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"Software Choice" Campaigns Against Open Source 410

Verizon Guy writes: " is reporting that a group called The Initiative for Software Choice, led by the CompTIA, but backed primarily by Microsoft and Intel, is lobbying against Open Source-only laws in for example, the State of California government and the government of Peru. While their goals don't specifically mention open source, they do mention that publicly-funded research should steer clear of licenses such as the GPL. Interesting read."
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"Software Choice" Campaigns Against Open Source

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  • by program21 ( 469995 ) on Wednesday August 14, 2002 @07:46AM (#4068903) Homepage Journal
    Interesting that a group calling itself Software Choice is trying to tell people not to choose certain software.
    • by OSgod ( 323974 ) on Wednesday August 14, 2002 @08:18AM (#4069027)
      Interesting that the groups associated with Open Source are attempting to limit a states choice options in software (i.e.: Open Source only laws).

      Let the market rule. Some Open Source products rule. Some stink. Some proprietary products rule. Some stink. A law forbidding you from looking at Open Source products would be "bad". A law prohibiting you from considering non-Open Source products is just as bad if not worse.
      • Its not always about the market. Politicians are notoriously ignorant in the ways of Software and technology. If you let them choose they will simply pick the one that buys them the bigger condo.

        Sure, consider everything. But be sure to understand the implications of tying yourself to one vendor. Open source by nature of its openness does not lock you into the "upgrade doom cycle." Close source does lock you in because how often is the bug fix only found in the upgrade?? And how many closed source packages (m$) use open file standards. Sure m$ can save in open formats, but you can't make that choice your default.
      • A law requiring "you" (singular) or "me" or any other individual or private corporation to only purchase software under free licenses would be bad.

        However, any individual, company or organization should be allowed to formulate a policy for which license restrictions they will accept. If an organization believe it is in their best long term interest to only purchase software under licenses that avoid being dependent on a single (or fix set) of suppliers, they should be free to formulate and enforce such a policy.

        Anyone who believe that "free vendor choise" will be a benefit in the long term, should try to make organizations they have a stake in adopt such a policy through whatever mechanisms are appropriate for that organization.

        If the organization is a government, such a policy take the form of a law, even when the only affects issues internal to the government.

      • The problem is that the laws read basically as follows...

        "You MUST look to open source solutions first... and then failing a suitable solution then look to closed solutions while trying to maintain at least open standards if at all possible."

        Microsoft hates this because it requires government to look at linux or BSD first instead of the standard "let's use what microsoft wants us to use" it also hates it because it stresses the importance of having at least your data in a open standard format that is not locked by some company. (Yes word will work here, save as RTF on everything... I already do that, and you can set the default easily)

        The do not want any laws that require looking at open solutions first, because there is a really large chance that they will find a suitable solution that is open compared to a closed solution.
      • "Let the market rule?" I think you're confusing something here.

        These directives are analog a huge corporate directive setting restrictions on the IT departments. They state what requirements that the software must fulfil, namely that the documents it generates are accessible by 3rd parties, and that the corporation can audit the source code.

        Remember, we're talking about what software the government buys for itself. If (as in another post) a voting machine uses proprietary software, two problems arise: 1. how do you recover the data for use in another program if the file format is proprietary? and 2. how can you be sure that the software isn't secretly manipulating its results?

        If a proprietary software manufacturer wants to sell to the government, then he must follow these guidelines. His software can remain proprietary, but the government needs an open (documented) file format and the right to audit the code. That's my belief.

    • Interesting that a group calling itself Software Choice is trying to tell people not to choose certain software.

      Actually, it's quite typical in this day and age for a well-run advertising campaign to properly name their front organization.

      Political advertisements do this all the time. You'll hear some mud-slinging ad based on emotion, innuendo and fabrications that discredit some candidate or other. At the end, you'll get the legally required announcement "Paid for by Citizens for Better Government" or "Paid for by Concerned People for Ethical Regulation". What a crok!

      I wish I could remember a few specific examples. They're usually quite hilarious once you find out who is really behind the organization. Very often, the organization will choose a name that lays claim to a lot of the high-minded principles of their opposition. There's more confusion that way about who to support.

      Unfortunately, though, there are probably a substantial number of people that can be hoodwinked by this subterfuge.

    • Call anything liberty, choice, or freedom and people tend to side with believe you. Look to the hundreds of (good and bad) past movements that hinged on free choice.

      Same thing with surveys.. people like to say no alot.. especially on grey issues.

  • No story here... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by swordboy ( 472941 ) on Wednesday August 14, 2002 @07:51AM (#4068923) Journal
    This isn't a campaign against *open source* but rather a campaign against *open source only laws*. I can fully agree with that. Freedom of choice.

    Stop loading the headlines.
    • not quite so simple (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Unordained ( 262962 ) <> on Wednesday August 14, 2002 @08:01AM (#4068959)
      notice that they also asked that research not be put under GPL-like licenses, under the assumption that government-funded research should be resold afterwards ... personally, i don't appreciate giving money to the government, in the form of taxes, and then having to buy back from them what they discovered thanks to my money ...

      i'll agree that laws like this can be bad -- wouldn't want to restrict stuff too much ... but consider their reasons aren't just financial: in the case of Peru, they were very much interested in having the ability to fix code themselves, look through it for spyware, and write their own, based on what they had access to, if necessary. open standards may not be the norm, but when you have full access to the source code ... even non-open standards can become so. (reverse engineering of open-sourced software, mostly because somebody forgot to comment their code?)

      note that they are also trying to promote the idea that open-source = no funds, which is not true. red hat and mandrake (and many others) have shown that open source is not without rewards. note also that the french government is getting their linux from mandrakesoft, which, lest i be mistaken, is a french company ... the argument about taxes is weak in this case: the french government will be getting linux (free) and support (not so free) from mandrake, and they'll collect taxes back from that same company ... promote the creation of tech jobs in france, etc.

      so it's not completely loaded -- it is against open source, partially, under the veil of being pro-choice ...
      • notice that they also asked that research not be put under GPL-like licenses, under the assumption that government-funded research should be resold afterwards

        I personally read that as an assumption that government-funded research should not be encumbered by a license which prevented their use in a closed source proprietary system, which is closer to what the text says. This to me says the code should be on a BSD license. Make it free, but let anyone steal all or part of it. (Which I'm ok with, actually. It doesn't hurt anyone for publicly written code to be used in that way, provided it is still available to the rest of us on the same license.)

      • The problem with the pseudo-Free software movement is that they talk the libertarian talk and then reach for all types of coertion. I don't like the viral license in GPL, that is why I argued against the Web code being put under GPL. Putting the Web in the public domain rather than merely GPL had a big impact on its success.

        Equally laws to coerce states into using one type of software are ridiculous and ideological. Ideology is almost always going to be wrong regardless of what it is. The cost of software is not a significant cost when hiring employees. If I chose to work for a government agency I want to be allowed to use high quality professional software not pieces of utter amateur crap that are 'almost as good, yes really'. Clearly they are not, several of the Sun people I know ended up buying Microsoft Office themselves because they refuse to use the Sun substitute. There is nothing in the open source world that touches Visio, Adobe Premiere or Visual Studio .NET.

        The cost of outfitting an entire department with Microsoft everything is trivial compared to the cost of consultants. The big five charge in the region of $2,000 per consultant per day.

        notice that they also asked that research not be put under GPL-like licenses, under the assumption that government-funded research should be resold afterwards ...

        Like the title you are mistating the issue here. I think that there is a lot of consensus that code developed with public funds should be Free. But GPL does not mean free, it means heavily encumbered by a bushel-load of RMS's ideology

        If code is being developed with public funds the default license should be BSD style, free as in beer. RMS did have a point about Symbolics, huge amounts of DARPA cash went to develop the Lisp machine and Genera and was then diverted to a private company for private profit. The attempts by many universities to control the rights to code are simply grasping.

        The problem with GPL is that if you take it seriously and actually read it the GPL license stops code even being used for reference purposes since a programmer who reads GPL code is just as tainted as someone who disassembled proprietary code.

        • The problem with the pseudo-Free software movement is that they talk the libertarian talk and then reach for all types of coertion.

          First off, it's "coercion." Sorry for the speling flame.

          But my main point is, when a legislature tells the government what to do, calling it "coercion" is twisting language beyond any credibility. If a state legislature isn't in charge of the government, who the hell is?

          Your bad rhetoric aside, state and national legislatures make high-level purchasing decisions all the time. One state might say we will or won't buy non-union-made products where possible. Another state might say we will or won't buy from local suppliers where possible. These are the choices that elected representatives are supposed to be making.

          Finally, unless I missed something vitally important in the article, I doubt anyone's seriously proposing an open-source-only law. The proposed laws in the various jurisdictions seem, in general, to be saying that open source software should be included in procurement decisions on an equal footing with closed source, and that purchasing agencies should give some weight to the obvious advantages of having free access to source code. If someone has contrary information I'd love to see a citation for it.

        • Items #0 and #9 from the GPL state:

          #0. Activities other than copying, distribution and modification are not covered by this License; they are outside its scope.
          The act of running the Program is not restricted...

          You are not required to accept this License, since you have not signed it.

          I would like to see the equivalent choice in the Microsoft license (which changes with every product anyway).

          I feel a bit more coerced when I put money down for a Microsoft product and then I'm not allowed to use it at all unless I agree to the terms. That's not just coercive, it's bullshit.

      • notice that they also asked that research not be put under GPL-like licenses, under the assumption that government-funded research should be resold afterwards ... personally, i don't appreciate giving money to the government, in the form of taxes, and then having to buy back from them what they discovered thanks to my money ...

        I don't think that's the correct interpretation.

        I hate to find myself defending Microsoft and it's allies, but I think the main problem they have is that GPL'd software can't be commercially sold or incorporated in commercial software.

        I have to agree that the best license for software developed on the public nickel should be something like: "This software may be freely used by any (American citizen? / one?) for any legal purpose. There is no warranty whatever."

      • I don't agree with a *law* requiring open source, anymore than I'd agree with a law requiring Microsoft. The consumer should have the freedom to choose the product they feel best suits their needs... that's called a market economy.

        The implications of this law are that if an open-source project is available for a task, then they MUST use it. Think about that for a moment. If a pre-alpha version of an open-source traffic-grid-control-system package is available, you would be required *BY LAW* to use that untested, unfinished work instead of the propritary but well-tested package that's also available. Hospitals would be required *BY LAW* to use potentially untested IV rate control software if such a thing were available as open source.

        Is that the kind of thing you really want? Is hurting Microsoft worth the death of hundreds? Thousands? More???

        This already makes the open source community look like a bunch of zealots who want nothing more than blood. Imagine what it will do for the community when such a system is put in place (because they had no choice) and a pair of 747's land on the same runway and collide? I can see the headlines already... "Open Source Movement Responsible Tragedy in Los Angelos, Hundreds Dead."

        Don't get me wrong. I'd love to see Microsoft put humbly back in their place... but not at the cost of the corruption of our legal system any further than it already is. The trick is to defeat the enemy without becoming the enemy.
      • by sheldon ( 2322 )
        personally, i don't appreciate giving money to the government, in the form of taxes, and then having to buy back from them what they discovered thanks to my money ...

        Personally I don't appreciate giving money to the government in the form of taxes so that it can be used to compete against my free market corporation.

        but consider their reasons aren't just financial: in the case of Peru, they were very much interested in having the ability to fix code themselves, look through it for spyware, and write their own

        It's important to note that all of these legitimate goals can be accomplished without the use of the GPL.

        Basically the Open Source community has distorted the argument. If you read the Redhat proposed bill it all sounds very good until you get to the anti-commercial software clauses in Section 3, items e and f which demand that all software must be free as in beer as well as open source.

        so it's not completely loaded -- it is against open source, partially, under the veil of being pro-choice ...

        Similar to how the Redhat proposed bill is anti-commercial software under the veil of being pro-freedom?
    • The real story here is a paralell to the enlightenment of slaves via the reading to them the bible, namely Exodus. Giving them religion was supposed to keep them in line, but instead taught them about freedom and gave them a will to escape.
    • (I can't take credit for this, since I read it, but can't remember where, so I can't attribute, either.)

      The problem comes when government at any level distributes information in any electronic form. At that point, the issue isn't really Open Source as much as it is Open Formats and Interchange. For a large part, and IMHO Microsoft is one of the greatest offenders, proprietary software tends to entrench itself with proprietary formats.

      As I view government information available in electronic form, I want the freedom to choose what software to us. If the government publishes in proprietary formats, they have abridged my freedom of choice. In fact, in doing this they meddle in the market, granting certain companies competitive advantages over others, based on their software choice.

      Sticking with Open Formats and Interchange is the only way that the government can avoid forcing choices on citizens. It's the only way they can avoid reducing competition in the marketplace.

      If Microsoft (and other similar software makers) could avoid their desire for proprietary formats, this wouldn't be an issue.

      An Open Source law for government misses the issue, completely. Even so, it may well accomplish the correct end. Still, it would be better to be on target.
    • They claim to be in favour of software choice, but what choice do you have when your government standardizes on closed software and protocols? The answer is none.

      Ensuring that your government standardizes on open protocols, file formats, and software ensures that there will always be a choice, since anyone can produce competitive implementations of such software. The same is not true if your government requires that you use something like MS Word. Yes, you can argue that you could use something like AbiWord, but it really isn't a practical way to create or read MS Word documents.

      The only way to ensure freedom of choice is to use open protocols and software.

    • Quite apart from the campaign trying to dictate how governments should release their research results there are three different things here. The campaign seems to avoid them in welter of vague sounding language.

      1) Open file transfer standards
      Governments need to be able to be sure they can transfer their data without being reliant on one company. And this has to include guarentees that all future versions of the software will use an open standard as well.But that's not the only factor that needs to be considered.

      2) Cost
      Laws that say government departments should look at the cheapest option seem reasonable to a tax payer like me.

      and the biggy:

      3) Security
      How does a government know that the black box software it just bought doesn't have a backdoor alloing the CIA to read every file they store on it? They don't. So a law that says 'only use software where we can examine the code' is justified on the grounds of National Security. The Initiative for Software Choice doesn't seem to mention this at all.

      If they want to compete in the government sector under 'pro-open source' laws nothing is stopping them, but any company that can't meet these three criteria shouldn't be getting government business in the first place.
    • Part of the rationale behind Open Source Only Laws is:
      - Limit dependency on a single provider. You use MSWord -> You're stuck with Microsoft. If/When the provider decides to stop supporting the version of the software you are using then you're stuck with either buying a newer version or hoping that divine intervention will keep it working ok. If your software provider goes belly up then you're stuck with the "hope for divine intervention" option.
      - Security. Closed source software may contain dormant or active backdoors and remote exploits, either due to bugs or due to demands from an Inteligence Agency. This is especially relevant for software that is used by government agencies (still, don't forget good old industrial espionage).

      Also keep in mind that Open Source doesn't actually imply Publicly Open Source. Laws that require Open Source Software can be made in such a way that the Source Code is only required to be available to the customer.
      With such a law in place, a Closed Source Company just has to decide if it is or not a good business decision for them to open their software to that specific client (probably with some contractual clauses so that it isn't made available to the outside world).

      As i see it, Closed Source companies just don't want to have contractual obligations (like "no source, no deal") imposed by their customers. They would rather have all customers "pay-up and shut-up".
    • The campaign is against laws that prescripe rules to which software used by the government and only the government should adhere. Laws like these as under consideration in Peru are very sensible from a viewpoint of the government as a consumer of software.

      Any consumer that would have to choose between open-source and closed-source will come to the conclusion that open-source is to be preferred. Any improvements to the source can still be obtained and so eventually, open-source will be very good.

      Not to troll but to give everyone who hasn't read this interesting piece, I past the famous letter from the Peruvian congressman Villanueva Nunez.

      Lima, 8th of April, 2002
      General Manager of Microsoft, Perú

      Dear Sir:

      First of all, I thank you for your letter of March 25, 2002 in which you state the official position of Microsoft relative to Bill Number 1609, Free Software in Public Administration, which is indubitably inspired by the desire for Peru to find a suitable place in the global technological context. In the same spirit, and convinced that we will find the best solutions through an exchange of clear and open ideas, I will take this opportunity to reply to the commentaries included in your letter.

      While acknowledging that opinions such as yours constitute a significant contribution, it would have been even more worthwhile for me if, rather than formulating objections of a general nature (which we will analyse in detail later) you had gathered solid arguments for the advantages that proprietary software could bring to the Peruvian State, and to its citizens in general, since this would have allowed a more enlightening exchange in respect of each of our positions.

      With the aim of creating an orderly debate, we will assume that what you call "open source software" is what the Bill defines as "free software", since there exists software for which the source code is distributed together with the program, but which does not fall within the definition established by the Bill; and that what you call "commercial software" is what the Bill defines as "proprietary" or "unfree", given that there exists free software which is sold in the market for a price like any other good or service.

      It is also necessary to make it clear that the aim of the Bill we are discussing is not directly related to the amount of direct savings that can by made by using free software in state institutions. That is in any case a marginal aggregate value, but in no way is it the chief focus of the Bill. The basic principles which inspire the Bill are linked to the basic guarantees of a state of law, such as:

      Free access to public information by the citizen.
      Permanence of public data.
      Security of the State and citizens.

      To guarantee the free access of citizens to public information, it is indespensable that the encoding of data is not tied to a single provider. The use of standard and open formats gives a guarantee of this free access, if necessary through the creation of compatible free software.

      To guarantee the permanence of public data, it is necessary that the usability and maintenance of the software does not depend on the goodwill of the suppliers, or on the monopoly conditions imposed by them. For this reason the State needs systems the development of which can be guaranteed due to the availability of the source code.

      To guarantee national security or the security of the State, it is indispensable to be able to rely on systems without elements which allow control from a distance or the undesired transmission of information to third parties. Systems with source code freely accessible to the public are required to allow their inspection by the State itself, by the citizens, and by a large number of independent experts throughout the world. Our proposal brings further security, since the knowledge of the source code will eliminate the growing number of programs with *spy code*.

      In the same way, our proposal strengthens the security of the citizens, both in their role as legitimate owners of information managed by the state, and in their role as consumers. In this second case, by allowing the growth of a widespread availability of free software not containing *spy code* able to put at risk privacy and individual freedoms.

      In this sense, the Bill is limited to establishing the conditions under which the state bodies will obtain software in the future, that is, in a way compatible with these basic principles.

      From reading the Bill it will be clear that once passed:
      -the law does not forbid the production of proprietary software
      -the law does not forbid the sale of proprietary software
      -the law does not specifiy which concrete software to use
      -the law does not dictate the supplier from whom software will be bought
      -the law does not limit the terms under which a software product can be licensed.

      What the Bill does express clearly, is that, for software to be acceptable for the state it is not enough that it is technically capable of fulfilling a task, but that further the contractual conditions must satisfy a series of requirements reguarding the license, without which the State cannot guarantee the citizen adequate processing of his data, watching over its integrity, confidentiality, and accessibility throughout time, as these are very critical aspects for its normal functioning.

      We agree, Mr. Gonzalez, that information and communication technology have a significant impact on the quality of life of the citizens (whether it be positive or negative). We surely also agree that the basic values I have pointed out above are fundamental in a democratic state like Peru. So we are very interested to know of any other way of guaranteeing these principles, other than through the use of free software in the terms defined by the Bill.

      As for the observations you have made, we will now go on to analyse them in detail:

      Firstly, you point out that: "1. The bill makes it compulsory for all public bodies to use only free software, that is to say open source software, which breaches the principles of equality before the law, that of non-discrimination and the right of free private enterprise, freedom of industry and of contract, protected by the constitution."

      This understanding is in error. The Bill in no way affects the rights you list; it limites itself entirely to establishing conditions for the use of software on the part of state institutions, without in any way meddling in private sector transactions. It is a well established principle that the State does not enjoy the wide spectrum of contractual freedom of the private sector, as it is limited in its actions precisely by the requirement for transparency of public acts; and in this sense, the preservation of the greater common interest must prevail when legislating on the matter.

      The Bill protects equality under the law, since no natural or legal person is excluded from the right of offering these goods to the State under the conditions defined in the Bill and without more limitations than those established by the Law of State Contracts and Purchasing (T.U.O. por Decreto Supremo No. 012-2001-PCM).

      The Bill does not introduce any discrimination whatever, since it only establishes *how* the goods have to be provided (which is a state power) and not *who* has to provide them (which would effectively be discriminatory, if restrictions based on national origin, race religion, ideology, sexual preference etc. were imposed). On the contrary, the Bill is decidedly antidiscriminatory. This is so because by defining with no room for doubt the conditions for the provision of software, it prevents state bodies from using software which has a license including discriminatory conditions.

      It should be obvious from the preceding two paragraphs that the Bill does not harm free private enterprise, since the latter can always choose under what conditions it will produce software; some of these will be acceptable to the State, and others will not be since they contradict the guarantee of the basic principles listed above. This free initiative is of course compatible with the freedom of industry and freedom of contract (in the limited form in which the State can exercise the latter). Any private subject can produce software under the conditions which the State requires, or can refrain from doing so. Nobody is forced to adopt a model of production, but if they wish to provide software to the State, they must provide the mechanisms which guarantee the basic principles, and which are those described in the Bill.

      By way of an example: nothing in the text of the Bill would prevent your company offering the State bodies an office "suite", under the conditions defined in the Bill and setting the price that you consider satisfactory. If you did not, it would not be due to restrictions imposed by the law, but to business decisions relative to the method of commercializing your products, decisions with which the State is not involved.

      To continue; you note that:" 2. The bill, by making the use of open source software compulsory, would establish discriminatory and non competitive practices in the contracting and purchasing by public bodies..."

      This statement is just a reiteration of the previous one, and so the response can be found above. However, let us concern ourselves for a moment with your comment regarding "non-competitive ... practices."

      Of course, in defining any kind of purchase, the buyer sets conditions which relate to the proposed use of the good or service. From the start, this excludes certain manufacturers from the possibility of competing, but does not exclude them "a priori", but rather based on a series of principles determined by the autonomous will of the purchaser, and so the process takes place in conformance with the law. And in the Bill it is established that *no-one* is excluded from competing as far as he guarantees the fullfilment of the basic principles.

      Furthermore, the Bill *stimulates* competition, since it tends to generate a supply of software with better conditions of usability, and to better existing work, in a model of continuous improvement.

      On the other hand, the central aspect of competivity is the chance to provide better choices to the consumer. Now, it is impossible to ignore the fact that marketing does not play a neutral role when the product is offered on the market (since accepting the opposite would lead one to suppose that firms' expenses in marketing lack any sense), and that therefore a significant expense under this heading can influence the decisions of the purchaser. This influence of marketing is in large measure reduced by the bill that we are backing, since the choice within the framework proposed is based on the *technical merits* of the product and not on the effort put into commercialization by the producer; in this sense, competitvity is increased, since the smallest software producer can compete on equal terms with the most powerful corporations.

      It is necessary to stress that there is no position more anti-competitive than that of the big software producers, which frequently abuse their dominant position, since in innumerable cases they propose as a solution to problems raised by users: "update your software to the new version" (at the user's expense, naturally); furthermore, it is common to find arbitrary cessation of technical help for products, which, in the provider's judgement alone, are "old"; and so, to receive any kind of technical assistance, the user finds himself forced to migrate to new versions (with non-trivial costs, especially as changes in hardware platform are often involved). And as the whole infrastructure is based on proprietary data formats, the user stays "trapped" in the need to continue using products from the same supplier, or to make the huge effort to change to another environment (probably also proprietary).

      You add: "3. So, by compelling the State to favour a business model based entirely on open source, the bill would only discourage the local and international manufacturing companies, which are the ones which really undertake important expenditures, create a significant number of direct and indirect jobs, as well as contributing to the GNP, as opposed to a model of open source software which tends to have an ever weaker economic impact, since it mainly creates jobs in the service sector."

      I do not agree with your statement. Partly because of what you yourself point out in paragraph 6 of your letter, regarding the relative weight of services in the context of software use. This contradiction alone would invalidate your position. The service model, adopted by a large number of companies in the software industry, is much larger in economic terms, and with a tendency to increase, than the licensing of programs.

      On the other hand, the private sector of the economy has the widest possible freedom to choose the economic model which best suits its interests, even if this freedom of choice is often obscured subliminally by the disproportionate expenditure on marketing by the producers of proprietary software.

      In addition, a reading of your opinion would lead to the conclusion that the State market is crucial and essential for the proprietary software industry, to such a point that the choice made by the State in this bill would completely eliminate the market for these firms. If that is true, we can deduce that the State must be subsidising the proprietary software industry. In the unlikely event that this were true, the State would have the right to apply the subsidies in the area it considered of greatest social value; it is undeniable, in this improbable hypothesis, that if the State decided to subsidize software, it would have to do so choosing the free over the proprietary, considering its social effect and the rational use of taxpayers money.

      In respect of the jobs generated by proprietary software in countries like ours, these mainly concern technical tasks of little aggregate value; at the local level, the technicians who provide support for proprietary software produced by transnational companies do not have the possibility of fixing bugs, not necessarily for lack of technical capability or of talent, but because they do not have access to the source code to fix it. With free software one creates more technically qualified employment and a framework of free competence where success is only tied to the ability to offer good technical support and quality of service, one stimulates the market, and one increases the shared fund of knowledge, opening up alternatives to generate services of greater total value and a higher quality level, to the benefit of all involved: producers, service organizations, and consumers.

      It is a common phenomenon in developing countries that local software industries obtain the majority of their takings in the service sector, or in the creation of "ad hoc" software. Therefore, any negative impact that the application of the Bill might have in this sector will be more than compensated by a growth in demand for services (as long as these are carried out to high quality standards). If the transnational software companies decide not to compete under these new rules of the game, it is likely that they will undergo some decrease in takings in terms of payment for licences; however, considering that these firms continue to allege that much of the software used by the State has been illegally copied, one can see that the impact will not be very serious. Certainly, in any case their fortune will be determined by market laws, changes in which cannot be avoided; many firms traditionally associated with proprietary software have already set out on the road (supported by copious expense) of providing services associated with free software, which shows that the models are not mutually exclusive.

      With this bill the State is deciding that it needs to preserve certain fundamental values. And it is deciding this based on its sovereign power, without affecting any of the constitutional guarantees. If these values could be guaranteed without having to choose a particular economic model, the effects of the law would be even more beneficial. In any case, it should be clear that the State does not choose an economic model; if it happens that there only exists one economic model capable of providing software which provides the basic guarantee of these principles, this is because of historical circumstances, not because of an arbitrary choice of a given model.

      Your letter continues: "4. The bill imposes the use of open source software without considering the dangers that this can bring from the point of view of security, guarantee, and possible violation of the intellectual property rights of third parties."

      Alluding in an abstract way to "the dangers this can bring", without specifically mentioning a single one of these supposed dangers, shows at the least some lack of knowledge of the topic. So, allow me to enlighten you on these points.

      On security:

      National security has already been mentioned in general terms in the initial discussion of the basic principles of the bill. In more specific terms, relative to the security of the software itself, it is well known that all software (whether proprietary or free) contains errors or "bugs" (in programmers' slang). But it is also well-known that the bugs in free software are fewer, and are fixed much more quickly, than in proprietary software. It is not in vain that numerous public bodies reponsible for the IT security of state systems in developed countries require the use of free software for the same conditions of security and efficiency.

      What is impossible to prove is that proprietary software is more secure than free, without the public and open inspection of the scientific community and users in general. This demonstration is impossible because the model of proprietary software itself prevents this analysis, so that any guarantee of security is based only on promises of good intentions (biased, by any reckoning) made by the producer itself, or its contractors.

      It should be remembered that in many cases, the licensing conditions include Non-Disclosure clauses which prevent the user from publicly revealing security flaws found in the licensed proprietary product.

      In respect of the guarantee:

      As you know perfectly well, or could find out by reading the "End User License Agreement" of the products you license, in the great majority of cases the guarantees are limited to replacement of the storage medium in case of defects, but in no case is compensation given for direct or indirect damages, loss of profits, etc... If as a result of a security bug in one of your products, not fixed in time by yourselves, an attacker managed to compromise crucial State systems, what guarantees, reparations and compensation would your company make in accordance with your licencing conditions? The guarantees of proprietary software, inasmuch as programs are delivered ``AS IS'', that is, in the state in which they are, with no additional responsibility of the provider in respect of function, in no way differ from those normal with free software.

      On Intellectual Property:

      Questions of intellectual property fall outside the scope of this bill, since they are covered by specific other laws. The model of free software in no way implies ignorance of these laws, and in fact the great majority of free software is covered by copyright. In reality, the inclusion of this question in your observations shows your confusion in respect of the legal framework in which free software is developed. The inclusion of the intellectual property of others in works claimed as one's own is not a practice that has been noted in the free software community; whereas, unfortunately, it has been in the area of proprietry software. As an example, the condemnation by the Commercial Court of Nanterre, France, on 27th September 2001 of Microsoft Corp. to a penalty of 3 million francs in damages and interest, for violation of intellectual property (piracy, to use the unfortunate term that your firm commonly uses in its publicity).

      You go on to say that: "The bill uses the concept of open source software incorrectly, since it does not necessarily imply that the software is free or of zero cost, and so arrives at mistaken conclusions regarding State savings, with no cost-benefit analysis to validate its position."

      This observation is wrong; in principle, freedom and lack of cost are orthogonal concepts: there is software which is proprietary and charged for (for example, MS Office), software which is proprietary and free of charge (MS Internet Explorer), software which is free and charged for (RedHat, SuSE etc Gnu/Linux distributions), software which is free and not charged for (Apache, OpenOffice, Mozilla), and even software which can be licensed in a range of combinations (MySQL).

      Certainly free software is not necessarily free of charge. And the text of the bill does not state that it has to be so, as you will have noted after reading it. The definitions included in the Bill state clearly *what* should be considered free software, at no point referring to freedom from charges. Although the possibility of savings in payments for proprietary software licenses are mentioned, the foundations of the bill clearly refer to the fundamental guarantees to be preserved and to the stimulus to local technological development. Given that a democratic State must support these principles, it has no other choice than to use software with publicly available source code, and to exchange information only in standard formats.

      If the State does not use software with these characteristics, it will be weakening basic republican principles. Luckily, free software also implies lower total costs; however, even given the hypothesis (easily disproved) that it was more expensive than proprietary software, the simple existence of an effective free software tool for a particular IT function would oblige the State to use it; not by command of this Bill, but because of the basic principles we enumerated at the start, and which arise from the very essence of the lawful democratic State.

      You continue: "6. It is wrong to think that Open Source Software is free of charge. Research by the Gartner Group (an important investigator of the technological market recognized at world level) has shown that the cost of purchase of software (operating system and applications) is only 8% of the total cost which firms and institutions take on for a rational and truely beneficial use of the technology. The other 92% consists of: installation costs, enabling, support, maintenance, administration, and down-time."

      This argument repeats that already given in paragraph 5 and partly contradicts paragraph 3. For the sake of brevity we refer to the comments on those paragraphs. However, allow me to point out that your conclusion is logically false: even if according to Gartner Group the cost of software is on average only 8% of the total cost of use, this does not in any way deny the existence of software which is free of charge, that is, with a licensing cost of zero.

      In addition, in this paragraph you correctly point out that the service components and losses due to down-time make up the largest part of the total cost of software use, which, as you will note, contradicts your statement regarding the small value of services suggested in paragraph 3. Now the use of free software contributes significantly to reduce the remaining life-cycle costs. This reduction in the costs of installation, support etc. can be noted in several areas: in the first place, the competitive service model of free software, support and maintenance for which can be freely contracted out to a range of suppliers competing on the grounds of quality and low cost. This is true for installation, enabling, and support, and in large part for maintenance. In the second place, due to the reproductive characteristics of the model, maintenance carried out for an application is easily replicable, without incurring large costs (that is, without paying more than once for the same thing) since modifications, if one wishes, can be incorporated in the common fund of knowledge. Thirdly, the huge costs caused by non-functioning software ("blue screens of death", malicious code such as virus, worms, and trojans, exceptions, general protection faults and other well-known problems) are reduced considerably by using more stable software; and it is well-known that one of the most notable virtues of free software is its stability.

      ou further state that: "7. One of the arguments behind the bill is the supposed freedom from costs of open-source software, compared with the costs of commercial software, without taking into account the fact that there exist types of volume licensing which can be highly advantageous for the State, as has happened in other countries."

      I have already pointed out that what is in question is not the cost of the software but the principles of freedom of information, accessibility, and security. These arguments have been covered extensively in the preceding paragraphs to which I would refer you.

      On the other hand, there certainly exist types of volume licensing (although unfortunately proprietary software does not satisfy the basic principles). But as you correctly pointed out in the immediately precding paragraph of your letter, they only manage to reduce the impact of a component which makes up no more than 8% of the total.

      You continue: "8. In addition, the alternative adopted by the bill (i) is clearly more expensive, due to the high costs of software migration, and (ii) puts at risk compatibility and interoperability of the IT platforms within the State, and between the State and the private sector, given the hundreds of versions of open source software on the market."

      Let us analyze your stament in two parts. Your first argument, that migration implies high costs, is in reality an argument in favour of the Bill. Because the more time goes by, the more difficult migration to another technology will become; and at the same time, the security risks associated with proprietary software will continue to increase. In this way, the use of proprietary systems and formats will make the State ever more dependent on specific suppliers. Once a policy of using free software has been established (which certainly, does imply some cost) then on the contrary migration from one system to another becomes very simple, since all data is stored in open formats. On the other hand, migration to an open software context implies no more costs than migration between two different proprietary software contexts, which invalidates your argument completely.

      The second argument refers to "problems in interoperability of the IT platforms within the State, and between the State and the private sector" This statement implies a certain lack of knowledge of the way in which free software is built, which does not maximize the dependence of the user on a particular platform, as normally happens in the realm of proprietary software. Even when there are multiple free software distributions, and numerous programs which can be used for the same function, interoperability is guaranteed as much by the use of standard formats, as required by the bill, as by the possibility of creating interoperable software given the availability of the source code.

      You then say that: "9. The majority of open source code does not offer adequate levels of service nor the guarantee from recognized manufacturers of high productivity on the part of the users, which has led various public organizations to retract their decision to go with an open source software solution and to use commercial software in its place."

      This observation is without foundation. In respect of the guarantee, your argument was rebutted in the response to paragraph 4. In respect of support services, it is possible to use free software without them (just as also happens with proprietary software), but anyone who does need them can obtain support separately, whether from local firms or from international corporations, again just as in the case of proprietary software.

      On the other hand, it would contribute greatly to our analysis if you could inform us about free software projects *established* in public bodies which have already been abandoned in favour of proprietary software. We know of a good number of cases where the opposite has taken place, but not know of any where what you describe has taken place.

      You continue by observing that: "10. The bill demotivates the creativity of the peruvian software industry, which invoices 40 million US$/year, exports 4 million US$ (10th in ranking among non-traditional exports, more than handicrafts) and is a source of highly qualified employment. With a law that incentivates the use of open source, software programmers lose their intellectual property rights and their main source of payment."

      It is clear enough that nobody is forced to commercialize their code as free software. The only thing to take into account is that if it is not free software, it cannot be sold to the public sector. This is not in any case the main market for the national software industry. We covered some questions referring to the influence of the Bill on the generation of employment which would be both highly technically qualified and in better conditions for competition above, so it seems unnecessary to insist on this point.

      What follows in your statement is incorrect. On the one hand, no author of free software loses his intellectual property rights, unless he expressly wishes to place his work in the public domain. The free software movement has always been very respectful of intellectual property, and has generated widespread public recognition of authors. Names like those of Richard Stallman, Linus Torvalds, Guido van Rossum, Larry Wall, Miguel de Icaza, Andrew Tridgell, Theo de Raadt, Andrea Arcangeli, Bruce Perens, Darren Reed, Alan Cox, Eric Raymond, and many others, are recognized world-wide for their contributions to the development of software that is used today by millions of people throughout the world. On the other hand, to say that the rewards for authors rights make up the main source of payment of Peruvian programmers is in any case a guess, in particular since there is no proof to this effect, nor a demonstration of how the use of free software by the State would influence these payments.

      You go on to say that: "11. Open source software, since it can be distributed without charge, does not allow the generation of income for its developers through exports. In this way, the multiplier effect of the sale of software to other countries is weakened, and so in turn is the growth of the industry, while Government rules ought on the contrary to stimulate local industry."

      This statement shows once again complete ignorance of the mechanisms of and market for free software. It tries to claim that the market of sale of non- exclusive rights for use (sale of licences) is the only possible one for the software industry, when you yourself pointed out several paragraphs above that it is not even the most important one. The incentives that the bill offers for the growth of a supply of better qualified professionals, together with the increase in experience that working on a large scale with free software within the State will bring for Peruvian technicians, will place them in a highly competitive position to offer their services abroad.

      You then state that: "12. In the Forum, the use of open source software in education was discussed, without mentioning the complete collapse of this initiative in a country like Mexico, where precisely the State employees who founded the project now state that open source software did not make it possible to offer a learning experience to pupils in the schools, did not take into account the capability at a national level to give adequate support to the platform, and that the software did not and does not allow for the levels of platform integration that now exist in schools."

      In fact Mexico has gone into reverse with the Red Escolar (Schools Network) project. This is due precisely to the fact that the driving forces behind the mexican project used license costs as their main argument, instead of the other reasons specified in our project, which are far more essential. Because of this conceptual mistake, and as a result of the lack of effective support from the SEP (Secretary of State for Public Education), the assumption was made that to implant free software in schools it would be enough to drop their software budget and send them a CD ROM with Gnu/Linux instead. Of course this failed, and it couldn't have been otherwise, just as school laboratories fail when they use proprietary software and have no budget for implementation and maintenance. That's exactly why our bill is not limited to making the use of free software mandatory, but recognizes the need to create a viable migration plan, in which the State undertakes the technical transition in an orderly way in order to then enjoy the advantages of free software.

      You end with a rhetorical question: "13. If open source software satisfies all the requirements of State bodies, why do you need a law to adopt it? Shouldn't it be the market which decides freely which products give most benefits or value?"

      We agree that in the private sector of the economy, it must be the market that decides which products to use, and no state interference is permissible there. However, in the case of the public sector, the reasoning is not the same: as we have already established, the state archives, handles, and transmits information which does not belong to it, but which is entrusted to it by citizens, who have no alternative under the rule of law. As a counterpart to this legal requirement, the State must take extreme measures to safeguard the integrity, confidentiality, and accessibility of this information. The use of proprietary software raises serious doubts as to whehter these requirements can be fulfilled, lacks conclusive evidence in this respect, and so is not suitable for use in the public sector.

      The need for a law is based, firstly, on the realization of the fundamental principles listed above in the specific area of software; secondly, on the fact that the State is not an ideal homogoneous entity, but made up of multiple bodies with varying degrees of autonomy in decision making. Given that it is inappropriate to use proprietary software, the fact of establishing these rules in law will prevent the personal discretion of any state employee from putting at risk the information which belongs to citizens. And above all, because it constitutes an up-to-date reaffirmation in relation to the means of management and communication of information used today, it is based on the republican principle of openness to the public.

      In conformance with this universally accepted principle, the citizen has the right to know all information held by the State and not covered by well- founded declarations of secrecy based on law. Now, software deals with information and is itself information. Information in a special form, capable of being interpreted by a machine in order to execute actions, but crucial information all the same because the citizen has a legitimate right to know, for example, how his vote is computed or his taxes calculated. And for that he must have free access to the source code and be able to prove to his satisfaction the programs used for electoral computations or calculation of his taxes.

      I wish you the greatest respect, and would like to repeat that my office will always be open for you to expound your point of view to whatever level of detail you consider suitable.

      Congressman of the Republica of Perú.
    • In the news lately has been the story that in Palm Beach County, Florida, they are replacing the voting equipment that caused so much trouble two years ago with new equipment. But the new equipment contains proprietary software whose inner working can't be examined. The result is that there will be no way to have an independent audit of the election results.

      What we need is government accountability. This can only be done if the computers that control the data can be examined in detail. Any software that has closed components can and will be used to prevent auditing and accountability.

      The only way to get honesty and accountability in government data systems is to require that all software be open to examination and auditing. This can only be done with a strict legal ban on binary-only software in government computers.

      As with the Palm Beach voting equipment, proprietary software is an open invitation to Fraud and Abuse by whoever runs the equipment (or whoever bribes them).

  • by Jondor ( 55589 ) <gerhard.frappe@xs4all@nl> on Wednesday August 14, 2002 @07:52AM (#4068929) Homepage
    While I personaly like and use open source I don't have the illusion that this goes for everybody.
    What I would like the goverments to do is to define open fileformats/protocols and only accept/buy software which supports these formats 100%.

    Ofcourse this also means that ALL govermental communication should use these formats and nothing else. This may not be the end of closed source, but at least it levels the playing field and should brings competition back where it belongs: comparing price and quality.

    • > What I would like the goverments to do is to define open fileformats/protocols and only accept/buy software which supports these formats 100%.

      I agree wholeheartedly. Letting the public be at the mercy of one company's whims is nothing short of criminal.

      We should actually be pushing for the adoption of standards rather than for the adoption of open source per se.

    • Right but deals with those compagnies tie you up. It's not only a matter of open format, it's a matter of independance.
      To have laws that oblige administrations to go in the direction of the biggest independance for them and therefore for their government in a matter of administration is a sane decision.
      On the other hand, I don't think this is true for every part of a country's organisation. Civil rights for example are outside the scope of a country's independance. That's why the human rights declaration is universal, it's beyond politics.
    • That means Windows is out the window because it is not POSIX compliant and certified, so is Linux, *BSD, and Mac OS X.

      It is one thing to follow the standards close but still have divergence from it for the good.
      • That means Windows is out the window because it is not POSIX compliant and certified

        Microsoft has a simple POSIX layer built into Windows NT operating systems (including 2000 and XP). It's not very good (e.g. it can't run networking or graphics; thus, no X), but Microsoft does supply an upgraded POSIX layer called Interix. If you don't really need "certified", then Red Hat Cygwin [] might work; it implements (most of) POSIX on top of Win32.

        so is Linux, *BSD, and Mac OS X.

        Linux not POSIX certified? Then what's this "POSIX conformance testing by Unifix []" message I see every time I start Red Hat?

    • Are you serious? Do you know what you are asking for?

      POSIX perhaps?

      This is a sure way for everyone to loose (money, time, etc.). It levels the playing field TO THE LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR. Forget innovation. Forget change.

      I'd rather have the evils of MS, Oracle, etc. than the true evil that government oversight would bring with it.
      • I didn't say they have to develop it, just that it has to be open and free. For all I care they choose the latest MS-Word DOC version, as long as I can download a file with the complete description of the format and am free to implement it without royalties or restrictions. (Not that I think DOC files are the way to go, but that's an other point of discussion.)

      • Right. Without the innovation to break the last proprietary document format with an incompatible, upgrade-forcing new one, how can government possibly continue to operate? XML is "the lowest common denominator" compared to .doc? How, that the unwashed (ie. any citizen) can read it with paying the MS tax?
    • What I would like the goverments to do is to define open fileformats/protocols and only accept/buy software which supports these formats 100%.

      There's a lot that can go wrong this way. I've followed one project like this. The result so far in 4 years has been money down the drain and some crappy standards that don't work.

      Problem is that the government doesn't always have the expertise to build those fileformats and protocols. And it they don't, a third party is going to make it. And that company often doesn't have the expertise either. At this point it becomes a political problem and everybody just let the project die a slow and painful death. Those who complain are only labelled problematic people.

  • Maybe microsoft is just trying to keep it hidden that (in the us) when the goverment buys software... it becomes public domain... atleast... thats how it was years ago...
  • by Slak ( 40625 ) on Wednesday August 14, 2002 @07:58AM (#4068948)
    I've often wondered how US Government agencies (such as the NSA with SELinux) can legally GPL code. According to the US Code Section 17 Chapter 1 Section 105 (

    Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government, but the United States Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise

    So I'm not sure that these companies don't have a point. I would think this indicates that the government cannot extend GPL code, as the GPL is based on copyright (er, copyleft). Granted, I have but a limited understanding of Copyright Law and the legal basis behind the GPL. I would like to see this issue explained, however.

    I would think that any changes the US Government (or its agencies) made to GPL code would have to fall into the Public Domain. By the same token, if the NSA were to make an UltraSecure Windows OS, then their modifications would not be assignable (as US Government works do not enjoy copyright protection) to Microsoft and would also fall into the Public Domain (just their diffs, not the whole work).

    Obviously, US Code Section 17 Chapter 1 Section 105 does not preclude the government from merely using Open Source (or any form of software, for that matter) without extending it.

    • by Col. Klink (retired) ( 11632 ) on Wednesday August 14, 2002 @08:59AM (#4069228)
      Government employees can not copyright their work (done for their jobs), but contractors (like Donald Becker when he was at NASA) are not employees but independent agents and they can copyright their work. Similarly, government funded research is not owned by the government but by the researcher.
    • You're missing the point of most of these initiatives. What these people want is for software contractors to meet certain requirements.

      1. Files created by your software need to be in an open, documented format. This is to prevent "lock-in" of documents. Since so many people have to exchange files with the government, it is important that the government doesn't dictate which program they should use.

      2. Governments need to be able to examine the source code of a program, so that they can (theoretically) protect themselves from malicious code. It also allows them the ability to further develop the software should the original contractor no longer be able to.

      3. Research done for the government is assumed to be for the general public. Legal licensing restrictions need to protect the interests of the general public.

      Mind you, these are the intents. Whether the actual bills do this or not I can't tell, because my eyes tend to glaze over when I read legal documents.
    • I code for the government as a contractor and I copyright my code before giving it to the government.

      2 reasons why:
      1. So the company I work for doesn't get to say it's theirs and I can give the benefit to the customer.
      2. So I can sell it commercially. :-)

  • Steer clear? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Wednesday August 14, 2002 @07:58AM (#4068950)

    > they do mention that publicly-funded research should steer clear of licenses such as the GPL.

    Actually, the GPL is how publicly funded research should be licensed. These people are doing nothing more than lobbying for an entitlement.

    • You could make a case that government funded research is better suited to be released under a BSD licence. Probably a stronger case for putting government funded research directly into the public domain.

      As an aside, I am upset that government funded research in the area of drug development is allowed to be patented by drug companies. At least the patents are supposed to expire (and do so quicker than copyrights do). Although the drug companies seem to have found their own tricks for extending the life of their patents, but that's another story alltogether....

  • Bad Idea (Score:4, Interesting)

    by deke_2503 ( 569986 ) on Wednesday August 14, 2002 @08:01AM (#4068957)
    "'When public funds are used to support software research and development, the innovations that result from this work should be licensed in ways that take into account both the desirability of broadly sharing those advances as well as the desirability of applying those advances to commercialized products,' the group stated."

    Basically, the taxpayers' money should be used to finance "commercialized products" that make money for somebody else...

    "In a recent speech delivered to the Government Leaders' Conference in Seattle, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates likened the concept of open source to anti-capitalism. Warning developing countries against using software based on the GPL, Gates said those who put development time into it are denying themselves the benefits of essential taxes."

    And we all know that anti-capitalism is..communism. I knew those Chinese were onto something with their Linux.
    However, this is not actually true. If a government uses taxes to fund research/development of software, the benefit ti the said government is software--why should it care how it is licensed, as long as it is functional?

    • I think you misunderstand. The argument is
      in favor of BSD-style licensing for the products
      of publically funded research. This is motivated
      by the desire to keep their formats secret, so
      that they can continue to crush all potential

    • "Basically, the taxpayers' money should be used to finance "commercialized products" that make money for somebody else... "

      No, they're making money for me because the industry hires software developers to improve upon these innovations and commercialize them. I really like having a job, don't you?

      "And we all know that anti-capitalism is..communism."

      Pretty much, especially if you are trying to use government to kill capitalism.

      "If a government uses taxes to fund research/development of software, the benefit ti the said government is software--why should it care how it is licensed, as long as it is functional? "

      Because Government tax dollars only exist if you have commercial interests building products, hiring people and generating salaries.

      If you wish to be anti-capitalist, it is perfectly acceptable for you to do so on your own time and on your own dollar. Buy a piece of land out in Idaho and create a coop where you and your many Linux loving pals can raise tomatoes and write software without being subjected to evil capitalist ideologies.

      But when you try to get the government to forcibly seize assets from citizens(what we like to call taxes) so as to fund your software experiments, then I'm afraid we're going to have a public policy debate and you may not like what you hear.
  • by jukal ( 523582 ) on Wednesday August 14, 2002 @08:04AM (#4068972) Journal
    How exactly are they campaigning against open source? To me it says rather - if not very - neutrally that what they want is that open source, semi open source, and closed source and their licensing methods should co-exist. Also, I share their opinion that it would be very stupid to make organisations choose from only what is available under open source.

    I do think that it is a big plus for many (or most) products if it is an open source one. Even if it was true in all cases, some closed source products can still be superior. There are cases and specialist areas in which development under closed source can be done with bigger and better resources, which eventually results in a better product.

    ...and I must say that I prefer open source a lot... and still I think these proposed open source -only laws are utterly stupid.

  • It is kinda funny that CompTIA would have any problem with Open Source software since they have a Linux+ certification.
  • Open file formats (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nuggz ( 69912 ) on Wednesday August 14, 2002 @08:08AM (#4068992) Homepage
    I think the idea is fully documented file formats that we can edit with alternate applications.

    I don't think we should legislate free software, because quite honestly if MS has the best solution for that task, we SHOULD use it.

    What we should have is that all file formats should be clearly documented and have a non discriminatory royalty free, patent free licence to use in competing products. Then there wouldn't be an arguement.

    • I think the idea is fully documented file formats that we can edit with alternate applications.

      The fact that fully documents file formats don't happen, even internally, at most companies, and will never happen externally from microsoft is enough reason to not accept this. It's feasible, but it doesn't seem to happen in the current consumer software development environment. However, if they release the source code that interprets the documents to build an object model for the document (Which is presumably what they are doing) then indeed this argument goes away.

      I don't think we should legislate free software, because quite honestly if MS has the best solution for that task, we SHOULD use it.

      I take offense to my government storing things in (practically, if not "officially") closed data formats. I work for a branch of the Government of Canada, and I get stuff delivered to me on my Redhat box that uses .doc all the time. The only way to fix this is to use truly open data formats that are well supported. Nothing microsoft does fits that definition. I doubt that anything MS provides is the "best solution" for the task, if you consider licencing costs, loss of freedoms in a democracy, vendor lockin, etc.

  • by standards ( 461431 ) on Wednesday August 14, 2002 @08:12AM (#4069002)
    I love these guys... they're so honest. But their "principles" need some help...:

    "Procure software on its merits, not through categorical preferences"

    Maybe they could say "Please don't judge our product on the license agreement! Our license is designed to maximize our stranglehold on you... and if you disallow our software due to it's license, well, we won't be able to take advantage of you".

    "Promote broad availability of government funded research"

    Perhaps instead they could say "We'd like to package up taxpayer-funded research and sell it back to the tax payers! All for profit! Please don't take that away from us - because we'd hate to have to pay for more research."

    "Promote interoperability through platform-neutral standards"

    Perhaps they could say "Don't place standards on us, because we want to try to monopolize the industry. If the standards are open source, how can we lock in our customers?"

    "Maintain a choice of strong intellectual property protections"

    Maybe it'd be better to say "Don't weaken our intellectual property, because we spent so much money on research! We need to recover our research burden. Of course, much of the research came through tax-payer funded research grants, but we still want it all. After all, we're in it to make as much money as we possibly can, and a legal monopoly is our best approach."

  • "Governments are best served when they can select software from a broad range of products based on such considerations as value, total cost of ownership, feature set, performance and security."

    Hmmm...maybe I am a bit biased, but to my ears that is an overwhelming nod of support to Open Source products. To paraphrase: "We stronly encourage the use of FreeBSD"

  • Another approach (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    As I posted over at NewsForge, I think a better approach would be to ban purchasing from companies that have been found to have violated anti-trust laws, as long as they have a certain percentage of market share. Once there is more competition and the market share is less lopsided, they can resume purchasing from the (former) monopoly.

    You have to wonder if Microsoft would also protest if someone attempted to get a law passed that forbids using open source, calling it anti-capitalistic or an intellectual property destroyer or such. I think Microsoft would only lobby against something when they see a threat to their revenue. They're only interested in preventing damage to the computer ecosystem when they're the ones who would bear the brunt. I don't think they give a rat's ass about what's in the best interest of customers, only theirs.
  • "You are known by the calibre of your enemies"

    Disruptive innovations have usually won the game by the time incumbents start to take them seriously.

    Even though they are avoiding the words Open Source everyone knows that is what is being targetted. I think the only result of this campaign will be to raise the profile of Open Source still higher.
  • About two year ago, in a FreeSoftware presentation by Richard Stalmann (did I spelled it correct?) I have asked him if he have ever considered the possibility of liberty restricting laws, such as DMCA, affect GPLed softwares, Free Softwares or even any kind of Open Source.

    He told me that this possibily does not exist and that DMCA exists to protect copyrighted material that, in his opinion should, be protected. He told that Free Software is Copylefted and would not have any risk of being affected by such laws.

    Unfortunately he was wrong. In the last year I saw two initiatives trying to ban FreeSoftware from US. I know that he don't have the obligation to preview such things, but it should be better if we have more "gurus" that are able to preview these kind of problems.

    About all these attempts to ban FreeSoftware from US, all I have to say is that I'm really sorry that there's people in the government that can't understand that FreeSoftware is about Freedom and this is one of the base concepts of democracy. Don't US government consider itself democratic?

  • by SuperCal ( 549671 ) on Wednesday August 14, 2002 @08:25AM (#4069057) Homepage
    I hate to say this seeing as I just got the automatic +1 score, but hey... what's a little karma among friends.

    I'm kinda glad to see something like this. While I don't think some of these Open Source regulations are as bad as maybe a commercial only regulation, I still think that these are bad policies. I never want my local government to have their hands tied in choosing the most appropriate platform. Many of these laws, even if the legislators don't want to admit it are simply anti M$ laws, but they could hurt other companies as well. Anyway back to the point. I can think of several examples were using commercial solutions would save money over the long run. Basically I think anytime you regulate away choice you are hurting your self. I policy, encouraging Free Software is much more appropriate.
  • Call me a cynic... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Woodie ( 8139 ) on Wednesday August 14, 2002 @08:25AM (#4069058) Homepage
    OK -

    call me a cynic. But, this whole freedom of choice thing can't be underscored. GPL is great, if you want to put your software under it, feel free to do so. Just don't demand that I do the same. Information doesn't want to be free. Information doesn't _want_ anything. Information just is. People want information for a variety of purposes.

    Unfortunately the US government is somewhat restricted from being a copyright holder, and patent holder for good reason. As if the government doesn't have enough power already, what with laws and everything... Try to imagine if they could be patent holders and copyright holders. What better way to cripple free speech and innovation?

    And all this jazz about China using Linux. They're using you alright. China is not adopting Linux out of any altruistic sense of empowering the people. They are adopting it because it is not controlled by a corporation which is based in a potentially hostile foreign nation. China using Linux isn't about software - it's about politics. "Oh, look - we can get free software & brownie points, while divesting ourselves of foreign interest."

    Sure, Linux may be the next best thing since sliced bread. GPL might be the next best thing too. But keep in mind that some of us still like to buy our loaves of bread whole, and slice them ourselves. Choice is good. Forcing your brand of "freedom" down anyone and everyone's throat == bad.

    I can understand you all wanting the governemt to use OSS systems in building government systems. In fact, I'd lobby for that too. On a business, and social level it makes a lot of sense. But, guess what...? Sometimes OSS isn't always the right choice for the job. Shoehorning the wrong tool into doing the job is a big mistake. Options need to be considered rationally - not religiously. Of course, if you're used to kludges solving your problems - that might be OK.

    • by mgkimsal2 ( 200677 ) on Wednesday August 14, 2002 @09:22AM (#4069434) Homepage
      "Shoehorning the wrong tool" - this happens OFTEN dealing with MS. Anecdotal case in point:

      The transcription department at the hospital my mother works at transferred everyone over to MS Word a couple years ago, from DOS-based Word Perfect. The reason given was to 'increase productivity'. Well, it only helps the IT productivity, because it's less for them to 'learn' (never mind that they rarely actually help solve a problem anyway, that's another story).

      The point is hundreds of people were trained and very productive in WordPerfect. They didn't WANT to switch to Office/Word, but were forced to. Productivity DROPPED like a rock. All the DOS-based tools (keymap-expanders - "alt-shift-gg" expands to "gyrointestinal gerontology", for example) don't exist for Word, and still haven't appeared on the market.

      By pure line-count per hour based productivity, MANY people in the department fell at least 50%, some by as much as 80%, in terms of productivity.

      This was and still is most definitely the 'wrong tool' for the job, but it's 'company policy' and everyone lives with it. Forcing people in a federal office building to learn OpenOffice after learning Word would be costly, yes, but it would fit the overarching IT vision, if it was articulated to demand open source stuff.

      When the 'wrong tool' for the job is MS, people still seem to go along with it, but when the 'wrong tool' may be open source stuff, suddenly it can't happen?
      • but it's 'company policy' and everyone lives with it.
        BURNS: As punishment for your desertion, it's company policy to give you the plague.

        SMITHERS: Uh, sir, that's the plaque.

        BURNS: Ah yes, the special demotivational plaque to break what's left of your spirit. Because, you see, you're here forever. [Smithers screws a "Don't forget: you're here forever" plaque into the wall]

        BURNS: Don't forget: you're here forever!

      • My primary function in IT has been on the medical end. Just about every aspect. And I have used the Nixes and MS products in offices I have managed and was the it director for a small hospital. I have 12 years in this side of industry and have seen it ALL.

        The problems you mention are true but are a little exaggerated.

        1. MS word is a bit of a learning curve if you come from Wordperfect(which in it's day rocked). But all of those items you mentioned that cannot be done with Word, can be. MS is quite big on the Healthcare front. I have implemented key expanders for word since 1995.

        No one know about google at the hospital? TF -8&q=word+key+expanders


        This goes for any software implentation that is in a production enviroment such as a hospital. Have 25 percent of the staff begin to switch at first, have em use it for half a day, but slowly roll it out and ease the new product it. ANY change of software will cause downtime in production. AND all employees when switching from something known to something new create a lotta FUD. They are scared, don't want to learn something new, and in many cases they know the new stuff might bring to light some of their faults. Sounds like the hospital IT staff was a little clueless.

        Then which brings me the the point of TCO and standards.

        Word in the longrun would probably be cheaper than open office and easier to support because people have it at home, can pick up a a dummies book, go to New Horizons, call a friend, many venues for support. And the more widely spread the product on the market, = less calls I get because many people know it and can lean over and help their coworker.

        We do need an open standard for documents. I totally agree. BUT when medical records and forms need to be sent in formats that cannot change and need to print on your printer like I look at them on my screen. Insurance claim forms adhere to a certain standard and if they are 1 millionth of a mm off, then the companies wont take em.

        Then I am going to choose the most widely accepted format, which in this case is Word.

        Word has an 85 percent saturation in the medical industry, and sadly enough I have to go with it but cause it will be around in the long run, TCO. I train em on Word now, the industry supports it, and it will be around.

        Word Perfect has been floundering since the 90s. They actually were going out of business and Novell bought them. I have a CD that says Novells Word Perfect. The widespread use is that it has always been bundled free with systems.

        This is not a Microsoft ad. As an IT director I choose the least painful route and the less costly in the long run. And in the medical industry word fits the bill.

        I use Unix, I like it. I use open office. I use Office, I like em both. Office is a good product

    • The government can copyright. I am holding an example of this (a video tape) in my hand right now.
    • call me a cynic. But, this whole freedom of choice thing can't be underscored.

      Security and Privacy supersede freedom of choice when dealing with MY Social Security number and MY Driver's Licence.

      With Open Source software, the government can make sure that it's software is secure by keeping a staff of programmers. With non-open source software, the government is at the publisher's mercy. Since the publisher's best interests != the government's best interests, this is a situation we should never be in.
    • China using Linux isn't about software - it's about politics.

      The US government using Linux is about politcs too, the politics of an institution created for the public good not being reliant on a proven monopoly and having an open document structure. (Did China really say "Oh, look..."?)

    • China is not adopting Linux out of any altruistic sense of empowering the people. They are adopting it because it is not controlled by a corporation which is based in a potentially hostile foreign nation.
      And one of the reasons I favor Linux is that it's not controlled by a corporation convicted of illegally leveraging its monopoly and based in a nation increasingly hostile to the will of its own people. (Ref: CBDTPA, UCITA, DMCA)
  • Simply making it mandatory for govt agencies to use OSS IS anti-choice, but a highly visible and political one destined to make headline news and bring on the wrath of the Ayndroids, as compared to all the subtle subterfuge and skulldugery, tie-ins and bundling that goes into maintaining and extending a PC platform monopoly (You can use any software you want, as long as it's Msft).

  • I don't mind (Score:4, Insightful)

    by NorthDude ( 560769 ) on Wednesday August 14, 2002 @08:44AM (#4069146)
    If government software are open-sourced or not.
    What I do mind however is if their document format are open or not.
    If they are, it is "easy" to change from one application to another.
    But if you have to reverse-engineer every document-type, it gets harder.
    What really bothers me is the content, not the media.
  • public domain (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cemcnulty ( 225472 )
    I agree that government sponsored software shouldn't be lisensed under the GPL, it should be opened to the public domain so that it can be used freely in open and closed source applications. If software is created using my tax dollars I want access to it unfettered even by the GPL.

    • If government-developed software is released to the public domain, then you can end up paying for it twice: Once when you are taxed to fund the development, and again when you pay a license fee to the software vendor that incorporated the public domain code. You pay twice, the vendor only pays once, and the vendor also benefits from selling licenses to non-taxpayer customers, perhaps overseas.

  • Here it is... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Corbin Dallas ( 165835 ) on Wednesday August 14, 2002 @09:14AM (#4069325) Homepage
    For all you "Open Source Only Laws Are Bad" folks:

    If you buy closed source products, you have NO idea if it has a fatal bug or security exploit, and you are at the company's mercy if you want something fixed. PERIOD.

    I mean, Jesus people, THINK! What if you install the MicroBuss 5000 database software to store Social Security numbers and Drivers Licences, and then suddenly it gets hacked and all the data is compromised? Here's the quote from MicroBuss:

    "Well, we knew about the exploit, but we didn't want to tell anyone until we found a fix for it. It's ready now, just purchase the upgrade to the 6000 series."

    Don't laugh too much, this can really happen. Haven't any of you watched The Net? Granted, much of that was Hollywood, but backdoors are a reality. Is it really worth the risk for a minor economic boost? The answer is NO.

    Of all the places, I didn't think I'd have to post something like this at Slashdot, but after reading the first dozen or so comments, I guess I was wrong.
  • First, fund research into networking and interoperability between computers.

    Second, since it's done with public funds, refuse to let anyone copyright or patent the research.

    Third, allow anyone in the world to use the work.

    Fourth, pass laws to prevent it's use unless you pay for it.

    Typical corporatist thinking.

  • Why should governments (and people) across the world choose Open Source?

    Freedom - Linux and the General Public Licence (GPL) frees you from the chains of software licensing

    Control - You are no longer forced into a never-ending cycle of "upgrades"

    Growth - Linux makes available the tools and applications that enable you to expand

    Security - Witness the hundreds of Windows Security Alerts at CERT

    Stability- Up months at a time without a crash or need for rebooting

    Customization - immense flexibility

    Lower Costs - You can control costs by eliminating license fees, and reducing the cost of your software upgrade cycles.

    Linux isn't free. Linux is Freedom.

  • by fatwreckfan ( 322865 ) on Wednesday August 14, 2002 @09:21AM (#4069410)
    There was a story [] at The Register almost a week ago about this.

    Most interestingly is Sincere Choice [], created by Bruce Perens and Michael Robertson.

    From their main page:

    We stand for these principles:

    • Open Standards

    • Intercommunication and file formats should follow standards that are sincerely open for all to implement, without royalty fees or discrimination.
    • Choice Through Interoperability

    • No user should be required to use a particular product simply because other users do. Competing products should interoperate with each other through open standards.
    • Competition by Merit

    • Software vendors should compete fairly on the merit of their products, rather than by attempting to lock each other's products out of the market.
      Research Availability
      The people pay for government-funded research, its fruits should be available to all of them equally. We promote Open Source / Free Software licensing as a means of distributing research results fairly.
    • Range of Copyright Policies

    • We support a broad range of copyright policies, from Public Domain through Open Source and Free Software to Proprietary. We support use of the GPL and LGPL licenses when appropriate. We assert that Open Source and Proprietary models can be used together effectively. A number of our companies deploy software under the GPL license and proprietary software in the same product.
    • Freedom to Set Policy

    • Individual users, businesses, and government should all be free to set their own policies regarding what sorts of software they will acquire and use. They should not force their policies upon others.

  • The organization should properly be named as the above.

    Laws that require government offices to use free software does not limit the choice of software, it limits the choice of licenses. Specificaly, it limits the ability to chose a license that bind the purchaser to a single vendor for support and updates.

    Obviously, most vendor would like to be the single choice for support and updates, since being the single source allows you to set the price as you see fit (the alternate would be for the pruchaser to switch to another platform, which requires retraining and is extremely expensive).

    While a single vendor license may offer some immidiate benfits, for example the vendor may offer a price below development cost in anticipation of later income on support and updates, a license that allow a free choice of vendor may be cheaper on the long run, as competition between vendors will make sure that the need of the purchaser is not ignored and the price is close to cost. Appart from the price, there is alwaus the very real risk that a single vendor will "change its focus" to something that is not you.

    The initiative this does not think government offices should be allowed to make license requirements that is in their own long time best interest, but instead alone should choose based on short term tecnical merrit, ignoring the long time benefits of free vendor choice.
  • There is a big difference betweens licenses such as BSD and other licenses. And that difference is restriction. I don't want publicly created works placed under ANY form of restriction, nor do I want the government to adopt a policy that exchanges a bias for one form of restricted software for another.

    Anyone who wants to put restictions on their own code, hey, I'm all for that. One of the principles behind all of this once was the right to choose your own license and distribution methods (unless of course you're the RIAA, then we have the right to choose your licenses and distribution methods for you), but I draw the line at allowing someone else to set the restrictions on code and concepts that my tax dollars also paid for.

  • This group is against laws that force you into particular software choices, like

    You must use Microsoft Windows.

    You must use GPLed software.

    This is in response to that silly California law--which geeks seem to support, for unknown reasons--mandating the use of open source software. Certainly that's a dumb and extremist proposition, and even Stallman and Torvalds would be against it.

  • A huge dinosaur, covered with ants, each taking a tiny little bite out of its flesh. It rages and storms and roars. It stomps its feet and slams its body against trees. It kills lots of ants. But there are lots and lots of them, and they continue to patiently nibble away at it. It's very big, and it fights hard, and it's gonna take a long time to die. But you know who's gonna win in the end.
  • "Procure software on its merits, not through categorical preferences "

    Change 'procure software' to 'hire an employee' and see how far that gets you with the US Gubmint.
  • Repeat Topic (Score:2, Informative)

    by AlastairBurt ( 3604 )
    This topic was actually discussed four days ago under the title MS "Software Choice" Campaign: A Clever Fraud []. But, of course, it is always good to discuss it again.
  • by dh003i ( 203189 ) <dh003i@[ ] ['gma' in gap]> on Wednesday August 14, 2002 @11:06AM (#4070185) Homepage Journal
    Thus, the source code for any software it uses should be available.

    The people have the right to know what code the government is using to protect confidential information, criminal records, driving records, manage taxes, etc etc. Closed-source software destroys the possibility of transparency in the government, and denies people that right.

    Furthermore, its OUR tax dollars which are paying for this stuff. Thus, more cost-effective solutions -- hence open source software / free software / public domain software -- should be used by the government.

    Furthermore, the government should not use any standards which lock/force people into using any particular kind of software. That means no proprietary standards (like MS .doc files). Proprietary standards force people into using particular programs (like MS Word). Open Source / Free standards should be used, as they don't lock the people into any particular program. A standard like OpenPGP can be incorporated by anyone into their program, be it the FSF, the OSI, or MS.

    Now, regarding government development of software. In all cases, government-funded projects should produce something which is freely available to the public. That means public domain, GPL, or Open Source Licenses. These licenses (or lack thereof) make the results of government-funded projects available to the public. In regards to the GPL, it requires that you GPL any modifications. But this is a good thing. It is good that the government promote recipricol relationship communities, as the GPL does. This is in the public interest. It is in the public's interest that any software produced or funded or supported by the US Government become public domain, GPL, or covered under any of the OSI certified licenses. It is not in the public's interest that such fall under a proprietary license: that means that citizens pay TWICE for a product. Once to support its development, then again to buy it.

    The simple fact that in 99.99% of cases using Open Source/GPL software saves money should be enough to justify its use. In the few cases where it doesn't, that's b/c its not as good as the proprietary equivalent, but that can easily be fixed by government-funded development.

    Even in the very few (0.01%) of cases where you save money by using proprietary software, that still doesn't justify using it in those cases. Because the public has the right to know what the code is the govenrment is using (as this affects their lives), any code the government uses should be transparent.
  • Like the choice not to pay for Windows on a new PC. More importantly, I would like the choice of not having to use Microsoft software in order to read government documents, submit government forms, etc.

    So, as long as the government sticks to open formats, I don't care what software they use. The problem with Microsoft software is that Microsoft does not support open formats well. If Microsoft changes their behavior, they can become competitive again for government applications.

"Turn on, tune up, rock out." -- Billy Gibbons