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Software The Almighty Buck

Embarrassing Governments Into Adopting Open Source 459

caitsith01 writes "An effort is currently underway to embarrass the Australian Federal Government into adopting open source software. As this story explains, the Australian Democrats have put questions on notice in Parliament that will require all government ministers to disclose how much money their departments spend on Microsoft products each year. The idea is to force open source issues to the fore by showing just how much money Microsoft receives from the government. It could be a smart approach - the average taxpayer knows little or nothing about OSS, but will rapidly form and express vocal opinions about the government wasting money. The article also mentions that a bill may be introduced to Federal Parliament to mandate the consideration of open source solutions (you may remember this story about an Australian state trying to introduce similar legislation). Some quotes from the article: "What the country doesn't need is to be tied into a profit-maximising licensing system, and the way to combat that is to get government to break out of the paradigm." On the other hand, the (right wing) Liberal Party criticises suggestions that use of open source should be compulsory as "hi-tech affirmative action.""
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Embarrassing Governments Into Adopting Open Source

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  • by caitsith01 (606117) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:38AM (#6496869) Journal
    What do you mean payback?

    I am glad to see them doing this sort of thing... even if the system is effectively two party this type of action is a good way for minor parties to raise issues that the major parties would basically ignore.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:38AM (#6496870)
    Is it every government's argument that open source is better simply because it is cheaper? I sincerely hope they find a good bunch of sysadmins to run that stuff, because if the government computers break down or are improperly maintained, they'll have an even bigger financial mess on their hands than when they were bleeding cash on their Windows machines. But will they still save money in the end--even after they have spent $$$ to re-train their employees on Linux? Heck, Windows may not be cheap, but at least it is easy to maintain, and more people know about it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:40AM (#6496877)
    " As this story explains, the Australian Democrats have put questions on notice in Parliament that will require all government ministers to disclose how much money their departments spend on Microsoft products each year. The idea is to force open source issues to the fore by showing just how much money Microsoft receives from the government. "

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the budget and expense sheet already available to the general public?
  • Reasoning? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mopslik (688435) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:41AM (#6496884)
    Shouldn't Open Source be promoted by better virtues? I love the whole Open Source community, but adopting any software just because it's not made by a Monolithic Evil Corporation (tm) is just bad planning because:

    1) Some rinky-dink Open Source programs are just as buggy as their closed source couterparts. Having just been a TA for the last little while, I know some of the horrible coders who will be unleashing their pet projects anytime now.
    2) Some closed source applications do a pretty decent job and are overlooked. Corel Office has served me well for years, with minimal headaches.

    Software shouldn't be entirely judged by the ability to see its source code, but by its performance when push comes to shove.
  • by arvindn (542080) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:41AM (#6496887) Homepage Journal
    ...that the desire for independence from the US is going to be an increasingly important factor in driving Linux/OSS adoption throughout the world. I mean, "government wasting money on Microsoft products" wouldn't have such a ring to it in the US now, would it?

    Usually you don't find government adopting new tech earlier than private enterprise, but with Linux it seems to be working the other way (or at least both ways). And I'd say that a major reason for that is anti US sentiment.

  • by $calar (590356) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:42AM (#6496897) Journal
    I wouldn't say that governments need "affirmative action" for open source. It has one great thing going for itself in this downed global economy: cost effectiveness.

    But we've seen many stories like this in the past here on /.

    I like what the German government is doing in terms of funding open source. This way, you can get something just as good as proprietary for a nominal cost to everybody (government, by the people that is) and it gives something back to the people, just like any other government program.
  • i'd rather... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Comsn (686413) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:43AM (#6496903)
    a detailed report of what the government spends on what.

    computers? thats a small minority of what the government spends money on, i'd like to see how much money goes to other stuff... corporate welfare perhapse?
  • by caitsith01 (606117) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:43AM (#6496905) Journal
    It may not be ready for secretaries etc... but there is a big difference between getting a site licence for MS Office and paying M$ jillions of dollars for MSDN subscriptions, ongoing support etc etc etc because your entire back end runs on their software.

    I think a key issue is training of technical people. Most people on ./ are probably *nix aware and skilled, but there are a huge number of people who do technical diplomas and the like and never even see a non-MS system.

    A move for more open source in government should be coupled with a push to bring non-proprietry software back to the core of computer related education. I'm lucky in that I have a Comp Sci degree from a university that has a strong focus on Unix and its derivatives, but I know a lot of people who are trained purely in MS and Oracle stuff.
  • by caitsith01 (606117) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:45AM (#6496916) Journal
    Whether it is or not, by asking the questions on notice in parliament the various ministers will be forced to stand up and tell the parliament how much they have spent on MS products. The point is to highlight the facts in a very public forum.
  • Re:Not quite ready (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jkrise (535370) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:46AM (#6496920) Journal
    I hope the Australian government would think long and hard before adopting them for workstation use.

    The longer and harder you think, the more time gets wasted. You lose nothing when givng Linux a try.

    I don't think I could recommend it to Sally Secretary quite yet.

    How did your Sally Secretary learn to use Windows and Office? Osmosis? I doubt it. Trining isn't a factor for normal users.

    In Gnome, for example, I occasionally get a dialog box that says " occurred. For more information, click on the help button." Naturally there is no help button.

    In MS Office, Sally frequently gets "It appears you are typing a letter" message. Does she know how to turn it off? Is there a toll free MS support number she can contact?

    What about " Program performed illegal operation. Instruction could not be Read" messgaes? Those pop-ups? Those BSODs? Does BSOD come with a Help button?

    Please.. think before you troll.

    -
  • by sstrick (137546) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:48AM (#6496932)
    I actually think the liberals are right on this one. Open source should not be mandatory, however neither should Microsoft.

    End of the day governements, like all organisations need to use the right product for the right job. It is not a bad idea for government departments to have to investigate open source solutions however to make them mandatory is madness.
  • Re:Not quite ready (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:49AM (#6496938)
    I hope you've reported that bug :)

    Or fixed it!

    Gnome and the rest of the open source apps are *really* nice now. Both my parents use linux now(and like it better). Neither of them are very heavy computer users but it seems to have worked better for them.

    No spyware, system crashes, viruses, less spam, less advertising. Overall I think that improves productivity.

    Of course I tailored each of their systems to them. Gave them assistance for a few days. But I did that for windows anyway(and spent longer at it).

    Apps like email, web browsing, office stuff are *very* similar to windows programs.

    Custom applications designed poorly(dependant on a single platform) are the main things holding people back. Many custom programs can be filled with open source programs.

    Wine, win4lin, and vmware can be used in the transition to linux.

    Have fun!
  • Re:Huh? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by minus_273 (174041) <aaaaa@SPAM.yahoo. c o m> on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:49AM (#6496939) Journal
    or

    affirmative action: descrimination against an individual based on his/her race, creed, sex etc.

    how "affirmative" affirmative action is is based on whether you are descriminated against or not. Consider this, university admissions, you have a rich blond hair blue eyed hispanic and a poor asian kid, affirmative action helps the hispanic kid.

    Being asian, i wouldnt like that too much. descrimination is bad in any way, shape or form.
  • by eln (21727) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:49AM (#6496943) Homepage
    The way this is worded, that they are particularly targetting Microsoft products, makes this look less like a cost-cutting measure and more like a witch hunt.

    Now, I'm no Microsoft supporter, but wouldn't it be much better for government officials to talk in more generalized terms? Don't attack Microsoft, attack the whole idea of a cash-strapped government using software that requires exorbitant licensing fees and overly restrictive licenses. Why not attack Oracle? Or Peoplesoft? They are just as bad as Microsoft is, just not quite as rich.

    As far as mandating open source software across the board, that's a bad idea as well. What if there is no suitable open source project for the task at hand? Should the government fund its own open source project to create one? Sort of goes against the whole idea of saving money and decreasing beuracracy. Forcing the government to limit itself to software produced through one particular business model over another is pretty silly, IMO.
  • by Stinky Glen20 (689507) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:50AM (#6496944)
    Hmmm. I can't help but agree with you there. I don't know whether it is an Anti-US sentiment (implied dislike) but perhaps a feeling that the US isn't quite so predictable as she used to be.

    I'm a firm believer in the best tool for the job - open source or not, so I don't think open source software should be used for its own sake. However, I could imagine many governments (or companies) would like to have some perceived control of their own technical destiny.

    Open source is a simple way to reduce reliance on third-parties, be they countries or corporations... assuming of course you have downloaded the source and not just the binaries before the sanctions kick in !
  • by GammaTau (636807) <jni@iki.fi> on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:58AM (#6496989) Homepage Journal

    ...that the desire for independence from the US is going to be an increasingly important factor in driving Linux/OSS adoption throughout the world. I mean, "government wasting money on Microsoft products" wouldn't have such a ring to it in the US now, would it?

    I think it's more about independence than anti-US attitude. In the current world independence and anti-US attitude have something in common but in the end, they're two very different things.

    One example is the city of Munich that switched from an American vendor (Microsoft) to another American vendor (IBM). The difference is that the former makes the city dependant on a single foreign company while the latter simply provides good service for an open platform. Choosing an American vendor doesn't seem to raise many concerns but depending on one American vendor does.

  • Re:Huh? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Flying-Cow-Man (686404) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:59AM (#6496991)
    In a way, yes. Affirmative action is illegal in many areas simply because it is the opposite of Equal Opportunity Employment. EEO mandates choosing the best person for the job, regardless of disability, background, ethnicity, blood type, etc... whereas affirmative action mandates hiring (or using) people/resources ONLY from a particular area, in order to promote the use those minorities. AA is most widely publicised for its role in integrating the african american population into the european workforce is the US, after equal rights were granted but no white employers wanted to take the first step. It's sad that it's necessary, but sometimes people need to be given a gentle push in the right direction. I suppose it's human nature to be afraid of something different.

    "Now if you don't mind, I'm going to go and break all the Windows in Bob Carrs office."

    "But how will you clean up the glass?"

    "Glass?"
  • by Goonie (8651) * <robert.merkel@be ... org minus distro> on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:59AM (#6496993) Homepage
    The Democrats aren't talking about making open source solutions mandatory.

    The point of this exercise is to look at how much the Australian government spends on Microsoft licenses (at a guess, multiple tens of millions of dollars annually), and ask whether it would be a better use of those funds to enhance open source software so that it meets government requirements. Tens of millions of dollars annually employs a lot of people...

  • by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:00AM (#6496996)
    In any organization, the value of using Microsoft, Mac, Linux, or any other OS can always be debated. That is, some software just runs better on this or that platform, some tasks are performed better by this or that OS ... It's just a matter of picking the best option for the job, and compare the TCOs and rendered services of each options. There's usually nothing political or religious about such a decision process, despite what Microsoft, Mac or free software zealots would like to make it.

    But ...

    For certain organizations, like governments, there are 2 issues that should overshadow all the other : (1) the issue of governmental independance from third party vendors and other countries, and (2) the issue of information integrity and security for agencies such as secret services.

    Just imagine you're in a position of power in a (non US) government, and you know nothing about computers, and someone tells you you have a choice between software that you can have total control over that's free (as in speech), or a piece of software from a notoriously greedy US vendor that has a notoriously shitty track record for computer security, what would you do ? I don't know for you, but it wouldn't cross my mind one second to use the latter. I'd rather be sure my country's computers can be totally independant from any country or vendor, in peace or war time, even if that may mean paying more for auditing the entire free software suites I use, or adapt it to the country's needs. The investment is a one-off then the country is free. Cases where Microsoft or other proprietary vendors would be chosen over free software should be kept to the strictest minimum, when no other alternatives are available.

    All the above is valid for the US too : of course, they don't run the risk of one day being at war with themselves and suffering from embargoes, but they still have the situation where a public organization is at the mercy of a private one for a critical part of its operating resources. And just imagine, if some country drops a bomb on Redmond (N.K. comes to mind), how long do you think the US could continue functioning ? 6 months, 1 year ? Isn't odd that the country that created ARPANET to be resilient to anything that could happen in the country runs it with computers that have software installed from one sole vendor ?

    So this is what I don't understand : how come governments even ask themselves what the right choice is in the matter ?
  • by oliverthered (187439) <oliverthered@hot ... com minus author> on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:01AM (#6497005) Journal
    Whats the cost to Australia of all that money going to the USA when some of the money could go to employee people in Australia to make OSS practical for all aplications?

    USA gets less money
    Australian unemployement goes down.

    Whats wrong with OSS for sally?
  • by RodgerDodger (575834) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:07AM (#6497027)
    I'm of the firm opinion that open-source software should not be legislated for. Instead, it should compete on its own merits.

    However, I'm also of the firm opinion that, at least for government documents, the format of the data should be, by law, an open format. That is, a format that is completely and openly described, and with an open-source viewer (as a reference implementation).

    Furthermore, the software products that government workers use should, by default, save in the open format, without loss of functionality. In other words, "Save As..." doesn't cut the mustard.

    Once that is in place, applications will be able to play on a more level playing ground. Furthermore, there won't be the risk of documents being lost because there is no longer any software available that can read them.
  • Re:Not quite ready (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kris_J (10111) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:09AM (#6497034) Homepage Journal
    I've worked in places where the OS is irrelevant and where staff enter the company barely knowing how to use Word. I'm sure that a competent IT department could create a Linux setup that a generic staff member would have no greater difficulty in using than any similarly generic Windows or Mac system.

    Much more important is legacy application support. If your main database only has Windows clients then you're mostly stuck unless you want to put a lot of time into testing it with VMware, or whatever.

  • Re:Not quite ready (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gad_zuki! (70830) * on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:09AM (#6497035)
    >You lose nothing when givng Linux a try.

    Yes, you do. The first thing I would be concerned about is that no distribution of Linux has a GUI widget for all the things Windows or OSX does. That means lots of command line work, which will not sit well with users who expect, and at this point should get, lots of easy to understand GUI stuff.

    So if some organization test drives the current version of Red Hat or Mandrake and finds it lacking (afterall its their decision and they have windows to compare it to) there may be little chance that they will review Linux in the future.

    I don't like how Microsoft recently called Linux its #2 threat. I realy hope people aren't expecting an MS-like product from the get go.

    The server side is a completely different story, but that first impression on the desktop ends of things is very important.

    Compared to commercial offerings OpenOffice is not a mature product, KDE/GNOME do not have GUIs for a lot of functions, driver support can be a big headache, etc.

    I think there will be a time when Linux on the desktop will be a lot of a mature product aimed at technophobes, but from what I've seen from the current versions of Red Hat and Mandrake it just ain't here and pushing them as "windows killers" this early in the game is asking for a humiliating market defeat.
  • Re:The Democrats (Score:3, Insightful)

    by caitsith01 (606117) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:09AM (#6497038) Journal
    Actually Labor has some pretty good IT policies, too. They seem to understand the Internet a lot better than the current govt., and they are somewhat pro-Linux etc. etc.

    True what you say, even though people are modding you down - I feel the Democrats will be no more after the next election. Their votes will no doubt go to the Greens, though.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:10AM (#6497043)
    You don't think having your goverments documents stored/locked into a proprietry format controlled by a single corporation might have some bearing on whether it's the best tool for the job or not?

    Open source shouldn't be mandatory but open formats should be and that means MS office isn't the best tool for the job.
  • by dmiller (581) <djm&mindrot,org> on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:12AM (#6497047) Homepage
    I'd say that asking hard questions about spending is exactly "keeping the bastards honest" and has nothing to do with "payback".
  • by Soko (17987) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:18AM (#6497069) Homepage
    The problem isn't that the Australian government is spending money on computers and software, but that the world's richest and one of the most politically powerful man on the earth has the government in a vice with its OS and other monopolies.

    Bingo. Witness the Munich descision - it wasn't a move based on saving $ now, it was a strategic move to free themselves from a single-source vendor, who could potentially hold thier IT infrestructure hostage in some way, shape or form. What is really damaging to MS is the fact that this is a good, long term business decision that the astute businessman will recognize as such.

    As more knowlegeable and informed people clue in to just how dependant they are on Microsoft (if they fall out of Microsofts good graces they're likley to have a rather expensive software audit on thier hands) they'll go for alternatives just to make sure they're in control of thier own software (and therefore business) from then on. Licensing 6.0 tipped Microsofts' hand way too much - it showed people that MS has lost a lot of respect for thier customers. That being the case, the end is inevitable. One year, 2 years, 5 years - doesn't matter. Zero-choice software is on it's way out, Freedom-of-choice software is on it's way in.

    Soko
  • Re:Not quite ready (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BJH (11355) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:19AM (#6497077)
    You mean, they can check-out the file via CVS, make their enhancement, and then submit their changes to Linus ?

    You know we're talking about secretaries, don't you ?


    *sigh*... That's what a supplier is for.

    For example, if Ms. Plunkett the secretary at AcmeCorp realises that the wordprocessor she's using doesn't handle mailmerge, she can call up her organisation's support section. If the support section thinks it's a feature that will be widely needed, they can talk to their supplier (say, IBM) and ask for this feature to be included in the next upgrade. IBM can see if that feature has been implemented in a later version and upgrade AcmeCorp to that version or backport it to AcmeCorp's current version, or they can add it themselves and supply AcmeCorp with that version, or they can farm it out to a third party, or they can finance the original developers to add that feature, or they can tell AcmeCorp that it's not worth their time to add such a feature, in which case AcmeCorp can do the same thing IBM did - add the feature themselves, backport it, pay a third party to implement it, or pay the original developers to include it.

    It's so much easier when everybody has equal access to the source, isn't it?
  • by serps (517783) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:20AM (#6497082) Homepage

    The fact remains that the Federal Government won't be embarrassed at the large (wasteful?) sums of money it spends on IT infrastructure because it does not listen to the IT industry.

    Even when the Australian IT Minister (Richard Luddite [theregister.co.uk] Alston) spent 4 million dollars [whirlpool.net.au] on his website, the uproar was loud in the IT sector, but nonexistent elsewhere.

    ...and don't get me started on the shitful state of broadband in this country.

  • Re:Not quite ready (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hype7 (239530) <u3295110@@@anu...edu...au> on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:21AM (#6497086) Journal
    The longer and harder you think, the more time gets wasted. You lose nothing when givng Linux a try.


    Yeah, I mean it's only a Government Department. They do absolutely nothing important.

    Who gives a toss that all their systems are built around MS? Screw feasibility studies, let's just roll Linux out! No long and hard thinking required!

    I mean, come on!

    -- james
  • Re:Huh? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by RodgerDodger (575834) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:22AM (#6497089)

    Alternatively, we could consider the statistics. A vastly disproportionate number of whites get into top universities compared to other races. Either you contend:
    - (a) there is some natural genetic reason whites do better (i.e. eugenics ownz)
    - (b) there is some sort of bias at the universities
    - (c) there is some socio-economic reason other races struggle to get to university and to do as well as whites on their SATs or equivalent

    I would hope (a) is unacceptable to you. I think you will find (b) and (c) are more likely explanations - so what do we do about it? Leave things be?


    A may or may not be right, but it's largely irrelevant(*). I'm going to ignore B for now.

    Let's look at C. The logic becomes: more whites get into uni. White people tend to belong to better socio-economic groups. Therefore, we'll legislate a certain number of places for minority groups.

    Excuse me, I missed something. First, we're talking about white people getting into uni largely because they've got more money. Then, we ignore that and say that we have to let minorities in.

    You are better off instead making it possible for people from those lower socio-economic groups, regardless of race, to go to uni.

    Eminem made a quote recently along the lines of race not mattering much anymore. It was something like "a poor white kid has more in common with the poor black kid than he does with a rich white kid." Sums it up beautifully.

    The whole problem with affirmative action is that it aims to correct an imbalance by discriminating along racial/gender/etc lines.

    (*) How many elite sprinters are white? How many boxers? There are physical differences between the various sub-species that may contribute towards things like whites doing better at SATs. Anyone who says anything different is a politically correct nutter. But I'd bet you anything you like that the differences are not significant enough to explain the discrepencies, within at least an order of magnitude.
  • by RodgerDodger (575834) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:27AM (#6497111)

    I mean, "government wasting money on Microsoft products" wouldn't have such a ring to it in the US now, would it?


    It should, but for different reasons. In the case of the rest of the world, they would like to keep money in the country.

    For the US, they should care about having a diversified IT sector. The US government is a large enough client that it could choose three or four software suites, and insist that they play nicely together. I mean, do the government only buy cars from one manufacturer?
  • by hype7 (239530) <u3295110@@@anu...edu...au> on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:29AM (#6497117) Journal
    They have the right idea in this to sell the idea of open source to the public. A vast majority of them will never understand the difference, but they will definately understand the universal language of dollars and cents. I really can't think of a logical argument that can be made against this, really.


    Not that I'm the biggest MS supporter, but you want a few good reasons why they shouldn't just roll on out a new system:
    1. Retraining costs. For an entire Government
    2. Required software doesn't exist, or isn't as functional as under MS-platforms. Exchange is the biggest kicker - there are free alternatives, but not much matches the functionality. It is de facto.
    3. Support staff. You've got an entire IS infrastructure built around supporting the platform. I agree, the tail should not wag the dog, but the cost of retraining these guys to become necessarily savvy with Linux may even be more than point 1.
    4. MS has a support infrastructure that is much better suited to helping large organisations meet their IS roles than any Linux based organisation, especially here in Australia.

    These are just off the top of my head. Like I said, standard slashdot disclaimer - I'm hardly an MS sympathiser - but with the en masse discounts MS offers big organisations like Governments, and the potential pitfalls that changing to Linux could involve, I would want the Government to be very wary of wandering down this path. I especially agree with the "mandatory" selection of an OS - as always, it should be best tool for the job.

    -- james
  • by SuperKendall (25149) * on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:33AM (#6497132)
    In America you have a very strong anti-corporation sentiment after chains of things like Enron and Worldcom with everyone pretty much getting out untouched.

    So I think if you started pointing out how much money each level of government spends on MS when there are alternatives to paying a huge corporation outrageous sums, especially now with budgets getting tighter for local governments across the country - well, I think you could make quite an inroad.
  • Re:Not quite ready (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LamerX (164968) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:35AM (#6497135) Journal

    You mean, they can check-out the file via CVS, make their enhancement, and then submit their changes to Linus ?

    Wow there is this amazing compiler now called GCC, it takes source code and makes it into an executable program! If Linus doesn't accept it, or it takes a long time to get into the main codebase, you can still compile it yourself, and you can still be running a final product!

    You know we're talking about secretaries, don't you ?

    Yeah but secretaries aren't that intense in the software that they use. And the secretaries aren't going to be the people out doing the software development. You could take the money wasted on MS software, and pay a person to develop something that is totally custom based off existing code. Hell my parents and my younger sister seem to be able to use linux just fine. OpenOffice, Mozilla, Evolution, all work perfectly well. If gnome doesn't float your bubble, then there's KDE and a billion other WM's. You probably are going to be locking down your secretaries computer from doing advanced features anyways, we don't want her updating DNS records or anything.

    Let's not take the RedHat vs. Microsoft example then. RedHat drops old versions a lot faster than MS.

    Yeah, except you don't have to pay for newer versions of RedHat. You just continue paying for the support. And the support includes helping you upgrade. The bitch with MS, is that they drop the old software, but that forces you to continue to pay for support AND pay for the newer versions of software. So, IMHO RedHat still beats the crap out of Microsoft.

    And remember all the distros out there are made by companies that care about big bucks also.

    WRONG. There are a few distros out there made by companies that care about big bucks. How about Gentoo? How about Knoppix? How about Debian? How about College Linux? Or Vine or Rock or IPCop or RedFlag... The list goes on...

  • The Needed Mandate (Score:2, Insightful)

    by vagn (2168) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:40AM (#6497148)
    It's open standards that should be required by law.
    Mandating open source is attacking the wrong problem.
    With open standards there is the posibility for true
    competition for government contracts.

    With open standards the better product will win.
    It's all about freedom to innovate in a competitive
    environment, and open standards are the prerequisite
    for that competitive innovation.
  • Accountability (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Mark_MF-WN (678030) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:45AM (#6497164)
    Accountability for tax-money spent on software is commendable, but making open-source mandatory is silly. Not all product niches have quality OSS offerings. It makes sense to compel government agencies to use, say, Apache rather than the bug-ridden IIS. But compelling them to use, say, an OSS LDAP solution rather than the excellent Active Directory would be highly erroneous.

    The point? Governments should merely be forced to be publically accountable, and to be frugal whenever possible.
  • Re:You know... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DrMrLordX (559371) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:48AM (#6497177)
    I think it would be more effective to expose the amount of illegal/copied software being used within the Australian government(or any other government) as a way to "embarass" the government into using cheaper software alternatives. It's one thing to expose the known cost of commercial software in use by a government. But it's another thing altogether to bring up potential penalties that said government would be forced to pay should their violation of various EULAs be exposed.

    And, since when have modern governments ever been embarassed about wasting money? Doesn't happen very often. At least, not in the US.
  • by dmeranda (120061) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:48AM (#6497180) Homepage

    You're on the right track. It seems that everybody is missing the most important point, that of the "open" in open source software, which is the most important thing for Government use. Although cost should be an issue, it is not nearly as important as openness. The government is around to serve the people, and must make it's "output" must remain free, as in freedom, to all.

    The government's "outputs" are of course things like laws and regulations, research, census statistics, environment and geological surveys, budgets, and so on. All of those things should be made available to the public who pay for it without restrictions. And that means that all the document formats used should not be beholden to copyright and patent ridden proprietary corporate software.

    Just consider the National Archives [nara.gov], which publishes the Federal Register (the offical US publication which announces regulations and so forth. They have long understood that freedom concept and make all these regulations available as PDF and text, as well as their traditional paper-printed forms. There are no MS Word documents there, no encrypted eBooks. It is important that the public have free access to those publications, and that they remain perfectly readable 20 years from now (long after old Word versions become unreadable by the newer versions). Also it is important that the public be able to trust that what they are reading is authentic. Can I really trust Word to not recognize that when I'm reading a regulation on software piracy it silently inserts an extra little Microsoft sentence? Well, actually MS is not that evil, but the point is that I have no way to really know, the Word format is binary and proprietary and I can't verify that Word is displaying the correct output as I can't examine it's source or recompile it from source.

    Governments should adopt OSS not for it's potential price benifits, but philosophically because it is open.

  • by dekashizl (663505) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:55AM (#6497193) Journal
    I don't think I could recommend it to Sally Secretary quite yet. Its still got a bit more polishing to do.
    It may come as a surprise, but 20 years ago Sally Secretary rarely had a computer, and 50 years ago, she was lucky to get a typewriter. Keep going back, and she was lucky to be doing something other than sewing or breast-feeding.

    And yet throughout this history, we've somehow managed to organize large nation states and watch empires nearly conquer entire hemispheres without spending millions of dollars on bloated software.

    There is an important lesson here. Despite the clamor on this discussion board, it is not "Linux r0x0rs!". It is that people often come up with good tools for specific tasks to control the environment -- this (and language of course) is our defining characteristic. Most secretaries use windows PCs so they can run MS-Word. That's a whole lot of licensing fees to pay to MSFT for what is essentially a glorified typewriter.

    So to get to my point... Before you bash unices as being too hard for Sally Secretary to use, consider this. Create a distro that emulates a typewriter exactly. No command prompt, no shell, no KDE, no Mozilla, no translucent alpha blended windowing system. Just a typewriter. And it's free, and you can run it easily on a $200 computer.

    Start there and then add whatever else you need. Don't start with a general purpose computing platform and complain that it's too hard to use. Of course it's too hard. This whole mentality of using a "desktop environment" is one of the worst crutches the computing industry has been hobbled with. Somehow the concepts of "BIOS" and "DOS" evolved from a set of useful low-level I/O routines into a horribly bloated general purpose machine with so many points of failure, that we're often spending more money now on IT and training than on the machines and the people who actually use them!

    (BTW don't take this as a MSFT bash. I feel as strongly about Apple's overly general approach to computing, though at least their momentum seems to be toward a more controlled environment. And all the people working on Linux window managers and trying to make their Linux machines have a "START" button and "My Computer"... Jesus, it makes me sick...)
  • by willy_me (212994) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @03:11AM (#6497242)
    What the Australian government needs to do is to promote open standards for file formats - not open source. Who gives a damn if you have to pay a couple of hundred bucks for an operating system - the cost of an employees time is far greater.

    But requiring files to be in a particular format, an open format, at least gives open source software a chance. If not now, then in the future. Microsoft is famous for trying to lock users into their software and this would prevent that.

    So what I say is require standards, and use the best software for the job.

  • Re:Not quite ready (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MOMOCROME (207697) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <emorcomom>> on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @03:16AM (#6497252)
    In the interest of actually advancing the cause of F/OS/S adoption, I'm going to take a stab at playing devil's advocate to your response to egg troll. I am concerned here that this is all the further the scene's participants consider the issues, and it is a death sentence unless we can establish more logical and reasonable arguments, rather than this standard 'OOH BSODS ARE TEH SUKC" arguments:

    The longer and harder you think, the more time gets wasted. You lose nothing when givng Linux a try.

    oh? you loose hundreds of hours in training, across the org.

    How did your Sally Secretary learn to use Windows and Office? Osmosis? I doubt it. Trining[sic] isn't a factor for normal users.

    actually, she learned it thanks to a consistent graphical metaphor and standards that work across apps. let's not forget the much simpler fat file tree and 3 digit extension and the lack of 10 different directories to control 8 different aspects of an installed app. You may scoff, after all, this unix-y stuff is familiar to you. The windows environment is far simpler to grasp and always the same. that is to stay, the environment is stable, even if some of the apps aren't. *nixes are wildly varient. just take the switch from netscape's "Alt-C" for copy to Moz's "Ctrl-C" for copy, and you'll have your proof of what I'm saying.

    In Gnome, for example, I occasionally get a dialog box that says " occurred. For more information, click on the help button." Naturally there is no help button.

    In MS Office, Sally frequently gets "It appears you are typing a letter" message. Does she know how to turn it off? Is there a toll free MS support number she can contact?


    wtf? she can ignore the clip. r-click on it and choose hide assistant. couldn't be simpler.

    What about " Program performed illegal operation. Instruction could not be Read" messgaes[sic]? Those pop-ups? Those BSODs? Does BSOD come with a Help button?

    fwiw, BSODs haven't been a problem for years. and when they were, 99% of the time it was the result of 3rd party developers stomping all over the memory space of a kernel that was working to support 20+ years of legacy apps and hardware. And professionals all over the world understand this.

    Please.. think before you troll.

    Maybe you should stop and think before you advocate with thoughtless zealotry. You are hardly going to accomplish anything with foolish knee-jerking, nor are you contributing to the serious discussion of these matters by echoing the party-line. How are we ever going to shake the MSFT yoke with shallow stick shaking like this?
  • by cmacb (547347) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @03:33AM (#6497296) Homepage Journal
    Well, I hope this works and that somehow we can do something like this in the US.

    I think it more likely though that the US will be embarrassed in a different way. As poorer countries in the world begin to computerize, and network themselves, there is a good chance they will rely on Open Source solutions to get started. India, and Brazil, notably have significant Linux user bases already. Eventually there will be some interesting comparisons I bet about how this has had an impact, not only on their cost of doing business, but the overall impact on computer literacy as well.

    Watch someone who has NEVER used a computer use Windows for the first time. It's not a pretty sight. Windows is "intuitive" only after you have been using it for a year or so. The fact that most Windows programs use the same GUI elements, the same dropdown command set etc, makes each new program a bit easier to figure out than the previous ones. A large percentage of these new users will only learn the bare minimum to get by, and for them, it is to be expected that they will never want anything about that desktop to change.

    A smaller percentage, but still a significant number of new users will want to learn more, such people in a Linux/Unix environment are instantly rewarded by how much stuff there is out there. They may shoot themselves in the foot a few times, but eventually these will be power users. Such a person, even without root access can do an order of magnitude more things on their own than a similarly motivated Windows user. I think this difference in user base will show up in subtle ways that will cause both business and governments in the US to wonder why we have been short changing ourselves.

    Too bad they can't figure it out sooner.
  • Re:Not quite ready (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RoLi (141856) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @03:34AM (#6497301)
    The first thing I would be concerned about is that no distribution of Linux has a GUI widget for all the things Windows or OSX does.

    Since you like to throw around wild claims maybe you can show me just one desktop-centric "thing" that isn't graphical in SuSE but is in Windows.

  • Re:Not quite ready (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rowanxmas (569908) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @03:34AM (#6497302)
    The first thing I would be concerned about is that no distribution of Linux has a GUI widget for all the things Windows or OSX does. That means lots of command line work, which will not sit well with users who expect, and at this point should get, lots of easy to understand GUI stuff.

    By easy to use GUI you surely mean stuff like clippy, that nobody can use, or having a recycle bin that is poorly defined and isn't expected ( compare to the Mac where it is a main feature of the finder ). I am unable to use Windows without Cygwin installed, cimply because there is no way to GUIify many tasks ( like "mv *My Band*.mp3 My\ band/" ) because, face it, it would end up being a dialog box that would require a crude regexp, and would be really bulky at the end of the day.
    I find that people are moving back to the command-line because they know that it is not going to have weird errors or freeze up on them.
    OTOH, I would like for you to use Konq and tell me that it does not have enough functionality for doing everything graphically. I think that it does a better job than windows, since it offers so much more, and much better done, with coller themes that don't make you buy shit.
  • by Mjec (666932) <.slashdot. .at. .mjec.net.> on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @03:35AM (#6497309) Homepage Journal
    As a politically involved geek and Australian I feel obliged to post.

    I'm lucky in that I have a Comp Sci degree from a university that has a strong focus on Unix and its derivatives, but I know a lot of people who are trained purely in MS and Oracle stuff.

    Too true. I know for a fact that UTas (University of Tasmania) offers a standard of CompSci and sylabus similar to most other Australian universities - and its all MS based, plus a little Java for programming. I think there's a short section on *nix but it's all microsoft.

    Most people working in the field now however are not the young technically-minded people, who know everything, but are people with TAFE certificates in one specialised area of computer administration. I once had a sysadmin who, running an NT4 network, didn't know what the 'net' command did. But he moved on. Up to the department of education centralised servers!

    Unfortunatly most of the people working in the governments as admins know about their little bit - they know how to ghost, how to audit, and how to set up accounts. They arn't your average geek. This is of course just my experience.

    IMHO, if the government employed people who actually knew what they were doing and were interested then by now we would have switched to OSS.

    M(NS)HO.
  • Specifics please? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by incom (570967) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @03:42AM (#6497329)
    What exact government necessary widgets is linux missing that windows and osx have? Too many people repeat the tired old "linux isn't ready for the desktop" line, without even really saying why.
  • by bmajik (96670) <matt@mattevans.org> on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @03:45AM (#6497333) Homepage Journal
    what if i posed an alternate question to you:

    would you choose a shitty car that broke all the fucking time and didn't use a normal steering wheel, a standard gear lever, or a wheel-mounted stalk for a turn indicator, but you were provided with the wiring diagrams and a box of cheap wrenches ?

    -OR-

    A toyota.

    Which would your parents choose ? Which would a politician choose ? Remember, the goal here is to drive. Not to fuck about with cars.

    Here's another question to consider:

    "Which is worse - giving money to microsoft, or hiring additional government employees to support open source"

    carefully consider the salary and competance of government workers.

  • ...in fact, any of the top distros typically come with at least three of anything Miss Blonde Secretary might need, with the possible exception of stuff that cannot be GPLed (video codecs and the like), and even most of that's just a URPMI (or three clicks) away [zarb.org].
  • Re:TCO (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @04:09AM (#6497385)
    >The report estimated that the public sector could save several billion Danish kroner (one Danish krone is approximately 0.15 dollars) per year by switching to Open Source software - which is a lot in a small country like Denmark. The figure caught a lot of average goverment IT managers by surprise and consequently generated a lot of discussion as to the accuracy of the numbers and methodology used in the report

    Often such estimations are made by multiplying the number of systems in use by a license cost per PC, as looked up in pricelists.

    However, when a switch to OSS is made there will be no return of license fees for existing PCs, and for new PCs it will often not be possible to get them without Windows license (Microsoft-Tax).
    Furthermore, the price paid for such a bundled license is often much less than the list price.

    One should also be careful when the OSS alternative is listed as having zero license cost, as the kind of packages that would be used in a desktop environment often do have some licensing scheme.
    (Office replacements, Exchange replacements, Windows emulators, etc)
  • The point is to highlight the facts in a very public forum.

    Sorry, but parliament is not exactly a very public forum. Big Brother Up Late got better ratings than Senate Question Time (Late rerun). Big Brother Up Late is watching people sleep. Literally.

    Someone intelligent below pointed out the $4M Alston departmental website. I agree, it needs to be pointed out, but nothing will eventuate unless this waste of money is shown to everyone. Not only does everyone need to be made aware of the amount spent, they have to be aware of the other available options. My mother, knowing nothing about computers, would think it perfectly reasonable to spend $1.4M on website development. She has no idea that there is an alternative.

    What we need to do is bring it to the public's attention that there are viable alternatives (OSS) which cost less. And we can't do that simply through the parliamentary process, and with our current media companies we won't get it on the mass media. I'm afraid talks in parliament arn't enough. Ideas anyone?
  • by cthugha (185672) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @05:20AM (#6497556)

    An excellent analogy. And, just like BSD, they fork [theage.com.au] every time a couple of the lead figures have a spat. I'm a little sore about the Dems; they did, after all, support the Australian version of the DMCA, but it looks like they might redeem themselves with this sort of thing.

    If they manage to survive long enough, that is.

  • Re:Not quite ready (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gomiam (587421) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @08:39AM (#6498197)
    Now that's funny. Where I work, we only provide functionality as needed or requested. Hell, most of the systems developed here go per-specs. I guess we must be all insane.

    Can anyone spell software bloat? If the wished, MS could very well have modularized every functionality (down to some agreeable level) so you would only need to install what you needed. They decided no to. Any developer that decides to do the same deserves to lose, badly :-)

  • Re:Not quite ready (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cnoocy (452211) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @09:32AM (#6498520) Homepage Journal
    I'm posting this in response to egg troll because this assumption is showing up throughout the discussion.
    A few decades ago, thousands of secretaries in the US spent their days using SGML. Even more were using WordPerfect "reveal codes" with no particular difficulty. Every secretary or admin I've ever worked with was easily intelligent enough to handle any number of complex computing issues.
    If you want a "dumb user" to use in examples, one who is unwilling to make any sort of effort to comprehend a difficult operating system (and I agree that OSS desktops are still difficult) may I suggest Charles "I don't have time to learn things, I'm busy coming up with strategic synergies" CEO?
  • Re:Not quite ready (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mpe (36238) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @09:56AM (#6498685)
    Most of my users can barely use Windows anyway

    Assuming they "use Windows" as opposed to various applications, some of which may even go as far as to impose their own UI...

    - any administration tasks are the responsibility of the IT people - which is no harder in Linux/BSD/etc than in Windows - often easier.

    Especially when you can take away the ability of the end user or applications to be able to mess with all sorts of things best left alone.

    Any custom applications will need to be written by someone paid for by the government anyway - why not base them on an open platform?

    Especially as an alternative to basing them on a proprietary platform which changes frequently.
  • Re:Not quite ready (Score:3, Insightful)

    by poot_rootbeer (188613) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @10:34AM (#6499007)
    she learned it thanks to a consistent graphical metaphor and standards that work across apps.

    Have you ever watched Sally Secretary work? Sure she knows where the editing commands she uses in MS Word are, but ask her to execute similar commands in, say, Photoshop. She'll be lost.

    let's not forget the much simpler fat file tree and 3 digit extension and the lack of 10 different directories to control 8 different aspects of an installed app.

    Actually, let's forget them. They're irrelevant to Sally. All she needs to do is start an application, do her work, and save files somewhere. She'll never know the code for the app resides in "10" different directories. Her Linux software will still save files with 3-character extensions, just like Windows. The files will be saved to "/home/sally" instead of "C:\My Documents".

    she can ignore the clip. r-click on it and choose hide assistant. couldn't be simpler.

    Does SHE know about that? Does she mind doing that EVERY MORNING when she opens up Office?

  • Well said (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @12:25PM (#6500409)

    Open source is not free (as in beer), particularly on this scale. There are support costs, retraining costs, costs of investigating solutions in the first place...

    If we get a proposal that compares genuine TCO for Microsoft with "free" software then of course a mostly uninformed public will jump up and down and ill-informed lobbyists will start clamouring for the money to be saved. Then in five years' time, they'll turn around and wonder what went wrong.

    And as we've discussed on Slashdot before, any legislation that mandates the "consideration" of any specific product(s) over others, whether that's Microsoft, open source things or otherwise, is deeply flawed. They should require that everything relevant will be given equal consideration, but since that would be a tacit admission that this doesn't happen at present, we're unlikely to see that any time soon. You'd hope that it didn't require a law for that to be the case anyway, since all such a law would do is open up the floodgates for legal action against the government by every losing product's supporters.

    The last bit of the story really said it: it's just hi-tech affirmative action, and affirmative action is rarely as good an idea in the long run as it seems at first.

  • Re:It's not fair (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mijok (603178) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:32PM (#6501996)
    Not quite that simple. Since it's the government spending the money they should do it so that it benefits the taxpayers the most. And in that case the cost isn't the only issue - equally important is where the money is going. If it's OSS it's more likely that the money will go to buying support locally and thus the money goes back to the taxpayers instead of Microsoft, which will benefit the taxpayers more.

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