Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Government GNU is Not Unix News Your Rights Online

City of Vancouver Adopts Open Standards 132

Posted by kdawson
from the asleep-at-the-switch-in-redmond dept.
rbrander writes "Vancouver, Canada's third-largest city, has adopted a policy of 'open standards, interfaces and formats' for all public data. They will also consider open-source software on an even footing with proprietary for all new software purchases. Fifteen of the fifteen people who signed up to speak to city council on the topic spoke in favor. Their only criticism was, 'can't you do more?' with one advocating that free and open source software be given preference, not equal footing."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

City of Vancouver Adopts Open Standards

Comments Filter:
  • by vawarayer (1035638) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @05:11PM (#28077599)

    It's good that in tough times, our elected people stop and think outside the box a bit.

    • by BikeHelmet (1437881) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @05:16PM (#28077655) Journal

      It's not so much thinking outside the box, as not forgetting what you put in it.

      When you can't open documents from a decade and a half ago, because they were stored in some incompatible proprietary format, you can't help but get a bad taste in your mouth for the company that caused it.

      Now if you can complete your required task by using free software instead, and you have a guarantee that format will always be supported... well, make the logical jump.

      Even if it isn't always supported, you can save the sourcecode, and decades from now you just get some enterprising novice coder to create a plugin to load it, for some money and experience. ;)

      • I agree, the aggravation factor is the biggest motivation for adopting open source.
    • by Jurily (900488)

      It's good that in tough times, our elected people stop and think outside the box a bit.

      Not really. It's just a slightly bigger box.

    • That MS Office 2007 upgrade that the budget just could not handle just became a must have since it supports "open standards" and MS Office 2003/XP does not :) Woohoo! One win for "open standards" in the books.
  • Welcome (Score:5, Funny)

    by Nemyst (1383049) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @05:11PM (#28077607) Homepage
    I, for one, welcome our new open source Canuck overlords.
  • Vancouver is Awesome (Score:5, Informative)

    by Phrogman (80473) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @05:16PM (#28077657) Homepage

    I am glad to see the city where I was born is leading the rest of Canada in adopting support for open standards. Hopefully this is a foot in the door that prompts the rest of Canada to follow suit.

    Vancouver, and British Columbia in general has always had a very strong Linux community. Victoria (the provincial Capital) has always had a fairly strong LUG going for as long as I can remember.

    • by CarpetShark (865376) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @06:09PM (#28078079)

      The UK did the "equal consideration" thing years ago (I think around 2002/3). A few years later, I was still seeing government contracts being awarded based on statements like (actual quote) "Your tender was perfect, except for one word we wanted to hear: Microsoft".

      Equal consideration isn't enough; it's a weasel word to appease people who care, while continuing with the status quo. Government buyers take risks only when forced to do so be legal requirements.

      • by sortius_nod (1080919) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @06:26PM (#28078203) Homepage

        Unfortunately, as we can see now, the UK have some serious issues with their politicians flagrantly abusing the system. It really doesn't surprise me that they'd be stupid enough to openly admit they are biased toward Microsoft even though the policy states otherwise.

        This really isn't a good example given the current situation in the UK.

        • > Unfortunately, as we can see now, the [world has] some serious issues with their politicians flagrantly abusing the system.

          Here, I fixed that for you. But the UK does have a spectacular example of such a disaster: Iplayer. The Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iplayer [wikipedia.org] is enlightening on how exactly to screw up a major technology project with bad "initiatives". Of particular foolishness was the Windows-only DRM preventing it from working with anything but Windows Media Player, and it suc

          • Here, I fixed that for you. But the UK does have a spectacular example of such a disaster: Iplayer. The Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iplayer [wikipedia.org] is enlightening on how exactly to screw up a major technology project with bad "initiatives". Of particular foolishness was the Windows-only DRM preventing it from working with anything but Windows Media Player, and it sucking your bandwidth even after you turned it off to effectively bittorrent the material while refusing to admit that it was bittorrent.

            I think you may be a bit behind the times. iPlayer has been multi platform for quite a while now. the streaming service runs on flash, and even does HD, and the downloader is now available for both Linux and Mac as well as Windows via AIR. Works just fine on Fedora 10. Not open source, but at least platform neutral.

            I agree that they made a mess of it when they went the Microsoft route. It was at best, used by a few people. The Flash site however has been very successful.

            • I did say "of particular foolishness _was_" the various issues. Are the new Mac and Linux players Flash based, as their original Mac and Linux offerings were? Are they so DRM burdened as the originals were? And do they still silently run a Bittorrent protocol, even when they are turned off, sucking up your bandwidth unannounced even if you only ever watched five minutes of Dr. Who and forgot to uninstall it?
      • by intx13 (808988)
        Equal consideration is all that is needed. Unequal consideration means that an open source solution is considered a better choice than a closed source solution, before the individual merits of each solution are examined.

        When you put open source and closed source solutions side-by-side on equal footing, you can make comparisons such as TCO, vendor lock-in, support options, timeliness of updates/upgrades, and so on. If you simply assume that open source should be preferential you're making as big a mist
        • by omz13 (882548)

          Equal consideration is all that is needed. Unequal consideration means that an open source solution is considered a better choice than a closed source solution, before the individual merits of each solution are examined.

          Of course, this assumes that the tender that is written in a fair and unbiased manner. I've looked at picking up some public sector work, and the biggest problem is that tenders can be written in such a way that only one supplier will be able to win it... and they're written in such as way as to also appear totally open and fair.

  • by viyh (620825) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @05:17PM (#28077659) Homepage
    ...if all government agencies adopted this policy. After all, what good is using standards if they aren't used across the board? Plus, there are so many "open standards" in many cases that it kind of defeats it's own purpose.
    • by jpedlow (1154099) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @05:32PM (#28077791)
      Sorry Friend, it's laughable at best. :( The problem is that the provincial government of British Columbia has a branch, called WTS: http://www.sharedservicesbc.gov.bc.ca/Workplace_Technology_Services/supplier.htm [gov.bc.ca] these people handle all of the computers on the provincial level. Basically, you've got a lot of hardcore geeks bound by red tape and managers who know nothing about computers in general. (Same old story, right?) Anyway... In the old days, every ministry, say Transport, for example, would have their own admins, their own domain software packages etc. Now it's all under one roof, the problem is that they like old school technology. Ie we have to BEG AND PLEAD to use PHP, ruby etc for interfaces for our databases...prettymuch the problem is, the geeks on hand love open source, but the managers for the whole system have their heads firmly planted up their butts. Thats even the reason why they *just* ramped up to vista instead of waiting for win7 because it'd have "unproven performance". Good game, bureaucracy.
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @05:26PM (#28077745)

    Giving OSS preferred treatment means that it doesn't win because it's better but just because it got an "unfair" advantage. You'll end up with the same prejudice that many "affirmative action" projects face, claiming that they only got this or that position because of that "unfair" advantage, not on their own merit.

    I'm convinced that OSS can "win" on its own. And nobody will be able to claim that the sole reason was preference.

    • by Stormwatch (703920) <<rodrigogirao> <at> <hotmail.com>> on Sunday May 24, 2009 @05:52PM (#28077955) Homepage
      It's not about the best app for a given job, it's about avoiding vendor lock-in. When it comes to government documents, total format openness should be obligatory.
      • by omz13 (882548)

        It's not about the best app for a given job, it's about avoiding vendor lock-in. When it comes to government documents, total format openness should be obligatory.

        In theory, if you have an open format, then any app should be able to view/edit it. The issue is that not all open formats are created equally. The OpenOffice format http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Office_Open_XML [wikipedia.org], IMHO, is a right mess (as in so complicated to grok). If you want something simple that will last a long time, people need to think more in terms of something like plain ASCII/UNICODE with lighweight markup... see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lightweight_markup_language [wikipedia.org]

        • by Qubit (100461)

          In theory, if you have an open format, then any app should be able to view/edit it.

          Given a sufficiently precise spec, a computer with enough resources to support an application to use the spec, and someone willing to write the application to read/write the spec, then yes.

          The issue is that not all open formats are created equally.

          Sure -- just imagine a crappy format licensed under an open spec.

          The OpenOffice format http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Office_Open_XML [wikipedia.org] [wikipedia.org], IMHO, is a right mess (as in so complicated to grok).

          Score one for Microsoft. Check the link you listed and you'll see that the confusingly named "Office Open XML" format has nothing to do with OpenOffice.org. OOXML is Microsoft's so-called "open" XML file format for MS-Office docs.

          You might be thinking of the

    • A citizen's desire to ensure their freedom is entirely appropriate. With software the only way to do that is to exclusively use free software and open standards. Proprietors aren't stupid; sometimes they write powerful software. But no matter what that software does it is always non-free. Powerful proprietary software has a master, an individual or organization that controls its destiny and thus what the user can do and how the user can do that job. People accustomed to the idea that programs should be decided on certain vaguely-stated values ("their own merit") and not a user's freedom—the freedoms of free software—need to reevaluate their views in light of what public service means. Governments should not be under the thumb of proprietors, no matter how powerful their software. We are better off improving free software to make up for any technical limitations it has so that it can do what citizens need it to do; thus less powerful free software is preferable to more powerful proprietary software.

    • by rolfwind (528248)

      Giving OSS preferred treatment means that it doesn't win because it's better but just because it got an "unfair" advantage. You'll end up with the same prejudice that many "affirmative action" projects face, claiming that they only got this or that position because of that "unfair" advantage, not on their own merit.

      I'm convinced that OSS can "win" on its own. And nobody will be able to claim that the sole reason was preference.

      But Vancouver is doing the right thing by enforcing open standards. It just mean

      • by Lennie (16154)

        I'm always suprised about how people are able to come up with new car analogies each time. :-)

    • As far as I'm concerned, proprietary software is, by definition, not fit for purpose in public projects**. So yes, OSS and open formats can win on their merits, but yes, they should also be mandated.

      ** See Peter Quinn's "Sovereignty" arguments for why

      • by afabbro (33948)

        As far as I'm concerned, proprietary software is, by definition, not fit for purpose in public projects**.

        My generalization meter just went from SWEEPING to OVERFLOW.

        Yes, open software is better for government projects, all things being equal. But when they're not - which is often the case - you have to make a judgement each time. For example, I can think of several transportation management apps and several engineering apps which have no open source equivalent and likely never will (mainly because the "itch" you'd have to scratch is, for example, a large, multi-modal transportation network). Saying that pro

        • My generalization meter just went

          What your "meters" are doing is your own business ;)

          I can think of several transportation management apps and several engineering apps which have no open source equivalent

          So that's not a problem then, since we're talking about which is PREFERRED.

          and likely never will (mainly because the "itch" you'd have to scratch is, for example, a large, multi-modal transportation network)

          Incorrect. There's nothing fundamental about the itch-license link, and plenty of large projects hav

    • by jonaskoelker (922170) <jonaskoelker@gn u . org> on Sunday May 24, 2009 @07:20PM (#28078559) Homepage

      In some situations, being Open Source is a merit in itself.

      Giving preference to Open Source is one way to let that merit influence your decision.

      Exactly how much preference Open Source will have (and should have) is open to debate. Is it "all else equals", or is it "unless there's a strong compelling reason not to", or somewhere between?

    • by erroneus (253617) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @08:29PM (#28078963) Homepage

      Merit is irrelevant. Microsoft has never won on merit alone. They bought their position wilfully and skilfully. That is hardly the issue. It would still be a problem if WordPerfect still ruled the word processor world and Lotus 123 the spreadsheet world. The issue is vendor lock-in.

      If file formats are all the same AND COMPATIBLE, then the competing apps vendors will inherently have to compete on merit. You will get your wish. But until such a time that Microsoft stops playing games with their intentional monkey-wrench implementation of ODF, it would be best if everyone moved over to an implementation that DOES use an acceptable and compatible implementation of ODF. Once that happen, then if Microsoft were to try to play in that arena, they would have a harder time playing their old games. Not that they wouldn't try, but the very first time a government document was made available to the public and the applications that people use (something other than Microsoft Office) coughs and says it can't read it, then Microsoft will have to answer to the problem they created. If there is law that says "this government body will use only open and compatible formats" and Microsoft fails, then Microsoft either needs to provide a fix or a refund at that point.

      But BEFORE that level and fair playing field can be established, a "standard" needs to be in place first... an open standard. Microsoft has already demonstrated bad faith with their first implementation that will READ all ODF documents just fine... but won't save them in a way that other software can read them. (That is exactly how their lock-in game works.)

      • by Daengbo (523424)

        Merit is irrelevant. Microsoft has never won on merit alone. They bought their position wilfully [sic] and skilfully [sic].

        That is true from the moment that Bill got the IBM contract for a product he didn't even have yet. Thanks, Mom!

    • Sorry, that makes little sense. OSS isn't a genetically challenged underclass, held down by a bunch of bigot of another race. No affirmative action here.

      OSS is a competitive alternative that saves big bucks in the long run. Open source standards documents are sufficient for transmitting and storing any type of data that government needs to transmit or store. There is no NEED to pay the monopoly hundreds of thousands each and every year for the privilege of using - what, exactly? A bunch of macros that

    • by mspohr (589790)
      I think that open source should be given preferred status since the source code is freely available and can be modified to meet the exact needs of the organization. This is a real advantage and should be given recognition. Most software meets 90+% of business needs. The other 10% are usually idiosyncratic requirements unique to the organization. Open source can meet that last 10% in situations where proprietary vendors are not willing or capable of modifying their software.
  • Rational behavior (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FilterMapReduce (1296509) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @05:28PM (#28077763)

    They will also consider open-source software on an even footing with proprietary for all new software purchases. [...] Their only criticism was, 'can't you do more?' with one advocating that free and open source software be given preference, not equal footing."

    Indeed, it seems irrational that open source software isn't always considered on an even footing, not just in Vancouver but everywhere. Do governments assume that there is some inherent advantage to the source code being kept secret and copyrighted—security through obscurity, perhaps?

    And it seems at least as irrational that open source isn't already given preferential treatment on account of its price, which is generally zero. You always hear about governments automatically going with the lowest bidder, even to their own detriment. Yet, when it comes to software, it almost goes without saying that they shell out money for Windows and Office.

    • by calmofthestorm (1344385) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @06:02PM (#28078039)

      It's more that governments are slow to react to changes, and it is only in the last 5-10 years that open source software has entered the public consciousness /at all/.

      There are a lot of interest groups that want to make it sound like nothing of value is ever free.

      • by Narpak (961733)

        It's more that governments are slow to react to changes, and it is only in the last 5-10 years that open source software has entered the public consciousness /at all/.

        Indeed. The people in government aren't the ones with the best oversight and understanding of technological issues. When computers started gaining wide adaptation those deciding upon what systems to use for state and government work tried to make the best choice from the options they had, or thought they had, available. Going with a system like Windows seemed to have been the safe choice, Microsoft making every effort on all fronts to make the deciders feel like that to I am sure. But for non-techsavy burea

      • It's just distributing the cost more intelligently among those who need it. So you see, we still get what we pay for. :-)
    • You always hear about governments automatically going with the lowest bidder

      Really? Where are you from?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Magic5Ball (188725)

      TCO includes not having to retrain noobs from the street or the IT/HR department on the newfangled interface which has slightly different looking UI elements. Remember that employees and intended users may have knowledge ranging from wanting to load paper into the LCD through to what we know here. At present, part of IT's costs are hidden by the practice of power users (anyone under 30) in local offices performing (passable) first tier helpdesk functions for most of their common end-user applications (Windo

    • by rxan (1424721)

      Do governments assume that there is some inherent advantage to the source code being kept secret and copyrightedâ"security through obscurity, perhaps?

      People usually go with the familiar. When your entire workforce knows how to use Microsoft software already, you aren't going to dump FOSS on them. Any money you saved would be lost to person hours learning the new software.

      Does it seem irrational that your state continues to contract the same company to produce police cruisers? No, they just go with what already works.

  • It would be nice to see that happen on the East Coast. I'm currently in Halifax. there's a small Linux base here. I know of a Debian group that meets downtown every so often. Even my job I could see a migration to Linux work. Everything we use has an open source alternative, everything right down the the Cisco softphones (not sure if there's an *nix version). I would embrace the change, if I didn't casually game on Windows I'd likely migrate myself.
  • Only Criticism... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SwashbucklingCowboy (727629) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @05:35PM (#28077825)
    Their only criticism was, 'can't you do more?' with one advocating that free and open source software be given preference, not equal footing."

    FOSS shouldn't be given preference. It should be considered using the same criteria as proprietary software: functionality, cost, security, sourcing, etc. Considering that FOSS is generally less expensive than proprietary software, it's already got an advantage that proprietary software will have difficulty overcoming.

    • by Jesterace (914041)
      I would give it preference if it did the job just as well or better as it would justify the costs of having to purchase liscense's for software.
    • by Zero__Kelvin (151819) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @05:42PM (#28077873) Homepage
      Well yes and no. One item on a checklist of pros and cons should be "Is it FOSS", since it is a known fact that given the exact same source code it is preferential and beneficial that said source code be open rather than proprietary. So in that one respect, yes, FOSS should be given preference.
      • by omz13 (882548)

        Well yes and no. One item on a checklist of pros and cons should be "Is it FOSS", since it is a known fact that given the exact same source code it is preferential and beneficial that said source code be open rather than proprietary. So in that one respect, yes, FOSS should be given preference.

        Many moons ago when I developed commercial software we either had to put the code into escrow or supply it to our customers... I was working for small software house and our customers wanted the security-blanket that should something happen, they could get at the code and still support the software we developed. Now, the dirty little secret, is that even with the code, it wouldn't have done them much good. Just having the code isn't enough. You also need the knowledge behind the code and how it was construc

      • by syousef (465911)

        Well yes and no. One item on a checklist of pros and cons should be "Is it FOSS", since it is a known fact that given the exact same source code it is preferential and beneficial that said source code be open rather than proprietary. So in that one respect, yes, FOSS should be given preference.

        By your logic...

        Does it meet my needs? No.
        Is it FOSS? Yes.

        Well it meets 50% of my criteria. I should choose it.

        How about if 2 pieces meet all of your criteria or are closely matched and one is FOSS it should be a tie

    • by symbolset (646467) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @07:04PM (#28078465) Homepage Journal
      It should be required. That's the People's data they're locking up in proprietary formats. It's the People's data they're accessing using the world's only malware ecosystem. We are entitled to expect more.
  • If Toronto doesn't exit its loop of bad decisions made in the 1990s after this news, I'll eat my pride. http://nhl-playoff-tickets.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/torronto-maple-leafs-playoff-tickets.png [nhl-playoff-tickets.com]
  • by baomike (143457) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @07:11PM (#28078501)

    Did the author just stumble on it or did someone tell him/her to identify which Vancouver?
    Vancouver Washington and Vancouver BC are close (sort of) but are not alike.
    Kind of makes a difference.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Did the author just stumble on it or did someone tell him/her to identify which Vancouver?

      I think the author realized he's writing for a primarily American audience, so it's not safe to assume that the audience would ever have even heard of Vancouver (either one).

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by euxneks (516538)
      Look, if you talk about Vancouver without further information, isn't it right to assume you're talking about the _largest_ of the Vancouvers that exist?

      Only thinking about towns in your own country is silly. I know I specify "London, Ontario" when I mean the London there, but plainly "London" when I'm talking about the one in the UK.
  • a bit off-topic, but British Columbia is so far the only place in the world with a carbon tax up-and-running.
  • It was posted in a journal entry here on slashdot [slashdot.org] over a week ago. Looks like another fantastic job of the editors of not noticing newsworthy writings on this site.
  • So Vancouver is "adopting open standards for that data and considering open source software when replacing existing applications."

    Open standards, and one presumes primarily for reports, spreadsheets, etc. As for example ECMA-376 Office Open XML File Formats (2nd edition) aka ISO/IEC 29500?

    (If you're a bit lost, just think filename extensions with "x" on the end: "docx", "xlsx", ....)

    Let's consider open source software for the purpose. Well, plenty of it supports this "Open" standard. But somehow it's not q

    • by belmolis (702863)

      You're right that Microsoft is hoping to con people into thinking that OOXML is an open standard, but there are plenty of us here in BC who know the difference between OOXML and a real open standard like ODF.

      • by Locklin (1074657)

        They can try to standardize on ECMA-376 (OOXML) if they want, but they may have trouble finding a single piece of software that supports it.

  • FTA:

    "She added that some felt open-source software should be favoured" - [ Emphasis Added ]

    ... and from the summary on /.:

    "with one advocating that free and open source software be given preference, not equal footing." - [ Emphasis Added ]

  • It's not Open Source (Score:4, Informative)

    by thethibs (882667) on Sunday May 24, 2009 @11:20PM (#28079829) Homepage

    Really, folks, RTFA. It's about open formats, not open source.

    It seems to have been triggered by someone not being able to look at a WMV movie on the City of Vancouver site. They think you need IE to show a WMV. Gives you some idea of how intelligent the whole thing is.

    Undoubtedly job#1 will be to convert all those WMVs to ...what?

    • by euxneks (516538)

      Undoubtedly job#1 will be to convert all those WMVs to ...what?

      OGM, AVI, MPG, really, anything with an open format that plays in _everything_. WMV is a pain in the ass.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    As a Vancouver resident (well suburb, but maybe my municipality will follow the big boys) I applaud this step.
    However be advised the Microsoft has a significant development facility here, and they have yet to be heard from.
    Alderman can pass motions, but we havent seen anything real yet.

  • No, really! I want to see the meat of this decision and perhaps some analysis.

    I haven't taken a swim over to Groklaw yet, so maybe Pamela's already busted this out, but if this were covered over there they'd have 1) a link to the full text of the decision and 2) a legal analysis of what the wording meant, mostly importantly: how good we've got it or how bad we can be screwed.

    First, the full text is available on the City of Vancouver website here [vancouver.ca]. It's Matter #5, "Open Data, Open Standards and Open Source",

I'm a Lisp variable -- bind me!

Working...