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Software The Almighty Buck

Embarrassing Governments Into Adopting Open Source 459

Posted by timothy
from the don't-worry-they'll-print-more-money dept.
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 Sad Loser (625938) * on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:34AM (#6496855)

    The democrats are usually a non-event, being third party in a two party state, like the liberal party in the UK.
    However their founding motto is "keep the bastards honest", and I hope their new policy will include looking for Microsoft payback (election campaign contributions anybody?) as I am sure this will be fruitful.
  • Not quite ready (Score:5, Interesting)

    by egg troll (515396) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:37AM (#6496866) Homepage Journal
    Admittedly the cost of buying software is a valid concern. Yet its not the only one. There are also costs such as training and lost productivity. While Linux and the BSDs are excellent server OSes, I hope the Australian government would think long and hard before adopting them for workstation use.


    As much as I love Open Source (I'm typing this via Moz on FreeBSD!), I don't think I could recommend it to Sally Secretary quite yet. Its still got a bit more polishing to do. 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.


    Hopefully, though, a widespread adoption of it as a server OS will encourage those working on its workstation aspects to really get a move on so we can rid the world of MS products.

  • Wrong strategy?? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jkrise (535370) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:40AM (#6496880) Journal
    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 question to ask is:
    How much money does Microsoft spend on each minister. That would be truly embarassing, specially in the US.

    -
  • by whereiswaldo (459052) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:45AM (#6496914) Journal
    I sincerely hope they find a good bunch of sysadmins to run that stuff

    They don't need any more sysadmins. Just sysadmins who know Linux. To Windows sysadmins, sure, Linux looks difficult to use. If you already know it, it's a fairly logical system. Plus, it's easier to maintain more Linux systems per sysadmin than Windows systems because you aren't forced to use a GUI for everything.

    But will they still save money in the end--even after they have spent $$$ to re-train their employees on Linux?

    I know people who are not extremely computer literate who use Linux for their every day tasks with no problem. Web browsing and typing up documents is easy. I don't know too many people who know most of MS Word's features - they end up having to look up the advanced ones. Same will go for on Linux.
  • Re:Not quite ready (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dwonis (52652) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:46AM (#6496918)
    "Not quite ready" is almost irrelevent. It would be true with closed source, but with open-source software, end-users can put their resources toward getting the features they want, rather than toward paying Microsoft every few years.

    And the nice thing about OSS is that you don't really need to do mass upgrades to new major versions -- if it's cheaper to make (for example) Linux 2.0 support IPSEC, that's a possible option. It's not a possible with Microsoft (or many closed-source solutions).

  • Two sites... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pen (7191) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:46AM (#6496922)
    Two sites to check out are egovos.org [egovos.org] and this one at netaction.org [netaction.org]. There's also the other side [softwarechoice.org].
  • Wasting Money??? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by yintercept (517362) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:49AM (#6496940) Homepage Journal
    the average taxpayer knows little or nothing about OSS, but will rapidly form and express vocal opinions about the government wasting money.

    I no it is a futile point to stress, but spending money on software is not necessarily a waste of money. Software developers, IT staff, network technicians, Linux gurus all look to the layman like a big fat waste of money.

    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.

    There is a good argument that it would be better for Australia to go the OSS route. It would help encourage the local development of software, etc.. The problem is not that people working on or developing software get paid.

    There is a second extremely powerful implied argument in the article in that people don't really know how much MS gets from the government. If the government tallied up their bill, they would be shocked. As it stands, MS is able to hide its take in the cost of hardware, or other parts of the ledger.

  • by jkrise (535370) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:52AM (#6496961) Journal
    the desire for independence from the US is going to be an increasingly important factor in driving Linux/OSS adoption throughout the world.

    You nailed it! Just think at the resentment to H1Bs and the French in the US. Imagine Microsoft and Sun were French companies. Would the US think long and hard, and ponder over Gartner reports before jumping to Linux?

    Jacques Chirac donating a few billions to unemployed Americans 'cos they lost their jobs to French giant Microsoft! Yeah.. now I can see resentment from both sides.

    -
  • Re:Not quite ready (Score:5, Interesting)

    by smash (1351) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @01:53AM (#6496965) Homepage Journal
    Actually, I think the difficulty of use of open source software is a little over-rated.

    Most of my users can barely use Windows anyway - any administration tasks are the responsibility of the IT people - which is no harder in Linux/BSD/etc than in Windows - often easier.

    There are open standards to support most of a businesses needs (LaTex (Klyx, etc)), HTML, Postgresql, Mozilla, etc.

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

    Granted, its slightly more difficult (thought by no means impossible) to accomplish all this as a small business (you have to interact with the rest of the world - deal with word documents, etc), but a government is big enough to say "either send us stuff in compatible format, or don't deal with us".

    Its a case of short term expense, for long term freedom of choice, and control over your standard operating enviornment.

    smash.

  • Re:Not quite ready (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Xabraxas (654195) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:01AM (#6497000)
    I don't think I could recommend it to Sally Secretary quite yet. Its still got a bit more polishing to do. 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.

    So what do secretaries do when the get the BSOD or the "out of memory" screen? No one is asking secretaries to install Linux on their computers so I don't really see it as that big of a deal. As long as there is an icon on the desktop for the programs they need there shouldn't be an issue.

    As for some countries that choose to allow only open source within the governement, I don't see a problem with that either. I understand that there should be a choice but requiring open source is often a security issue more than a monetary one. I'm not going to say Linux is inherently more secure (although I personally believe it so) but any security issue that may be present can be secured immediately by a government employee instead of having to wait around for Microsoft to supply a patch.

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

    by Pieroxy (222434) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:03AM (#6497010) Homepage
    It would be true with closed source, but with open-source software, end-users can put their resources toward getting the features they want, rather than toward paying Microsoft every few years.

    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 ?

    And the nice thing about OSS is that you don't really need to do mass upgrades to new major versions

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

    You know, if MS doesn't do it, there is probably one reason: It does not make big bucks. And remember all the distros out there are made by companies that care about big bucks also.
  • Yes, indirectly. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by chadjg (615827) <chadgessele2000@ y a h o o . com> on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:07AM (#6497028) Journal
    I think that rich societies, the U.S. in particular, squawk a lot about how horrible it is to have a lying, cheating, or boozing president. I also think that they will only whine until it starts hitting the cash supply. Even if the TCO of the Microsoft solution is somewhat better than the open source alternative, it may not be better macro-economically. If you are going to spend serious money, you might as well spend it at home. If the above guesses are true, and unless our Australian friends enjoy making us Northwest U.S. people rich, then yes, it is possible to embarrass them into using a particular OS. This is assumes a rational legislature and discounts the recreational value of having Balmer fly down just to kiss your ass every three years.
  • Re:Huh? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by minus_273 (174041) <{moc.oohay.MAPS} {ta} {aaaaa}> on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:15AM (#6497059) Journal
    gee i dunno my univeristy and most others (in the US) consists of whites and asians. Im not going to assume anything abuot whites, but i do know that most asians, inclusind myself, do not come from wealthy families. It is possible to work your way the top without handouts if you are competent and you know it. America in particular rewards hard work, dont tell me its not possible, i used to live in a village in the hills of Nepal and i know many many other with similar stories
  • by femto (459605) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:22AM (#6497091) Homepage
    One can argue (rightly or wrongly) that such legislation is a form of affirmative action.

    It's much more difficult to argue against a law along the lines of "all Government information must be stored in an ISO approved format."

  • by caitsith01 (606117) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @02:26AM (#6497110) Journal
    Are you kidding? The Liberals are _exactly_ like the Republicans. In fact, they maintain active ties with the Republicans, and attend common policy forums, think tanks etc.

    They are very, very right wing.
  • Re:Not quite ready (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Malcontent (40834) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @03:04AM (#6497218)
    "There are also costs such as training and lost productivity. While Linux and the BSDs are excellent server OSes, I hope the Australian government would think long and hard before adopting them for workstation use."

    Personally I think this is a win for linux on the desktop. It's easier to maintain and lock down linux based desktops. It's also easier to mass update them or mass configure them. If you are using the desktops as Xterms then it's easier still.

    In the end though freedom will override any additional costs you may have. Freedom to switch vendors whenever you choose, freedom to upgrade on your schedule, freedom to choose who you buy your support from, and finally freedom from mainting a licencing database and being under constant threats of audits.

    I need not mention how much the local IT sector would benefit from a switch to OSS on the desktops. Instead of your money going to the pockets of US billionaires it stays in your country helping your economy and your own citizens.

    Why would you not use OSS? Even if openoffice is not as good as MS office the secondary benefits and the cost savings should be compelling reason to switch. Is MS office THAT much better that it's worth send $400 per desktop to the US?

    Even if you decide to use windows on the desktop you can mandate openoffice and mozilla (office to save money, mozilla to prepare your users for an eventual switch).

    You can also mandate a slew of server side technology without incurring costly retraining. You secratary does not care if the database that is running the accounting system is postgres or SQL server, neither does she care if the web site is running IIS or Apache. There is no real reason to use MS servers. If the govt did nothing but mandate OSS on servers it would be a huge start.

  • Re:Not quite ready (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ogerman (136333) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @03:07AM (#6497226)
    As much as I love Open Source (I'm typing this via Moz on FreeBSD!), I don't think I could recommend it to Sally Secretary quite yet. Its still got a bit more polishing to do. 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.

    If it saves them money, then perhaps governments ought to consider doing some of the polishing themselves and actually have something to show for the tax dollars spent. Of course, in reality, they'd hire someone to do the polishing for them. Too bad there aren't any geeks looking for jobs these days. :-P
  • Re:Not quite ready (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RoLi (141856) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @03:31AM (#6497288)
    Never had any such issues in KDE...

    It's funny that the Linux-using "Linux not ready for desktop" crowd are almost exclusively Gnome users.

  • Re:Not quite ready (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @03:46AM (#6497337)
    "I hope you've reported that bug :)
    Or fixed it!"

    See, this is yet another roadblock to widespread adoption of Linux - users don't want to report bugs; they want it to work - and a phone call to their current helpdesk will do that.

    Fix it? Heheh, tell that one to your 'Suzy Secretary'.

    Just as a caveat - we use a lot of Solaris and Linux here; as well as Linux with VMWare to go to Windows software when we need 'em.
  • by mentin (202456) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @04:19AM (#6497403)
    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

    Wrong. Most probably they would not just use some existing distribution. Neither they will create their own distribution. Most probably they will sign a contract with a company like RedHat to get "ongoing support etc etc etc."

    Last time I checked RedHat it was $90/year for the subscribtion with minimal support contract. Most probably they will want better support, and end up paying much more - maybe even more than they are paying to Microsoft.

    They could save lots by avoiding this contract, but it never happens - goverments usually like to have a support contract just as companies do (e.g. because goverment bureacrates want to cover their asses). So I doubt government would really save any money.

  • It's not fair (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tsa (15680) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @04:49AM (#6497465) Homepage
    As long as the amounts spent are not put into a context (by for instance showing how much can be saved if OSS is used) the amounts spent are meaningless. Some of the public may have heard about OSS, and they may know that it's 'free', but hey, Munich spend around 35 million Euros on OSS (IIRC) and that was even more expensive than going for the MS solution. Therefore this is only useful if the public is also informed about the costs and profits and drawbacks of alternatives to MS software. And why focus only on MS? That is also not fair. I can't believe the government only spends money on MS software. Conclusion: this proposal sucks.
  • by SiggyRadiation (628651) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @05:04AM (#6497509) Homepage Journal
    I used to help administer a hospital-informationsystem.

    This was a unix-alike system (although the OS was *proprietary*). Users used terminals/terminal-emulators.

    It had a appliction for writing letters about the patients. This application was only used by secretaries. The firm that made it also had a plugin for MSword. Using this plugin users didn't need to use the terminal-based application, but they could write their letters in Word, fill in some database form-fields and send it over to the system.

    So the users could choose between:
    - terminal-based word-processor
    and
    - MS-Word-with-plugin.

    Our experiences were:
    - New end/or temporary staff liked to use Word, since everyone knows word so training-time is shorter (and thus you get more productive hours from those people that only stay for a week).
    - Experienced staff *liked* and *chose* to use the terminal-based version. Reasons: it was more responsive, less error-prone, no need to use the mouse (switching left hand keys->mouse->keys->mouse->....), more productivity (it took less time to initiate a new letter, to save it).

    Secretaries and non-IT-skilled staff have for long been able to use all kinds of IT-systems (with proper training). I was surprised to see that they sometimes actually chose to use a unix-alike when there was also Word. So here you have it: what counts in the long run is functionality. Does the application do what you want from it, does it do it effectively, efficiently and reliably? GIU is a plus, but no more than that.

    MrPrince.
  • by mvpll (542255) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @05:13AM (#6497541)
    I think the "It's cheaper" aspect gets prominence because it is something everyone understands.

    Start saying "proprietary vendor lock-in for legacy data" and watch your listeners eyes glaze over...

    So politicians emphasis the point "it's cheaper" and the media rehashes the point because its something they and their audience can follow.
  • by kilogram (520192) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @05:58AM (#6497647) Homepage
    MS will give Australia higher license fees when they decide that OSS should be adopted someplaces. MS can do that, since they know that the government won't be able to switch to OSS just like that.

    This happened in Norway some time ago, when the government figured out that the MS license they hade made on behalf of all the schools in Norway, actually prohibited all use of software that had MS equivalents, which excludes a lot of software, Linux included.

    When the government terminated the license, MS then proceeded to charge more for each school that wanted to use MS software, a number which probably didn't change much, and MS got paid more money for the same number of licenses.
  • by Wacky_Wookie (683151) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @06:18AM (#6497687) Homepage Journal
    "This whole mentality of using a "desktop environment" is one of the worst crutches the computing industry has been hobbled with."

    I agreed with most of your post, but I'm, going to have to complain about this bit.

    I think OS's should have even more time spent on making better GUI's, with as much written language removed from it as possible. Humans have fantastic abilities to process pure images (i.e. pure graphical UI's); it's when humans have to deal with written language (i.e. Text only UI) that you get hobbled.

    I for one, would not be in the Job I am in, if it had not been for desktop GUI's. I'm Dyslexic, and as a result I had horrible troubles learning and using command line only interfaces. You see, my reading was not very good back then, I had to learn how to speed-read because my brain processes language in a completely different way to the average person. As for spelling, ha, try using a command line if you can't spell. Not only that, I can't even see most of my mistakes, even after going over a statement several times.

    I was not really into computers till I got my hands on Apples and later Macs in school. Once I learned the concepts of basic computing from using desktop GUI's (which relied on my image processing skills, instead of my non-existent language skills) I was able to carry those skills over to command line interfaces. I'd prolly be Anti-Computer still if I had not been able to learn on a Desktop GUI.

    It's not just people with "learning disabilities". I can sit down at a PC running Windows, or a Mac running OS X in a Spanish/French/Greek/Japanese Internet café, without being able to speak or read a word of any of those languages, and I can still surf the net.

    I think a pure GUI, void of any written language is the Holy Grail of computing as far as I'm concerned. It would not matter what your native language was, you would be able sot sit down, and use the computer.

    (For the record, I'm not "stuck with GUI's, I was able to become very proficient with command line interfaces in the end. I used BBS before the Internet was even available, and the first time I logged into the Internet was on a Commodore 64. And yes, I had to spell check this post)
  • Re:Not quite ready (Score:2, Interesting)

    by griblik (237163) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @07:57AM (#6498011)
    Most of my users can barely use Windows anyway

    I think that's a good point that's often overlooked - I'm geeky enough to be able to customise windows as much as I like, but I've found linux much more complicated to set up. It never occured to me before that it was just the comparison between fiddling with an OS I know and one I don't. I guess for a user who doesn't really know windows OR linux, and isn't likely to have to do much config anyway, there's not going to be too much difference, especially since all they'll want to do is turn up and have it work.

    Now that I think of it, I'm crap with MacOS too. Note to self - must spend more time with linux :)

    One big difference tho; there's a lot more novice-friendly documentation out there for windows than linux. Linux docs tend to be written by geeks for geeks, and it gets pretty terse. Windows does have the advantage that most of the time, it works, and when it doesn't, there's an faq just a google away that'll tell me what I'm doing wrong. Man pages and LUGs are much harder to find relevant info from.

    Hey, waddaya know, my first post using mozilla...

  • by jschrod (172610) <jschrod@@@acm...org> on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @08:48AM (#6498249) Homepage
    While I agree with your sentiment, the German situation is actually different.

    Munich changed from a US vendor with a German support organization (Microsoft Corp. and Microsoft GmbH) to a German vendor with a German support organization (SuSE and IBM Deutschland GmbH). Since support and education is a very important piece of the Munich cake, this piece of business was in local German hands already. The importance of technical independence is not seen as important as some /. readers would like to see it. I have been involved in Linux studies for the German government and that doesn't play a large role.

    Concerning support, I've worked both with Microsoft and with IBM service at the enterprise level. You won't see much US influence / connection there. Not as much as you see at Sun or at Oracle. OTOH, in the case of problems, access to MS developers is hard to get, even within strategical alliances. Whereas access to developers of IBM or Sun is better. For Munich, access to SuSE engineers will be the easiest -- SuSE headquarters are just a few kilometers away. That may have been a factor in the decision.

  • Re:Not quite ready (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Drakonian (518722) on Tuesday July 22, 2003 @11:07AM (#6499382) Homepage
    Yeah but secretaries aren't that intense in the software that they use.

    Strongly disagree. Most secretaries know Word far better than I ever will. They don't know much software, but the stuff they do know, they know it well. At least good secretaries do.

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