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Tim O'Reilly Bashes Open Source Efforts in Govt 681

mshiltonj writes "Tim O'Reilly wrote a little piece about his worries about the politicization of the Open Source community, specifically the Digital Software Security Act. He calls it a bad idea, saying, 'No one should be forced to choose open source, any more than they should be forced to choose proprietary software.'"

There's a tremendous difference between what government should be allowed to do and what individuals should be allowed to do. O'Reilly is attempting to blur the distinction, a common rhetorical tactic but one which does not advance his argument. As far as I can tell, his only argument besides this is that if the citizenry pushes for the government to use Free software, companies will push back to use proprietary crud. This argument doesn't hold water - every company selling proprietary software is lobbying the government all the time, have been for years, and they aren't going to stop just because we do. CNet carries news today that Microsoft has pressured the NSA to drop development of Security-Enhanced Linux. I can only imagine what sort of pressures might have been brought to bear behind the scenes, perhaps Microsoft threatened to cancel the NSA's site licenses of Windows and Microsoft Office. But in any case, there's no such thing as "mutual disarmament" - if we back down we'll just get smashed by the continuing efforts of companies pushing proprietary software.

But back to the government/individual distinction. Individuals, for instance, shouldn't be required to disclose their private papers to anyone who asks. But government should: that's the foundation of our freedom of information laws, and they exist for a good reason - keeping an eye on government is a necessary thing. Saying "People should be free to keep their papers private" as an argument against government FOI laws is just a stupid strawman, unworthy of further debate. And that's what O'Reilly's argument against California's proposed law is as well.

Governments play by different rules. They need to be fiscally responsible, transparent to the public, and promote the public commonwealth whenever possible. Using Open Source or Free Software in government promotes all three of these goals, and if Microsoft or any other corporation doesn't make quite as much money when the government alters its standards for software procurement... so what? Companies who make shoddy products do lose business when the government ups its standards, and they have the same choice as any business does: either produce better products, or lose the government's business. In this case the shoddiness comes in some of the most important areas as far as software goes: open access to the code, to ensure the software that we the citizenry pay for is doing what it is supposed to be doing, but the rationale would be the same if the government mandated a certain level of bug-free-ness or a certain level of performance for software - you can shape up and continue selling to the government or you can ship out. Your choice.

O'Reilly seems to be promoting the agenda of Microsoft's Software Choice campaign. He's a business man; perhaps there's a reason we don't know about. But whatever his motives, his lame arguments are no reason to stop pushing for governments to use Free or Open Source software wherever possible.

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Tim O'Reilly Bashes Open Source Efforts in Govt

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  • What bunk (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Telastyn ( 206146 ) on Friday August 16, 2002 @01:14PM (#4083526)
    Come on, O'Rielly has no interest in pushing anything Microsoft. He's just saying that the government should use the best tools for the job, and not belabor it's choices with (more) bureaucracy.
    • Re:What bunk (Score:4, Insightful)

      by crimoid ( 27373 ) on Friday August 16, 2002 @01:26PM (#4083635)
      I couldn't agree more. Restricting the government to use only open-source software is simply insane.

      While I agree that the government needs a certain level of transparency, I don't think that this transparency should filter down to every level of their orgainization. Does the public have a RIGHT to know the government's network infrastructure? Does the public have a RIGHT to know what data is on every civil servant's hard drive? I think not.

      Requiring complete transparency is not only highly impractical (think of the cost to the taxpayer)), but it is also unnecessary. Within the bounds of law the government should be able to do what they need to do to get their job done. If that means using Windows or Office or some other proprietary software so be it.
      • By law, the public has a right to know the government's network infrastructure unless it is deemed "secret" which iirc requires lives to be at stake if the knowledge was public.

        I agree that such rights are perhaps overreaching, I'd much rather have them overreaching rather than under...
        • I'd love to see the law actually quoted. I'm not disagreeing that it exists but I'm fairly disturbed at the thought that a law like this is out there.

          Personally I'm horrified that all non-secret infrastructure should be wide open for anyone to see. What good is that for Joe Sixpack? None. What good is that for Joe BlackHat? A nice roadmap of where to start poking around. DMV, Social Security, criminal records, health history, postal system records, etc. are probably considered "non-secret" (by your definition) yet these are the things that worry me the most.

          Various agencies have information on me floating around in countless different ways. I want the government to be able to keep this information as secure as possible, through as many means as possible, and if that includes using closed-source software and infrastructure then so be it!

          We don't live in a true democracy. Government is not required to be completely transparent. If we don't like the way things are handled we vote in new representatives. If citizens want Open-Source software in their government, by all means run for office or get a job doing system administration for a government agency. Making laws dictating vendors, licensing or source distribution is a waste of time and a distraction from more important issues.
      • by Deskpoet ( 215561 ) on Friday August 16, 2002 @01:55PM (#4083955) Homepage Journal
        Does the public have a RIGHT to know the government's network infrastructure? Does the public have a RIGHT to know what data is on every civil servant's hard drive?

        I realize this is a rhetorical question, but, using the justification of those monitoring *my* communications at work, I would say the answer is a most definite yes, particularly to the first question.

        The arguments of "state secrecy" are only defensible if a) we don't care what our government does or b) we don't want to know what our government does. As I spend the first five months of every year supporting an organization that allegedly functions in my interest, I feel I have every right to know--at every depth, well beyond FOIA--what that organization is doing.

        Now, you talk about the cost to the taxpayer, but when you're spending billions on things that blow up (where's the ROI in *that*?), that argument is shaky at best. I think the infrastructure could be refitted at the expense of a few less missles, while eliminating the secondary (Microsoft/Oracle/IBM) tax of proprietary software.

        O'reilly called Peru "great theatre", which makes you wonder just how commited to openness he is--they expect accountability out of their government down there. By taking this stand, he seems to imply that doin' bidness should take precedence over the REAL openness of a people demanding that their government not take corporate payoffs in software contracts, etc.

        • The arguments of "state secrecy" are only defensible if a) we don't care what our government does or b) we don't want to know what our government does.

          I guess simple citizen privacy is too much to ask? This proposal deals with computer systems that carry all criminal and driver inquiry information used by law enforcement. Do you have a right to know every time someone else got pulled over and had a criminal history check run on them? Do you have a right to know every time law enforcement may have suspected someone of committing a crime whether they actually were convicted or not?

          Worse yet, what do you think corporations would do with this kind of information available to them?

          Hmm... Jim had his license plate run 3 times last week even though he never got a ticket, lets raise his car insurance rates.

          There is already a huge black market in criminal history and similar information. Do you really think this information needs to be more available? It might be appropriate for state employees to fully understand the software and systems they work on down to the very last detail, and it might even be appropriate for taxpayers to know something about how the government systems are run, but making everything the sysadmin knows (including crypto keys and honeypots) available to the pulblic for every computer run by the government would be a titanic mistake.
        • by ericman31 ( 596268 ) on Friday August 16, 2002 @03:34PM (#4084877) Journal

          Now, you talk about the cost to the taxpayer, but when you're spending billions on things that blow up (where's the ROI in *that*?), that argument is shaky at best. I think the infrastructure could be refitted at the expense of a few less missles, while eliminating the secondary (Microsoft/Oracle/IBM) tax of proprietary software.

          Since we are talking about the proposed law in California I think we can discard the idea that building a few less missiles will fund the refitting you're talking about. Even IF we were talking about the Federal government "a few less missiles" would not fund what you are talking about.

          In any case, there are significant issues on the table with mandating open source software for the State of California. Before I go any further I should lay my cards on the table. I work for an IT services company. However, I'm expressing my own views, not the position of my employer. I currently work in one of the government divisions of that company, and for the last four years have supported multiple contracts with the state of California. I have a serious stake in this law, both because of my job and because I'm a citizen of California. Some of what I have to say deals with my political views as a citizen and some with my views as an IT professional.

          I'm a huge supporter of open source. I think it's clear that the Internet, as we know it, was created by open source platforms, including Berkley UNIX (and subsequently BSD and Linux), BIND, and Apache. The open source community has been, and still is, a leader in many of the innovations in computing today. This same community responds much faster to customer needs, bugs and security holes than commercial vendors do. I wish I could get my commercial vendors to be as responsive.

          That said, there are two major flaws with the idea of mandating open source only software in government IT. The first is that there are some things that open source simply cannot do. Perhaps in the future that will no longer be true, but it is not the case today. Some systems run by the state of California today could not run on Linux and MySQL due to their sheer size and complexity. In fact, at least one is still running on IBM mainframes because the risk involved in migrating to midrange platforms like IBM pSeries or Sun's SunFire is simply too high. While Linux can run on the mainframe, it cannot support the scope of this particular system, it is still Linux, running other open source platforms. There is some promising work being done in grid computing and super computing based on Linux that leads me to believe that this problem will be overcome in the next few years.

          Politically, the correct approach to the issue of "transparency" for our government is three-fold:

          1. Open standards rather than proprietary standards. For example, TCP/IP for network connectivity instead of SNA.
          2. Open records for procurement, contracting and IT standards.
          3. No proprietary data formats
          In combination with the already existing freedom of information laws, this would ensure that, whether the IT platform is proprietary or open source it can interoperate with any other system using open standards. It would ensure that citizens have a full and informative view of the government's procurement process, allowing oversight to hopefully prevent something like the Oracle Master Licensing Agreement that California entered into last year. And finally it would ensure that government information is available to anyone with a web browser.

          Mandating open source only is doomed to failure, at least at the stage of development of open source platforms that currently exist. There are many instances in state government where open source software could benefit the government and the taxpayer. On the desktop of office workers, as web servers, as office automation file and print servers, even replacing many of the proprietary systems in place today. And a mandate to include open source in procurement processes would help to make those changes. But a mandate to use only open source software will break California's IT systems.

      • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Friday August 16, 2002 @02:23PM (#4084259) Homepage
        Why is this all being viewed as the government making only one choice, or "restricting" themselves? The government -- and everyone else -- does this all the time. It's called a requirement. When Boeing and Lockheed competed for the Stealth Bomber contract, did they complain that the government was restricting themselves to only use planes with low radar profiles? No, it was a requirement for the contract.

        "Getting the job done" can mean more than processing a document. If you also require that you have open standards, the ability to check code for backdoors and security issue, and that your choice of software now doesn't lock you in to a particular vendor in the future -- are these not merely requirements which, like all other requirements you might have, result in some software not being eligible due to failing to meet these requirements? Restricting yourself to only those things which fullfill your needs is not insane, it is superlatively rational.

        What you think using open source software has to do with making available the contents of a civil servant's hard drive I can't fathom, which is why I didn't really address that part.

      • Re:What bunk (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Gameboy70 ( 187370 )
        While I agree that the government needs a certain level of transparency, I don't think that this transparency should filter down to every level of their orgainization. Does the public have a RIGHT to know the government's network infrastructure?

        Certain types of information, witheld for purposes of national security, are what we call classified. Beyond that category, the answer is yes. Otherwise there's no accountability for state expenditures, which is precisely what happened in California with the Oracle debacle.

        Does the public have a RIGHT to know what data is on every civil servant's hard drive? I think not.

        You may think not, but try getting a job at the DOD and then try telling your boss that the data on your hard drive is sovereign. Your straw man argument aside, we're talking about the technology of the government's IT infrastructure, not its contents. The occasional pr0n on someone's PC is less obscene than its storage in vendor-controlled file formats.

        Requiring complete transparency is not only highly impractical (think of the cost to the taxpayer)), but it is also unnecessary.

        Being forced to upgrade software every two years to make the most of Microsoft's annuity licensing is practical? Paying arbitrary subscription fees every year is no cost to the taxpayer? Those upgrades (and the hardware need to support the bloatware) are necessary?

        Within the bounds of law the government should be able to do what they need to do to get their job done.

        That's the point of the proposed legislation: to set the bounds of the law. And your right: need should dictate state purchases, not frivolous spending on the most pervasively marketed products, which by nature tend to be sold well above any legitimate market value due to the artificial scarcity imposed on the customer. If the private sector if free to establish whatever policies it chooses for selling products and services, certainly the public sector should be free to set whatever policies it chooses for buying them.

        If that means using Windows or Office or some other proprietary software so be it.

        If a goverment agency needs compatibility with Windows or Office, it should contract developers to refine the filters for OpenOffice, improve the API compliance in Wine, or fund some similar free software project. This would be more responsible use of taxpayer funds than buying the same software every to years.
    • how many MS "learning", "reference", and nutshell(TM) books does OReilly sell that are directly related MS product? How much direct and indirect leverage does MS have with him as a result?

      I don't know the answer to the second question, but the answer to the first is "a lot". So he does have an interest in pushing things related to MS. He also has an interest in pushing Java, Linux, Perl, Python... etc. But MS makes up a large percentage of his publishing. When you can mess with a mans means to make a living, you can influence his decisions. It would not surprise me if MS has put the squeeze on OReilly in some form or another, enough to tilt his opinion towards the "middle ground".

      I have no idea if this is the case here, but I do not take what he says at total face value because there could be so many other factors that play into this.

    • Re:What bunk (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Rulle ( 580692 )
      The best tool for the job in my contry's government could never be proprietary software. Perhaps it could be "better technically", what ever that means, but I dont care, I want to communicate with my government with open protocols and file formats. Free software always gives us that, proprietary software only when it feels like it (eg when to market or hype something, think Microsoft and XML, and then think Microsoft and .doc files) Priprietary software, especially if the company selling it has a monopoly, can go from open formats to closed ones, in a new release or service pack. We just can never be sure about the company's "commitment to open standards". With Free software we can be sure.
    • I agree, and one method of ensuring that the BEST product is used it to review the source. I think if M$ or any other SW company want to sell to the government, they should be required to allow them to review the source. Issue an NDA and let them review it and authorize the implementation of THAT CODE. If changes are made, the should review those as well. It is a common sense approach that can easily be made to work even in todays insane SW development market. I work for a LARGE company, we've got M$ data center running here, which essentially means it is a custom config designed for us. We've added, subtracted to the programs as needed, with M$'s approval of course, and it costs an arm and a leg but the same set-up could be worked for the government I am sure. Bottom line the best tool should be used, OSS or proprietary code.
    • Re:What bunk (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jayhawk88 ( 160512 ) <> on Friday August 16, 2002 @01:46PM (#4083861)
      Someone said it best the other day in a similar article: We should be more concerned about pushing the government to use open standards, rather than open source software. Who cares if the government wants to run XP rather than RedHat on all their workstations? What's important is that I, the citizen, can still have reasonable and easy access to government information and services should I decide that Bill Gates is the devil.

      In other words, stay away from the .DOC files and ASP pages that break Mozilla.
    • Re:What bunk (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Wesley Everest ( 446824 ) on Friday August 16, 2002 @01:50PM (#4083905)
      When evaluating the best tool for the job, you also have to evaluate the license. If it's a good tool but a bad license, then you choose a different tool. This is not a new idea.

      Imagine if the military was buying a few thousand jeeps. They had two choices. Company A had the superior technology, but Company B's jeep was satisfactory. Company A required them to sign a license that said they were not allowed to open the hood of the jeep because everything under the hood was a trade secret. Meanwhile, Company B provided them with a full manual and even CAD data for every part of the jeep. Which jeep should the military buy?

      Clearly, the best tool for the job would be the one built by Company B -- precisely because of the license and openness.

      Should Congress pass a law requiring all federal government to use GPL software? No. Should the federal government be required to take into account hidden expenses down the road due to license issues? Yes. Should the federal government take into account security and access to public information that is held in trust for the American people? Yes.

      I imagine this sort of thing is already going on in agencies where security is a big concern -- I doubt the CIA uses much closed-source software bought off-the-shelf, without getting some sort of special source license.

  • by elefantstn ( 195873 ) on Friday August 16, 2002 @01:17PM (#4083549)
    O'Reilly seems to be promoting the agenda of Microsoft's Software Choice campaign. He's a business man; perhaps there's a reason we don't know about. But whatever his motives, his lame arguments are no reason to stop pushing for governments to use Free or Open Source software wherever possible.

    Seriously, Michael, this is really childish. Tim O'Reilly has done fantastic work for the community, including even publishing some of his company's books for free on the internet, and all you can think to do is make sly accusations about his "motives."

    Grow up, Michael. People can disagree with each other without having to resort to implicit "He's bought off!" accusations. It happens all the time in the real world.
    • Also, O'Reilly is still being consistant with his position all along, that freedom to choose between licenses is the most important freedom in software development. O'Reilly has always defended the rights of developers to choose GPL, BSD, or proprietary licenses at their own choosing.

      Methinks someone did not read his other writings before speculating about motives.
      • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Friday August 16, 2002 @01:55PM (#4083962) Homepage Journal
        I agree that individuals should have the freedom to enter into whatever software license they wish. It does not automatically follow that government employees should be able to enter into any kind of license on our behalf.

        The question is whether it is good public policy to make free software licenses mandatory in public procurement. This is a debatable matter, but one principle is clear to me, at least: a private individual may freely dismiss the effect of his actions on the public good, but a public servant has a higher obligation to work for the good of the public.
    • If michael's "every action implies an ulterior motive" theory were correct, we'd have to wonder what his ulterior motive is. Does michael perhaps have some vested interest in promoting open source, like for example drawing a paycheck from a company that is associated with open source? Yes, of course he does. Sellout! Astroturf! The sky is falling!

      Get real. O'Reilly is taking a principled stand, knowing that it will alienate many of his friends. I respect him for that. By contrast, I have no respect for michael's ad hominem attacks.

      • by Usquebaugh ( 230216 ) on Friday August 16, 2002 @02:02PM (#4084032)
        It's par for the course.

        Mikey is just a kid, his actions and writing bear testiment to this. /. employes him because he generates page hits. Personally I wouldn't mind if I never read a Michael Simms post again.

        In my mind, Tim O'Reilly is rapidly becoming the voice of reason in open source. His writing displays a thoughtful touch for both the content and the presentation.
    • Amen to that. Michael is always trying way too hard to criticize anything even remotely negative to open source. He is an easy (and consistent) example of the "hypocrite open source developer".

      Michael, everytime you purport to be in support of "freedom" in computing you only further reveal that what you really mean is "freedom in computing, as long as it is open source only." Sometimes, in the real world, that just won't work. Don't rag on O'Reilly because he supports real choice, otherwise you are no better then Microsoft. And shame on you for using slashdot as a pulpit for your paranoia. If you want to spout out your opinions, write your own damn article. Everyday your paranoia further resembles arrogant lunacy.

      In short, shut up.


  • Hey Michael (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Skyshadow ( 508 )
    Is there some reason why you can't just post the article and then, if you have some comments about it, follow up with a post like the rest of us peons?

    I mean, that would allow us to post replies and maybe discuss your position. Instead, we're sort of left with you commenting from on high. Then again, I notice that the /. editors almost never post unless it's to clear up something about /. itself (is that some sort of policy?).

    Still, I think you should come join the rest of us if you want to editorialize.

    • Re:Hey Michael (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Stonehand ( 71085 )
      That's because he'd be moderated down to "Troll" or "Flamebait" down to -1. This way, he can deliver his "insights" from on high.
  • I don't think that all of these laws are created equal. The ideas that governments should be required to have access to the source code makes concrete economic sense if you are in Peru but the case for California is a little less convincing. Governments need to run efficiently and have standards-complient software.

    One concern I have might be that Open Source mandating laws could end up being repealed under heavy lobbying and if the legislature mandates the technologies used, maybe they might mandate Microsoft. So I think that O"Reilly has a point, but that the danger is greater in Cali than in Peru.
    • There are sveral counties in Ca. that are allread Open SOurce, and they are functioning fine.

      Every issue they had to deal with, they solved then didn't have to worry about the 'next batch' of problems.
      The costs of overcomeing the difficulties, and retraining was around the price there where paying for MS lisensing and support.
      Support costs have lowered, equipment costs are lower and easier to forcast, and training wasn't a huge issue.
      It turns out people aren't as dumb as bricks, and can learn to use non MS products, go figure.

      The people should have access to all source code he government uses via the FOI, with the same guidlines.

      If MS,Sun,IBM, whomever wants to sell/liscenses the software, thats fine, as long as we, the people, can get access to the source without corporate restrictions(NDA etc...) .

  • by Stonehand ( 71085 ) on Friday August 16, 2002 @01:19PM (#4083565) Homepage
    If an individual wants to restrict himself to Open Source, there's absolutely no problem with that, so long as it does not contradict any previously-signed-and-still-active agreements on his part not to do so. People are allowed to behave as ideologically as they choose, within pretty broad limits.

    However, there is no excuse for a government doing so. Governments are supposed to be more responsible than that -- and to require a drastic litmus test that completely ignores more important issues, such as "is this the best tool for the job given our budget", is arrogance and foolishness.
  • So, should government organizations not be allowed to make *any* policies of what licenses they will accept?

    Or is it just the requirement to be able to switch vendor for support and development (which is what an "open source" requirement really means) that should not be allowed as a policy?

    • There's a big difference between saying "not allowed to make *any* policies" and "*must* adhere to *this* specific policy". I see no reason why the government couldn't specify the need to switch vendors for support and development if that is a critical requirement for a given application.
      • I don't think each individual office have the means to understand the long time consequences of the legal restrictions for a given license restriction. Mostly, they want something that solves the local problem *now*. Also, acting as a whole the government has a lot more clout in negotiating license terms than any individual office.

  • thank gawd (Score:2, Interesting)

    by boola-boola ( 586978 )
    ...This is something I've been worrying about, that anti-corporate zealots would turn the Open Source movement into something just as bad as the major corporations/monopolies.

    I'm rather quite relieved to hear Tim O'Reilly of all people sharing the same opinion as me: that as good as open-source is, it should _NEVER_ be forced on people. That in essence destroys the 'freedom of choice' that is the driving force behind open-source. (hey, it rhymes...)

    It is good that some of the "big players" are already thinking ahead about this, in case one day we actually do topple the big corporations (I'm not holding my breath). I wonder what RMS' and Torvalds' opinion of the matter is.

    • I wonder what RMS' and Torvalds' opinion of the matter is.
      This is pure conjecture, but based on their previous writing, I think it would be something like this

      RMS would go on a long tirade about how open source isn't the same free software, insisting they change the wording of the bill to say free software, and Linux must be referred to as GNU/Linux.

      Linus would probably just say "I don't care."
    • How naive can you become?

      People are forced to use platforms all the time, be it Windows because they want to play some game or be it PHP because most webhosters don't support ASP.

      The more important a platform becomes, the more people are forced to use it.

      I think mandating open-source is a step too far, but the governement should mandate multi-vendor platforms. If there is only one vendor selling a Win32-OS, it should not be used.

      Just like you should be able to choose from compatible hardware vendors like HP, IBM, Dell, etc. you should be able to choose from compatible software-makers like SuSE, Mandrake, Gentoo, Debian or even BSD (which is Linux compatible).

  • Gawd Mike! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Your_Mom ( 94238 ) <slashdot@inEEEni ... inus threevowels> on Friday August 16, 2002 @01:20PM (#4083577) Homepage
    There are people in Government too, should they not be allow to choose whatever suits their job best? If someone found a VB application that does exactly what they want it to do, why should they be forced to use something that doesn't fit their needs correctly because it runs on a closed source system? Its unfair.

    There are lots of programs that people are familiar and comfortable with and there should be no law mandating that they can't use them. You shouldn't criticize these guys [] until you stop doing the same thing.

    Burnt Karma keeps me so warm...
    • Re:Gawd Mike! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by blakestah ( 91866 ) <> on Friday August 16, 2002 @02:50PM (#4084463) Homepage
      There are people in Government too, should they not be allow to choose whatever suits their job best? If someone found a VB application that does exactly what they want it to do, why should they be forced to use something that doesn't fit their needs correctly because it runs on a closed source system? Its unfair.

      Not really. The biggest issue to me is permanence of electronic formats. I can't read things I wrote 10 years ago - papers, documents, etc, b/c I just cannot find a machine that can read their format (Word 2.0).

      I think the government should use open source software wherever there is choice, and contribute heavily to open source development for applications where no good open source app exists. I think this because it ensures that the gov't software's security and interoperability can be verified by any interested parties. The data formats can be operating system agnostic. The software can work in all ways for the good of the people.

      This is NOT a move against any companies - any company should be free to provide an open source solution to the government's problems. And, the government can either do its own security audit, or check the security with another independent company, or the same company. There is more than one way to do it.

      Because, when it comes right down to it, do you trust current properietary software to secure our nation's secrets ?
    • Re:Gawd Mike! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Dirtside ( 91468 ) on Friday August 16, 2002 @03:48PM (#4084980) Journal
      Someone working for an employer is constrained to use whatever tools that employer wants them to use. If you are working for the government, then your employer is the public. The public gets to decide how the government works, because the government's entire reason for existing is to serve the public. People seem to lose sight of this a lot.
  • Man, when I first read the article title I thought it said "Bill O'Reilly (of FOX News) Bashes Open Source Efforts In Govt" and I was thinking "Oh God, please don't tell me we're going to start hearing about 'socialized software development'!"

    This ain't a very good start of the day for me (10:30a is too early in the morning for me)...


  • *Sigh* (Score:5, Insightful)

    Leave it to Michael to miss the point right under his nose.

    Companies who make shoddy products do lose business when the government ups its standards, and they have the same choice as any business does: either produce better products, or lose the government's business.

    Sheesh, Michael, READ YOUR OWN FREAKING WORDS. Yes, that's the way it should be done. But that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about "affirmative action" for software. Screw using the best solution, we're going to require open source whether it's the best solution or not.

    If you want to advocate that all government DOCUMENTS must be in an open format, then that's a reasonable stand most people can get behind.

    But to argue on the one hand that Government should be required to use open source no matter what, while on the other hand arguing that the government should always use the best products is nuttiness as best, and idiocy at worst.

  • If Microsoft were to allow the governemnt employees involved, witn NDA's, to see the source for said MS products...would microsoft qualify as "open source?" The government isn't mandating FREE software...but open source software....and theoretically, this is due to wanting to see the 'flaws and limitations' first hand.....
  • Tim O'Reilly Bashes Open Source Efforts in Govt???

    You fscking twit.

    Had you even read/bothered to comprehend the submitter's blurb you would have seen that O'Reilly is advocating a non-preferential approach to software selection. He wants a level playing field. Period. He wants to avoid launching the Open Source world into the same shitty realm of back-slapping, handshaking, sure-thing-old-chum crap that we're fighting against right now.

    He is not Bashing Open Source Efforts. Ye gads, why on earth are you slandering Tim O'Reilly, of all people? He's on our side!

    Would you please, please, please show a modicum of journalistic integrity, and make at least a cursory effort towards real reporting?

  • by Clue4All ( 580842 ) on Friday August 16, 2002 @01:27PM (#4083645) Homepage
    O'Reilly is attempting to blur the distinction, a common rhetorical tactic but one which does not advance his argument.

    Actually, he's advocating using the best tool for the job, and that zealous fanatics that insist on using Open Source everything will get us nowhere. Your implications that O'Reilly is being paid off by Microsoft are childish, to say the least. What article have you been reading?
  • by daoine ( 123140 ) <> on Friday August 16, 2002 @01:27PM (#4083647)
    I think one of the main problem with this issue is that it focuses on the wrong things. I don't think there should be any regulations on what type of software a government entity uses.

    However, I *do* think it's important to focus on the format of the public data. Anything that is public property should not require proprietary software to access. I shouldn't have to buy MicroSoft products to read public documents.

    Looking at it from that angle, Open Source is just one aspect of the solution. Documents could be produced in text, postscript, pdf, html -- there are plenty of formats with free readers (accessors) - which I think is the important part. That way, those creating the docs can use whatever tools they feel are best for the job, but those reading the documents aren't locked into those same tools.

    • > However, I *do* think it's important to focus on the format of the public data. Anything that is public property should not require proprietary software to access. I shouldn't have to buy MicroSoft products to read public documents.

      Agreed. However, mandating open formats will in effect mandate OSS, since there will no longer be any excuse for paying for software to do something free software will do just as well.

      If we ever got legislation mandating open formats for all public documents, Microsoft would be a minor player in the software world within five years.

      • ...mandating open formats will in effect mandate OSS, since there will no longer be any excuse for paying for software

        I disagree entirely. HTML is an open format. How many developers pay for products to help the write the markup? It's nothing that they couldn't do with a free text editor. They *paid* for the editor because it's useful, and it saves them time.

        That's not to say that there aren't plenty of free editors which do a good job. But I think it's incorrect to assume that an open format means OSS. There is more to picking an editor than cost, and proprietary editors are quite capable of producing open documents. (On a side note, I'd agree that it would hurt Microsoft, as part of their ability to maintain such a market hold rests on the proprietary format. But I do believe that companies will pay for good software if it does what they need)

  • by i_want_you_to_throw_ ( 559379 ) on Friday August 16, 2002 @01:28PM (#4083660) Journal
    I have a lone Linux box in a sea of NT boxes here at the Corps of Engineers. That box was put here because I was able to code a few dynamite apps that have since proven to be invaluable to the Corps.

    It was the services that I was able to provide to the Corps that mandated inclusion of Linux into our infrastructure. I was able to more with my open source tools than the NT guys could with theirs.

    I would not have wanted this box here by any method.

    If you believe that Open Source can trounce proprietary methods based on its merits then you need to be against mandating Open Source.

    All we need is a Microsoft disciple being FORCED to use OSS and being turned off forever. That converts no one.
  • A sad story. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by miffo.swe ( 547642 )
    "We didn't fully understand the consequences of releasing software under the GPL (General Public License)," said Dick Schafer, deputy director of the NSA. "We received a lot of loud complaints regarding our efforts with SE Linux."

    First i have a hard time believing that the NSA didnt read and interpret the GPL license before they begun.

    And where has those complaints been coming from? I cant see any other company that would suffer from a secure linux effort other than Microsoft. I would love to know just what happened behind the scenes and how high up this went before it got ugly.

    Considering the amount of work they spend on helping people to secure Windows the GPL should be a non issue unless politics and probably some very influencial people are behind this.

    Its a real ugly battle and i do hope the real story gets out soon.
  • As far as I can tell, his only argument besides this is that if the citizenry pushes for the government to use Free software, companies will push back to use proprietary crud.

    Michael, you really should read what you are trying to criticize. It does seem that "as far as you can tell" isn't very far.

    Tim's two main points are:

    (1) More choice is better than less choice. Forbidding to use commercial software == less choice.

    (2) In many (but not all) cases governments should behave rationally and use the best tools available to do a task. Very often commercial software IS the best tool. Forbidding to use it doesn't seem very rational.
  • by dh003i ( 203189 ) <.dh003i. .at.> on Friday August 16, 2002 @01:29PM (#4083670) Homepage Journal
    Again, O'Reilly has missed the point.

    his is not about OSS / FSS software on anyone. Its about transparency in the government -- about the people's right to know.

    The people have the right to know exactly what source code the government is using to protect them. We have the right to know what code protects our privacy in, for example, records which are ruled sealed.

    Lets say that your daughter's molested and a trial occurs, in which she testifies. For her protection, her testimony is sealed; if an electronic copy is made, it is cryptographically sealed. If this is done using proprietary software, we the citizens have no way of being assured that it is really secure. If the software used to do that is OSS / FS, then we can check and make sure.

    This is a somewhat important example, but the same principal applies to even trivial things. We, the citizens, have the right to know exactly how the software our government is using works; at least where it pertains to us.

    Obviously, military top secret stuff is different; though it certainly need not be based on proprietary technology -- nothing prevents the military from modifying OSS / FS software and then keeping those modifications secret within the division. As that doesn't really count as distribution; i.e., in house modifications are not considered "distributed". Its only "distribution" when you make it available to the general public.

    That is why the government mustI use OSS / FS, because of our right to know.

    An additional benefit is cost-effectiveness. Our tax dollars pay for this stuff, and in almost all cases, OSS / FS is a cheaper solution, both in terms of initial price and total cost of ownership.
    • Obviously, military top secret stuff is different; though it certainly need not be based on proprietary technology -- nothing prevents the military from modifying OSS / FS software and then keeping those modifications secret within the division.

      It's been a basic principle (Kerchoff's principle, to be precise) of cryptography for over a century that secrecy should reside purely in the keys, not in the algorithms. Dependence on secret modifications is a bad idea -- if the mods weaken security, the only way to find out is the hard way.

    • Lets say that your daughter's molested and a trial occurs, in which she testifies. For her protection, her testimony is sealed; if an electronic copy is made, it is cryptographically sealed. If this is done using proprietary software, we the citizens have no way of being assured that it is really secure. If the software used to do that is OSS / FS, then we can check and make sure.

      So if the paper copy is kept in a file cabinet, do we have the right to know how the lock works on the file cabinet? Do we have a right to try to break into said file cabinet? Should we really lobby the government to outlaw the use of any file cabinet that's not home-brew with published blueprints?

      What about all the software a government might need that doesn't have a good open-source alternative? Should we require a government to limp along using software which isn't appropriate to its needs? Should we drive out of business all the companies that make cheap, good, proprietary software for government use? Do we really need to publicly shame decenting voices within our own community, labelling them pro-Microsoft zealots with a hidden agenda? That'll make open-source real popular....
    • The people have the right to know exactly what source code the government is using to protect

      Oh? Which part of the Constitution states this?

      Or are you just talking about an idealized government which may or may not have anything in common with the one that actually exists?
  • This is the same as welfare or Widows and Orphans laws. They are intended to give those that do not have deep pockets a chance to compete against those with deep pockets [].

    In open software's case there are people willing to volunteer to lobby but they just don't have the resources to appeal to a congresscritter's wallet^H^H^H^H^H^Hsenibilities.

    In the end, something has to be done to level the playing field. Laws like this will do just that.

    The big question is: Why is O'reilly doing this? Has Billy Deep-Pockets gotten to him? Or is he worried that laws like this will make it difficult for him to make a profit int he future?

    • Re:He's wrong... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bnenning ( 58349 )
      Why is O'reilly doing this? Has Billy Deep-Pockets gotten to him? Or is he worried that laws like this will make it difficult for him to make a profit int he future?

      Or could it possibly be that he has an honest viewpoint that happens to be different from yours? I agree with him, and I certainly haven't received any payoffs from Bill.

  • by alext ( 29323 ) on Friday August 16, 2002 @01:32PM (#4083713)
    Surely if O'Reilly followed the Peruvian campaign he must have understood that the goal is to ensure that public data remains public, and that that implies openness in formats?

    He seems to skate over this and just characterize any policy for open source as arbitrary prejudice.

    Openness in requirements is important, just don't forget what the key requirements should be.
  • I love open source software. There's a lot of proprietary software I love, too.

    I don't want myself told that I have to use an inferior tool just because it's open source. I don't want my government to have similar restrictions.

    If open source is better, then let it *compete*. If free (price) and open source still aren't enough to persuade users to switch, then maybe it's not yet as good as its proponents claim it is, and maybe that's where they should focus their energies.

  • It's not a question of forcing anyone to buy only open source or only closed source software. That thrust of questioning obfucates the underlying issue. The actions of governing bodies ought to be accessible to the governed and there should not be any imposition of closed or proprietary standards required to interact with our government.

    Documents should be available in non-proprietary formats, and documents required to be submitted to governmental agencies should not be forced to have to be in proprietary formats. This should be a basic requirement for our governing bodies at the federal, state/commonwealth, county/parish, and city levels.

    If proprietary software should have to compete to meet these obligations. The smart way to insert open source software components is not to claim that open source is inherently better (even though it obviously is), but to show how open source meets the standards of an open governing system.

    Closed systems are too often present at all levels. I can understand that scholarly journals may have requirements that manuscripts be submitted in the word processing format of their choice and on the preferred media of their choice. Those are just the rules of the game you have to play if you choose to publish in peer reviewed journals. At least the mathematical journals accept LaTex. And some printing services prefer Quark files for their layout services. That's their prerogative. However, all citizens have to interact with their governments at time. And the gov't ought not to impose the requirement that anyone wishing to submit proposals under requests for proposals or wishing to submit legal documentation be required to use proprietary data interchange formats. Proprietary formats require the use of proprietary software which may cost some citizens too much. It is not just for a government to keep some of their citizens out of the game.

    And this lack of justice is the key reason that open formats should be used. And the fact that open source software can best meet the usage of open formats is the best reason that open source software ought to be used.
  • by trix_e ( 202696 ) on Friday August 16, 2002 @01:34PM (#4083728)
    It's too bad the Authors don't have an 'Anonymous Idiot' option when they post something.

    michael, it's crap propoganda like this that makes it even harder for open source advocates to maintain credibility.

    You deserve the Katz'ing that you're getting.

  • Uh, how is access to source code (and/or the freedom to modify it) any different from the usual list of product requirements? If propriety software vendors want the business of the government, then they'll provide the features the client wants. I certainly wouldn't want my government procuring military vehicles, for instance, without specification sheets and the ability to repair them, etc.

    The details of the source code license can be hammered out seperately, or on a case by case basis, as most features are (e.g., one restriction might be that nobody but the originating company may use the source for commercial profit - which would be fine for gov).

    Of course this doesn't need to be legislated as an absolute. IIRC, the Peruvian proposol only says "use open source if there is no better proprietary software that suits the purposes". Nobody is saying "use open source period, end of story, never ever ever ever use proprietary software". That's ridiculous. Where openness of code and protocols and formats is critical, access to source code is just another client requirement.
  • The government's role (idealistically, at least) is to serve the people, and IT is a set of tools that helps achieve that end. The government should be using the set of tools that best allows it to do that. Certainly free software has a lot going for it, in terms of both cost and the availability of source code, but there may be cases where for one reason or another proprietary software is simply the best solution.

    To take a hypothetical example, what if defense contractors were unwilling to open-source missile-targeting software because it considers that information part of its proprietary competitive advantage? Do we want to put the government in the position of saying no, we can't use the best targeting package, we have to use whatever open-source option is available? That seems hugely irresponsible.

    O'Reilly is right that open-source options should always be among the products considered for procurement, but to require them is a mistake. It ignores the fact that IT decisions (engineering decisions in general) entail tradeoffs -- between functionality, cost, usability, training difficulty, support, compatibility, performance, and many other factors -- and that mandating open-source solutions may require unacceptable levels of compromise on other dimensions that might be more important in a given situation.

  • The government shouldn't necessarily force the use of OSS, but rather make it a requirement to have full access to the source of a product they intent to use.
    The difference would be that the software manufacturer doesn't need to change the license, but will have to make the source code available for review by the public. That doesn't mean that they give away their software. They still have the copyright and any use of the code without a license would be illegal.
  • Mantra (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Shadow Wrought ( 586631 ) <> on Friday August 16, 2002 @01:35PM (#4083741) Homepage Journal
    Sorry if I don't go along with the mantra, but I think that O'Reilly has a valid point. Legislating open source in government is not the answer.

    I think a better solution would be a competition, ala defense procurements. The government lists what it needs, and everyone shows up and demonstrates what they can do. If open source can do everything the government needs, at a fraction of the price, then you have you solution. You could even put in place a performance to cost ratio to determine value. (ie- This product can 90% of what this other product does, but costs $250,000 less. Is 10% worth $250,000?)

    I'm not saying that the procurement process isn't flawed, just that legislative mandates have historically spawned unintended consequences at a prodigious rate.
    • Re:Mantra (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dirtside ( 91468 )
      I think the issue here is slightly different than simply "the best solution for the job". I agree that they should seek out the best solution for the job; but the argument here (i.e. the counterargument to O'Reilly's article) is that the job also encompasses an overall responsibility to the citizens, including the citizens' right to know what's going on, and to have access to the tools and methods.

      For example. Let's say that the government has created a new department, and this new dept. needs specialized software to do its job. Now, in terms of which software is most efficient for those gov't employees who will be working in this department, Software X from Closed Source Inc. may be the best of all the proposals, even better than Software G from Open Source Corp.

      But is the employees' use of this software the end of it? No. The argument (I'm ambivalent on this for now, but this is apparently michael's view) is that the goverment has a responsibility to the citizens that gives them a clear, transparent view of what goes on in government offices. Even if Software X appears to work better (from the end-user standpoint), citizens have a right to know whether Software X really IS doing its job correctly, and not making subtle errors that will come back to bugger us ten years down the road. As a result of this responsibility, Software G may be a better choice, because it is open and transparent, even if it's some amount harder to use than Software X is.

      PLEASE NOTE that I am not taking one stance or the other -- I am simply pointing out what the argument is, since so many seem to be oblivious to it.

  • The proposed law in California seems about as draconian as it's inverse would be.

    I see no mention of a clause that (IIRC) Peru's proposed legislation has, that allows proprietary software to be used if there's no open source project that fits the project.

    Instead of buing the round block for the round hole, they'll have to take a square block and slice & dice it until it's round?

    Then there's the simple fact that Open Source isn't automatically better.

    Let's face it, no matter how many Open Source projects are equal to or better than proprietary equivalents, there are still numerous pieces of proprietary software that are currently better than any Open Source equivalent.

    At least one country realized this (Norway, IIRC), and just mandated that Open Source be considered along side Close Source programs.

    Let them all stand on their merits (price, polish, support, ease of use, et al), and as long as the file formats are open, let the best software (for each job) win.
  • OK, I can understand that people don't like the idea of forcing people to use open source. I agree that it is not a preferable way to go. But I think there is an important point here beyond the politics.

    Governments handle much of our crucial information - defense info, Social Security, tax stuff, etc. I have no doubt that most office workers doing their thing use Office tools in the government, and commercial programs for critical data processing. On the face of it, it would seem silly not to. Commercial software is supported.

    But what happens if a major software provider for the government goes bust? No source code, no way to fix problems. That isn't acceptable. Period. So maybe the thing to do is to ensure that, rather than force the government to use open source software, have things work so that any license the government gets for software includeds a copy of the source, and the right to maintain it should the company supporting it go bust or EOL the product. That would be justifiable and a good idea.

    Open source has the advantage of already being fully available. But mandating open source is overkill. Mandating consideration of open source, including the cost of adding features to or creating a new project - that I can see and would approve of. Not mandating open source for all uses. Some software is hard to develop in an open environment, such as specialized research software for scientific applications.

    Where I can see mandating open code, either BSD or public domain licensing, is in software government employees write, excepting critical security code. If they do some useful database software with taxpayer money, why shouldn't we use it? But that doesn't restrict government usage of commercial software.

    Just my opinion of course, but to me it makes sense. Make sure that govenment used software doesn't become unmaintainable (not unmaintained, note, just not unmaintainable) and that government written software is open and available whenever possible.
  • Should the government stop buying commercial routers because they use a proprietary operating system?

    Should the government ground the entire F-16 fleet until some open source programmer releases a GPL F-16 fire control system?

  • by 13Echo ( 209846 )
    People choose licenses for a reason. A single type of license is *not* the law.

    I love Linux, and use it at home on my only desktop machine, but I would never want to force someone to use it. Weather or not it is the best tool for the job, people should have a choice. GNU/Linux is about choice. I want to be able to buy some proprietary software (like Opera), but we need STANDARDS. That is what it is about. Relying on one provider is not the answer. That goes for closed and open source alike.

    Face it. There are just some things that you can't do with open source software, but closed options often limit the ability to be competitive, and to innovate. We've seen this for years.

    In the end, closed advocates (e.g. Microsoft) are going to try to force out OSS by the means of the DMCA. I know that it is ridiculously unfair, but we have to work around it. If we try to force *everyone* to use OSS, then we will be no better. Yes, open source software will improve drastically, but we will lose the drive to be competitive. The same goes for closed software. Microsoft's attempt to lock down control over all forms of media and software will cause the same effect. We must be level with all of this.

    I don't want my favorite OS to be pushed out of existence because some silly politician was too ignorant to support it for its benefits (I know that is the fear of many), but forcing people to use it isn't going to fight the opposition in favor of Palladium, and the likes.
  • Jondor's [] comment about open protocols instead [] was maybe the best in the previous discussion, originating from the Software Choice [] campaign.

    I also still believe that: " 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."

  • FUD, much? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EllF ( 205050 ) on Friday August 16, 2002 @01:45PM (#4083841) Homepage
    Good god, Michael.

    O'Reilly makes a *very* important point about forcing governments to use Open Source software: it's morally reprehensible. Quoting from a letter sent to Tim, "If you feel you have to coerce people, it would be better to force them to increase their disclosure. Require officials to document their acquisition critieria, require companies to publish their licensing policies, insist on use of open file formats for publicly accessible documents. That is, increase the flow of information and the range of choices, rather than trying to decrease them. That's what Open Source is supposed to be about - increasing choices, right?"

    Moreoever, your criticisms against Tim are as sophomoric as they are transparent:

    1."O'Reilly seems to be promoting the agenda of Microsoft's Software Choice campaign. He's a business man; perhaps there's a reason we don't know about." His manner employment is irrelevant - attacking an argument that calls into question the "slippery slope" of using legislation to force a particular subset of software upon a goverment on the grounds that the author of the argument is a businessman is an ad homimen fallacy, not a substantial critique.

    2. "Saying "People should be free to keep their papers private" as an argument against government FOI laws is just a stupid strawman, unworthy of further debate." Ok, agreed. Where does Tim say this? Where does this quote come from? The argument O'Reilly has against forcing the government of CA to use Open Source software is that "any victory for open source achieved through deprivation of the user's right to choose would indeed be a betrayal of the principles that free software and open source have stood for" - a point that is very different from some claim to a person's right to privacy.

    3. "Governments play by different rules. They need to be fiscally responsible, transparent to the public, and promote the public commonwealth whenever possible." I argue that the public commonwealth is best promoted by protecting what O'Reilly calls "Freedom Zero": "the freedom to offer your work to the world on the terms that you choose, and for the recipients to accept or reject those terms." When you start to force *any* entity to use software, you're violating what I perceive to be one of the fundamental principles of the Free software movement.

    4."Whatever his motives, his lame arguments are no reason to stop pushing for governments to use Free or Open Source software wherever possible." Pushing for governments to use Free/Open Source software is fine, but O'Reilly's "lame arguments" boil down to the simple notion that "This last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason."

    Although I've come to expect the mentality of least resistance here at /., it's depressing to see an editor such as yourself bashing an article that endorses the ideological foundations for the Open Source movement. Spewing links to Microsoft FUD and drawing vague connections to ridiculous and oversimplified statements that no one would disagree with in an attempt to bolster such a weak argument might fool some of this community, but not all of us.

    As Fight Club said, "sticking feathers up your butt doesn't make you a chicken." Thanks for the proof, Michael.
  • It is about license choice, and ultimately whether the government should be able to require licenses that allow them to switch vendor.

    Do you think that, in the long run, it is a good idea for a government to become dependent on software that you can only be supported and upgraded by a single vendor?

    Or do you believe that, in the long run, the government is better of with software where it can choose the best supplier of support and upgrades, and switch supplier if the old one doesn't do a good job, or raises prices unresonably?

    If you believe the answer to the later question is "yes", you should support policies (or "laws") that require such licenses.
  • The notion of requiring all software used by the government to be open source seems to be going a little too far. The problem as I see it is that some software is simply not available as open source and is needed to get their work done. On occasion the government does get stuff done and nobody benefits from making it harder for that to happen. Having said that, I think that requiring the government to make use of open source make sense if handle more reasonably.

    Any software custom written for government use must be open source. Companies unwilling to open up their source code will likely find many new competitors perfectly happy to take those big government checks.

    Any software that is a boxed purchased product from a retail store or what have you is fair game either way with one caveat. All documents created by this software that are for public consumption must use open formats. So the government can use Office if it's the best tool for the job, but they should be saving in plain text, RTF, etc.

    My thinking is that the ongoing cuts into government budgets will encourage use of open source without need of government mandate. The only exception being in the realm of custom written software which I think should be open source because it opens up future enhancement of the software to competitive bids. There should also be some mandates about the clarity of the code, etc (an open source mandate means jack all if somebody can just crank their code through an obfuscator).

  • Let's just make this simple. Make it a rule that the government cannot do business with anybody that is a monopoly. That kills off the big shark in the pond, and opens up the game for competitors of all colors to compete. If open source is truly the best, then it will win in the market place. Doesn't need a law to protect it.
  • 'No one should be forced to choose open source, any more than they should be forced to choose proprietary software.'

    Michael, you're being way too hard on Tim O'Reilly: I think he's enunciated an important moral principle here. You wouldn't think a professional business man would be the one to finally state the principle of absolute anarchy so clearly and succinctly, but how could you do much better than "no one should be forced to do x, any more than they should be forced to do not x? This is especially brave since Tim's business becomes irrelevant: no one should be forced to obey the boss, any more than they should be forced to ignore the boss.

    I mean, with this principle, the legal choices of the government about free software really become irrelevant: no one should be forced to follow the law, any more than they should be forced to break the law.

    In fact, pretty much everything becomes irrelevant. No one should be forced to respect the public interest, any more than they should be forced to ignore the public interest. Heck, no one should be forced to build good, cheap software, anymore than they should be forced to build shoddy, overpriced software.

    In short, nobody should be prevented from doing evil, any more than they should be prevented from doing good.

    --po8, who thinks that nobody should be forced to listen to pseudo-philosophical drivel any more than they should be forced to spew pseudo-philosophical drivel.

  • That should be the law they are pushing.

    Transparancy should be a stated goal of government, but the path there is vast and rocky. Migration is costly and time consuming.

    I hope they are doing the NRA thing. Move to one extreme side and then shift to the middle to show that you are "being reasonable."

    Transparency, cost cutting, sharing, fighting waste, and increasing reuse are worthy goals, but there must be a process for exception (not exemption except in National Security Matters) to ease the pain of transition.

  • I have to agree, legislation that forces people to choose one type of sofware is not a good idea, since one day the tables might get turned. It is similar to legislating a national religion, which is fine as long as the "Fundamental Whackos" are not in power.

    However I do understand the angst in the Open Source community against Microsoft, Palladium, and bad legistlation like the DMCA. The real question is should we allow ourselves to become as ruthless as companies like Microsoft who squish, crush, and steal from anyone who even remotely looks like a threat?

    Does the Open Source Community really want to become what it despises or is it really a last ditch effort at survival?

    Myself, I am trying to adopt the "agnostic IBM" view of the world and give people the best tool for the job, which usually offers a good blend of Open Source and proprietary software. I have learned a lot from watching IBM and, just by IBM "giving customers a choice" as opposed to ramrodding solutions, they have become Microsoft's enemy #1.

    One important thing that Open Source/GNU/Linux has going for it, is the mere fact "it's cool". Also, chicks dig that cute little penguin because Tux is sooo cute.

    Microsoft is currently not envogue or cool, except for maybe the XBOX, which I refuse to buy until it can run Linux. Let's face it, Bill Gates (the lead software architect of Microsoft) can't even explain their coolest product called ".NET" which doesn't even have a cute animal to represent it. In fact, ".NET" sounds downright anti-cute and anti-environmental.

    Personally, I think if Bill Gates had any ballz, that he would quit Microsoft and start a new company that competed agaist Microsoft and introduced even more chaos and choice into the market.

    Speaking of choice, I went down and looked at the new Apple Mac this week. That dual processor beast with the 16:9 aspect ratio LCD panel is just incredible and it even comes with all my favorite UNIX tools installed. I was so WoW'ed that I might buy one soon; WHY? because the Mac is now a mix of proprietary and Open Source which "GIVES ME A CHOICE!" and a darn good looking hardware solution wrapped in clear acrylic.
  • The theory is that the votes make the choice.
    If the law is passed, the choice has been made.
    O'Reilly is not arguing for freedom of choice.
    He is arguing that one choice is bad, and the
    alternative is better. He is wrong about that,
    obviously, as should be no surprise considering
    that he makes such an silly lapse of reasoning
    as to confuse making a choice with giving up the
    freedom to choose. It's difficult to reason
    correctly if one uses terms in such a bizarre

  • by aero6dof ( 415422 ) <> on Friday August 16, 2002 @02:04PM (#4084046) Homepage
    Although I don't support the DSSA in its current form, I don't think that Tim has ever tried to sell products to the governments and their agencies - I have. Open Source has inherent disadvantages in trying to sell to a government customer. Government often creates lists of "qualified" vendors. These lists often serve as a procurement "menu" the government agencies decide what sofware technologies to implement. Going with off-list technology often requires extra justification and more work on the part of the procurement agency.

    The nature of Open Source makes it difficult or impossible to participate in these lists. The regulation simply doesn't mesh well with the OSS paradigm. Look at California Educational List [] or the Federal Gov't GSA [] and try to imagine an Open Source project trying to qualify for a slot on those lists. Even if an Open Source business does qualify itself to the list, none of the other businesses offering service or support qualify - removing a key advantage of Open Source -- multi-vendor competition over support of the same product.

    I do think some sort of "Consider Open Source First" software procurement policy is in order. Either that, or a gov't office to specifically qualify Open Source projects to these procurement lists.
  • by Vicegrip ( 82853 ) on Friday August 16, 2002 @02:23PM (#4084254) Journal
    Government must use standards compliant software:
    1. Software must store data in an open patent/royalty free standard format and be useable by any other software.
    2. Software that must interoperate, should be able to do so without preference to a specific vendor. i.e. follow open and patent/royalty free communication standards.
    3. Software, depending on its application, must be demonstratedly secure by:
    - making it the law that a security flaw for software running on government systems must be fixed (no: "but you can buy our new later version full of features you don't need")-- for a reasonable fee if appropriate.
    - a vendor shall be liable for refusing to disclose vulnerabilities their software has that have not been addressed in a timely fasion.
    - having been the subject of independent review and analysis.
    4. Portable software that is available on more than one platform must be given precedence over software that can only operate on one platform.
    5. Companies who fail to support software, or refuse to or have gone bankrupt, should in their contract have clauses that force the code to their software made open-source so that the goverment may have somebody else support their system.
  • by epine ( 68316 ) on Friday August 16, 2002 @02:23PM (#4084256)

    Anyone who has spent any time listening to the Technetcast archives will know that Tim O'Reilly is not someone you discard just because they are saying something you don't want to hear. He has better open source credentials than 99% of the people who will weigh into this discussion, even if we darkly suspect he is feeding his family on the side. I've done nothing in my life as a computer programmer to compare with what Tim has contributed.

    And Tim is making a point here which is 100% correct. The label "open source" is not an acceptable substitute for what we are really trying to achieve. If it did happen that governments such as Peru enacted these policies, it would certainly be a victory for accountable government and the democratic process (at least between the state and its citizens, which is NOT the sum total of what democracy requires).

    The lame argument here is the last paragraph of the slashdot submission. I know exactly what lame means in that paragraph: "I don't want to think that hard about difficult issues, so chalk it all up to hidden agendas, name the villians, and move along". If Tim O'Reilly's open source credentials are subject to this kind of aspersion, whose only sin so far is to give serious consideration to the political reality of taking an immoderate stance on the traditions of goverment since America was founded, there isn't a business person alive whose integrity means anything at all to the open source community.

    Sure it's annoying to see Tim throw out these unpleasant thoughts half digested. But that's what he does: he creates forums for really smart people to think and speak about difficult issues.

    I don't know the right answer to this question. The problem is too difficult to think through in one day, or even one year.

    We need a notion along the lines of "government product" which encompasses everything they do on behalf of the public (memos, e-mail, publications, databases, registries, etc.) and mandates that all of this goverment product is fully exposed in representations supported and validated by freely available, open source code. Once you have this in place, the open source community can implement every system of government, and then we need to win the arguments over cost justification of taxpayer dollars. And maybe at the end of the day we find we are actually doing the right things for the right reasons after all.

    I know that many people in this forum won't get past the fact that Tim has said something ugly. For those of you who sometimes stop to think about the unpleasant, this is one of those times to step back, take a hard look, and admit that the world doesn't always offer the easy paths we'd prefer to follow. Tim had the courage to do this, so should we.

  • O'Reilly is right. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lendrick ( 314723 ) on Friday August 16, 2002 @02:24PM (#4084262) Homepage Journal
    One fundamental problem with open-source zealotry is the assumption that in every possible case, open-source software is better than any proprietary alternative. This has a nasty tendency to piss off regular users ("Why are you forcing this on me? I liked my Windows just fine.") and less zealous OSS advocates (who are trying very hard to convince people that we Free Software types are capable of being reasonable).

    What the government needs to do is a detailed cost-benefit analysis for each major software purchase. Linux is cheaper to run in some cases, but the fact is, you need to retrain people to use new software, and they can often get bogged down if said software isn't of as high quality as the commercial software they were originally using. Microsoft Office has its annoyances, but is still (in my experience) generally a better office suite than Open/StarOffice.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts. They decision shouldn't be made for government organizations. It should just be an educated decision made by engineers and regular users, as opposed to managers who have just been impressed by salesmen.
  • by Daemosthenes ( 199490 ) on Friday August 16, 2002 @02:34PM (#4084338)
    There are quite a few people getting far too uppity about this. And while it is a goal worth taking political action over, I think one of the core problems with the Open Source movement is the fact that we don't know when to back down. Our collective character wants to resolve the problem, crush the "evil bad guys" (Microsoft and proprietary giants) and save the future of computing for people everywhere - seriously, it's our mindset. We grew up watching star wars [] and star trek [], right? As a movement we've been overcome by the blindness and fervor that we decry in the corporations and government we struggle against.

    If we truly want freedom, we should be fighting for the freedom to choose - the freedom to pick the best tool for the job. The freedom to use open source if it is better, or to pick proprietary software if it's the best tool for the job. Passing bills mandating the use of open source [] in the government takes away the freedom of the government to do its job as efficiently as possible. We're taking away from their freedom. Using the exact same method that the MPAA, RIAA, and other corporate entities make use of things like the DMCA to impact our own freedom. And what's the point of inflicting one "freedom" on the government just to take away another?
    • Passing bills mandating the use of open source [] in the government takes away the freedom of the government to do its job as efficiently as possible.
      This is a strawman. The government does not enjoy "freedom" the same way individuals do. If we are going to pass such bills, it's going to be because it will help the government serve the people -- which is the only reason it exists. The government only enjoys "freedom" insofar as such freedoms serve its populace. You're making it sound like the government has some kind of fundamental right to freedoms the way citizens do.

      The argument should be whether requiring open source will benefit the public more than allowing closed source will. Basing the argument on the idea that the government somehow deserves freedom is ludicrous.

  • open standards (Score:4, Informative)

    by spasm ( 79260 ) on Friday August 16, 2002 @03:01PM (#4084558) Homepage
    I work on large, US taxpayer-funded research projects. We gather *huge* amounts of data, and use less than a third of it ourselves. Some of it will eventually be datamined by other projects, and all of it has potential for future researchers. Perhaps in a year or two; perhaps in 20 years. It's that kind of data.

    I couldn't actually give a shit about open source vs closed sorce *software* - in a given week I switch back & forth between MacOS, NT, and Linux, and use both proprietary and open source tools on all three depending entirely on what best suits the task is at hand. But having the data I work with in an open format which can be used by multiple tools from multiple vendors across all three of the platforms I use is essential. And in the longer term, making absolutely sure the data I work with is and will remain available to other researchers is critical.

    We, the taxpayers, pay for an incredible amount of extremely expensive research, and to deliberately lock the products of this research up in proprietary formats which may not be accessible to later researchers (eg the 1960's census data debacle) is criminal stupidity.
  • by Skald ( 140034 ) on Friday August 16, 2002 @03:03PM (#4084583)
    And the smallest errors cause the greatest confusion,
    when unsound reason yields the best conclusion.

    The consequences of legislation to require government agencies to purchase (Open Source|Free) software may be good or bad; I don't wish to make a case for either at the moment. I do think, however, that both Mr. O'Reilly's reasoning, and that of his correspondent, are flawed, and that both characterize the issue badly.

    Government agencies are not individuals, with freedoms we regard as inherently worth protecting. Nor do they spend their own money; they spend the money of the people they serve, which in most cases is provided for them by the legislature representing those people.

    When the mystery correspondent characterizes these laws as "criminalizing an official' s decision to buy commercial software", and when Mr. O'Reilly characterizes them as the "deprivation of the user's right to choose", they suggest that the people entrusted with the administration of these agencies have some right to spend tax money in the way that they see fit. They do not. Nor is having the legislature hand down policies on what goods agencies acquire anything like having the legislature forbid individuals to write or use P2P software (a comparison made by O'Reilly in the discussion forum). This is not about whether, how, and to what extent the government should regulate the software industry. This is about one way in which the Legislative branch checks the Executive branch.

    O'Reilly's pragmatic points, though underdeveloped, are more interesting. Perhaps this is a matter of legislative micro-(mis)management. Perhaps these constraints would seriously impede the ability of many agencies to fulfil their responsibilities. Perhaps this would open up a fight with software corporations that we don't want, or can't win.

    I'd much rather Mr. O'Reilly had developed these, as I think his argument from principle falls down flat. If we took it seriously, we'd have Congress able to give money to agencies, without any say in how the money was spent. Unelected officials without constraints on their spending isn't what most people mean by 'political freedom'.

  • So Tim O'Reilly is going to tell his employees:
    Get any software you please from any vendor you please for your desktop workstations. If your computer isn't up to running it, we'll get you an upgrade, and don't worry about downtime, if you can't work while you're waiting, take some time off on us. If it won't talk to the other applications on our network, don't worry about it, it's our problem. Take some more time off on us while we fix it.

    When a public policy position is this easily reduced to transparent (but not "Trustworthy") absurdity, it doesn't deserve to be taken seriously.

    Any organization has the right to mandate the use of software matching certain specifications to ensure interoperability and a common environment so that any employee will be able to function on any workstation she is assigned to for at least basic applications like mail, office apps, etc. It just happens that in a government, such regulations and laws have the force of law because it is the government. Further, it also has the responsibility to both itself and to its customers to keep information it collects secure. It can best meet this responsibility by mandating the use of securable software. Microsoft doesn't make any.

    Moreover, a government is in a special position with respect to legacy software and formats. Unlike most businesses, documents created 25 or 50 years ago must be accessible not only to government employees, but to the general public as well. When looking up a legal precedent and why it was made, one frequently has to go back 25 or 50 or even sometimes, 100+ years to look up what the courts and the legislators had to say about it. Does anyone think MS will be around in 100 years?

    Government also has special requirements regarding security, it has many databases full of software it must maintain in order to function which are an attractive target for h4xx0rs. The CA state employee database which got hacked a few months ago. Allowing state agencies to pick insecure MS products in the name of "freedom of choice" is just not acceptable.

    Finally, one other point that should have been obvious to Tim. The Open Source Movement has gotten big enough that it either must get political or get crushed. MS lobbying killed the NSA Secure Linux project despite the fact that MS makes no secure products of its own. What's going on with respect to laws being made by politicians 0wn3d by Hollywood that will destructively impact the Open Source Community is known to all of us with the remotest clue. Until I read what Tim said, I would have put him in that category.

    We can no longer afford to follow our previous traditions of ignoring politics or pretending to be a political player via geektivism, which as Declan has said, must ultimately fail. Politicians listen to our presentations politely and with blank incomprehension, our people get the feeling of having made a difference, then they go back to their offices and talk to the lobbyists who speak to them in a language they do under$tand.

    We either have to learn to play with the big boys... to compete in the political arena with Microsoft and Hollywood as equals or find ourselves locked out of the software market and ultimately, locked out of the ability to use our own computers in any manner not preapproved by MS and Hollywood.

    While I support the Digital Software Security Act and will tell my CA state legislators to vote YES, the Open Source Community is going to get our collective asses kicked over this one unless it is willing to organize a PAC for the purpose of collecting our money to redistribute to politicians...

    If you want access to politicians, you've got to pay for it just like everyone else who gets it does. That's a lesson we must learn NOW for our own survival.

  • Tim O'Reilly is a truely balancing force in the _computer_ world. Who else would have been able to get heads of MS and open source together on a stage and keep a fight from breaking out. He has contributed countless advances to _computer_ technology, and it is his level headedness and fairness that makes his opinion still respected and not discounted as some crazed lunatic as Stallman's points are offten seen.
  • by Dirtside ( 91468 ) on Friday August 16, 2002 @04:34PM (#4085316) Journal
    I think michael would have done well to heed the old saying: "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity." Essentially, michael is seeing Tim's words, and assuming that he has a nefarious ulterior motive. I think that the simpler answer is better (yay, Occam): O'Reilly failed to consider the necessity of transparency in government effort. (No, I don't think he's "stupid", but it's an apt quote.)

    Many posts here keep mentioning that the government should choose its software based on whether it's "the best tool for the job". I agree. The problem is in the definition of "best tool for the job". Most of the anti-michael posts seem to think that "best tool" only includes one, or maybe two factors: the technical superiority of the software, and possibly its monetary cost.

    There is a third factor, equally (possibly more) important in my view: The government's responsibility to make its work transparent to its citizens.

    The government does not have any "right to choose" what software it uses on its own initiative. The government's entire existence is contingent upon the will of the people -- essentially, the government is a company whose board of directors is the American public. Its employees (individual government workers) are beholden to the company's policies -- they must use what tools it specifies, just like any employee at any company.

    If the public decides that it wants more transparency in government work, then that is the public's will and the government's duty. If the public decides that one good way to get this transparency is to require open source software, then so be it. As a member of that Board of Directors, I get a vote in whether that happens -- although due to the rather byzantine legal processes of the land, it's only an indirect vote with a massive lag-time. Nonetheless, the government exists to serve its public, and must act according to its public's will.

    I think O'Reilly has confused the rights of an individual and the rights of government. Namely, that the government has no inherent rights, except those granted to it by the people. His final comments begin to sound as if the government is being oppressed by such decisions, instead of enjoying the liberty that all humankind deserves.

    The problem being, of course, that the government is not a person, and does not "deserve" anything. Saying that "no one should be forced to choose open source" in defense of a nonexistant government right is errant -- in other words, he is saying that we should not force the government to use particular tools.

    Now, the idea that EVERY government software solution should ALWAYS be open source is not necessarily a good idea (it may be, it may not be, I don't know) -- but claiming that it is morally wrong because the government has a right to choose what it wants, is ludicrous. The government exists to serve the people -- it has no rights except those we grant it.
  • by benedict ( 9959 ) on Friday August 16, 2002 @06:28PM (#4086077)
    Tim O'Reilly decries the "politicization" and
    "radicalization" of the open source community.
    It seems to be a libertarian axiom that freedom
    and politics don't mix. I don't agree.

    When a person refuses to engage in politics, all
    he does is ensure that his voice is not heard in
    the halls of power. The government is our
    government as much as it is anyone else's, and
    there is no reason why we should not strive to
    have our values recognized and our concerns

    Some people have questioned the technical wisdom
    of the California bill. They may have a point,
    but it is orthogonal to my point.

To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus