • by ElmoGonzo (627753) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @09:03AM (#38934097)

    About 8 years ago, my employer adopted a policy which favored open standards and open source software. Today the site license for Microsoft products like Office and Exchange continues to rule as one administrator's secretary adopts a new version of Office and proceeds to distribute data in the new default format which is incompatible with previous versions so everyone upgrades because its easier than learning that Open/Libre Office can handle .docx and .xlsx files or using a Save As to ensure backward compatibility. Acess remains a problem as the stand-alone "database" file continues as the default.

    The increasing number of Mac and *nix users learn to deal with the new file format but the new version virus always spreads because no one will enforce the policy and damn few people understand that there are alternatives.

"Text processing has made it possible to right-justify any idea, even one which cannot be justified on any other grounds." -- J. Finnegan, USC.