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Journal: Open source in the real world 1

Journal by JordoCrouse

I just had this argument with a co worker, and it pissed me off enough to bring it to my very first /. journal.

The issue at hand is the open source only mandate mentioned here and discussed here.

Let me start off by saying that I fully support any initative to encourage government agencies to consider open source software. Having said that, I also believe that the primary role of the government is to serve the citizen. This is why open source initatives like this are so important - they allow citizens and independant researchers to see the code that is used to protect and enhance their lives. This is definately a Good Thing (TM).

My problem comes in that these initatives seem to cut off their nose to spite their face. I believe that mandating closed source software is a dangerous pratice. However I also believe that forcing the use of open source software in all situations (even in those cases where the software is obviously inferior or inadaquate) is just as dangerous.

Take for example StarOffice - based on OpenOffice for the most part except for some technology that Sun licensed. While OpenOffice is good, I am not convinced that it is stable enough for general use. StarOffice is excellent, and has obviously benifited from some Sun sponsored development and support.

However, commercial programs derived from open source projects (like StarOffice and Netscape) would not be allowed under the open source initative, because technically their source isn't available. So the government is faced with the option of using an inferior product because they are mandated as such by law. Nobody would stand for a law that mandated that we use Microsoft Windows (obviously inferior software), why would we support this law simply because it has open source in the title.

Proponents of this claim that the problems with inferior software would be solved by the government paying for developer time to fix the problems. I think this is dangerous because as a ctizen, I would rather not have my tax dollars be used to fix buggy programs that should not have been used in the first place. This is as bad as paying Microsoft licensing over and over again (though not as expensive).

I believe that a combination of both is important. A set of critera should exist to determine the suitablity of any software. Open source software should be considered before propriatary software in all cases. Secondly, in the case where fully open source software is unsuitable, then all care should be made to select software that can be used in an open source environment (ie, don't choose any software that would require you to load Windows as an operating system). Special consideration should be given to any company that has a commercial version derived from a open sourced project (assuming they arn't violating any licenses). Finally, propriatary or closed source software should be allowed under special circumstances when no open source alternative is available.

This law helps the citizen in three ways - It helps to ensure that the basis for the goverment systems is primarly open source (open kernel, tools, etc...). Secondly it ensures that the government will choose to pick the higest quality software available. Thirdly, it protects the citizen by working with their needs instead of the needs of a particular ideology, which is important.

As a final example: Consider the 20 year old mother of two who wants her welfare check. It is my belief that if adaquate open source software exists to print those checks that it should be used. But we shouldn't be forced to deal with every third check being printed wrong because of bad software. In that case, propriatary software can help ensure that the rights of the citizen are met until the open source software is brought up to par.

Thus is my argument. Comments are welcome.

"Ahead warp factor 1" - Captain Kirk

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