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UK Government Solicits Advice On Open Source 242

Imran Ghory writes: "The UK government has put out a consultation paper on the use of open source software in government,background research into OSS commisioned by the government is also available, including a comparision of OSS office suites." Check out the formats in which the document is available.
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UK Government Solicits Advice On Open Source

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  • Okay... (Score:2, Offtopic)

    by bconway ( 63464 )
    The documents are available in Word and .PDF format. These are pretty industry standard at this point, and .pdf can be read a multitude of ways. What's the problem?
    • Re:Okay... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      They're not open formats.

      PDF is well understood but PDF now has form input widgets and scripting.

      There isn't an open source viewer that can render these.

      And using a subset that may be viewed by open source software is the same as using an old version of MS Word '97.

      These are not open formats. This government is ignorant of open source - but then I believe that's the point.

      • Excuse me, sir.

        I invite you to surf to Adobe [adobe.com]'s site. There is a free (as in no money involved) program available called "Acrobat Reader," which will allow you to read the file quite simply. It's available for every version of Windows, Mac, Linux, a slew of Unices, and even PalmOS. Now please explain your preoccupation with whether it is not open source or not.

        Does it really matter? PDF is a copyrighted format (i.e., Adobe owns it). Releasing the source code to it would be absurd --- Acrobat is theirs, why should they not capalitize on it? Capitalism is the foundation on which the American economy is built. Remember our friend Dimitry? He was arrested because he violated that copyright for another Adobe software. Rights are treasured in American society... if we treasure our rights for the ability MP3s (ones we rip from discs we legitimately own, of course), etc... why should Adobe be denied that same right for their own software?

        Are you saying that they should be forced to release all their documents in TXT format just because some poor slob can use /usr/local/bin/pico to view it? PDF is an Internet (dare I say industry) standard nowadays.

        Should you choose to protest the PDF format, my friend, you can choose to do so. However, the fact that Adobe hasn't placed their company secrets (read: treasured source code) on the dinner table, is hardly a legitimate reason to release useless whining bullshit about Acrobat not being open source.

        Grow up. Closed source software sells because it's a valuable, solid product. Otherwise, no one would buy it.

        • Well, considering that the paper discussed the use of open source in government, you'd imagine they would use an open document format.

          That's all he was saying, it just defeats the whole paper's purpose, ya know?
          • Exactly. I completely agree.

            It's just ironic, that's all. :)
          • Well, considering that the paper discussed the use of open source in government, you'd imagine they would use an open document format.

            That's all he was saying, it just defeats the whole paper's purpose, ya know?

            It is a pity that folk don't take the time to read the articles referenced. The paper makes it very clear that they are do not see Open source being viable on the desktop fot 2 to 3 years minimum.

            Nor is the paper written to solicit the praise and adulation of the Open Source community, that is not the constituency the authors serve. The report is written for IT managers in the UK civil service and for the companies that support them.

          • you'd imagine they would use an open document format.

            Care to expand on how PDF isn't an open format? It's fully documented by Adobe in the book "PDF Reference" [aw.com] (ISBN: 0201615886 for the current 1.3 version, or 0201758393 for the soon to be released 1.4 version). It's also available online in various places, for example, http://wotsit.org [wotsit.org]. Furthermore, several independent implementations of PDF encoders and viewers exist, such as xpdf [foolabs.com] and ghostscript [ghostscript.com]. Yes, many PDFs include LZW compressed data, but that's a problem with Unisys, not Adobe, and there are non-patent-infringing ways of uncompressing the data anyway. Plus, modern PDFs are compressed with the patent-free deflate algorithm. So exactly how more open do you want PDF to be?

        • Are you saying that they should be forced to release all their documents in TXT format just because some poor slob can use /usr/local/bin/pico to view it? PDF is an Internet (dare I say industry) standard nowadays.

          HTML would do, most people would be more interested in reading it first.

          Your troll would've been better without the supercilious tones too.

          • I beg to differ.

            PDF and DOC offer pagination features not available in HTML, nor XML. It's obviously a nicely formatted document... probably something that's available in a paper format somewhere in the depths of the British government.

            They want to keep the exact same layout as found in the British government. They can also customize headers and footers, anything basically, through the use of PDF.

            Just because you think that "HTML would do" doesn't necessarily reflect the intent of the authors of the original document.

        • Does it really matter? PDF is a copyrighted format (i.e., Adobe owns it)

          I think you have just made the original poster's point.

          PDF is a copyrighted format, as is DOC - because of this, they are not the best formats to be discussing open systems in - they are copyright and not open.

          QED.
        • Blockquoth the poster:

          Closed source software sells because it's a valuable, solid product.

          Actually, strictly speaking, it sells because it is perceived to be a valuable, solid product. People stick with it in part because they see few viable alternatives. The Brit initiative is exploring those alternatives. Don't you see, just a smidge, the irony that they publish their survey in closed formats only?
        • It's strange.
          People going off over the merits of .doc and .pdf formats. Agreed it seems a bit short sited publishing an rfc on open source implementation in proprietary formats - they probably just didn't think far enough though. And, it _still is_ their standard of publication.

          Nevertheless, a simple link to a text or html page probably would have stopped the debate in the first place.

          I think that "as well as" is the phrase people are looking for here.

          /Mef.
          • So let me get this straight. The UK government takes a genuine step toward investigating Open Source, and the best /. can do is carp on their publishing formats? And we wonder why the Open Source community is treated with contempt or disdain by so many professional/government outfits...

            Agreed it seems a bit short sited publishing an rfc on open source implementation in proprietary formats - they probably just didn't think far enough though. And, it _still is_ their standard of publication.

            You might try actually reading the article before you make such comments. It wasn't an RFC, it was a detailed, objective and well thought-out analysis of the state of OSS today, and its potential uses within UK government. Its most significant conclusions seem to be that there is potential there for some applications, but it isn't viable yet, and for other applications, there's no particular likelihood that it will become so.

            Moving on, I find it strange that so many people here seem to feel that because this discusses OSS, it should be published in an "open" format, and that PDF format is not open. Now, first up, PDF is about as open as you can be without going to absurdly low levels. There is at least one good, free reader available for all major platforms, and the specification is published by Adobe, as has been detailed elsewhere in this thread.

            Furthermore, given the target audience for the paper, using an "open" format is pretty irrelevant anyway. They have no obligation whatsoever to spend large amounts of effort converting it to a format for the 0.01% of people out there who can't already read Acrobat format because they use very unusual systems. If you don't like it, switch to a better system, and quit complaining. Your whole argument supports another of the major conclusions in the paper: the OSS world isn't yet compatible enough with the rest of the world to be practical as a routine alternative.

            And yes, Acrobat format is a standard used for publication, because it's popular, reliable, effective and useful. That is currently more than can be said for any of the alternatives being proposed on this thread (ASCII and HTML variants aren't anywhere near up to rendering that document accurately, and XSL:FO is a technology that won't be widely used for several years). In that context, the UK government (and many others who publish papers on-line) have adopted PDF format as a de-facto standard, and as far as I can see, no-one has yet suggested a better idea.

            • I wrote:

              You might try actually reading the article before you make such comments. It wasn't an RFC, it was a detailed, objective and well thought-out analysis of the state of OSS today, and its potential uses within UK government. Its most significant conclusions seem to be that there is potential there for some applications, but it isn't viable yet, and for other applications, there's no particular likelihood that it will become so.

              Sorry; I screwed up big-time there. I read both documents about half an hour before posting that and had forgotten about the original RFC by the time I'd read through the background and the rest of this thread. The swipe quoted above about reading the article was out of line. My apologies.

        • "
          Are you saying that they should be forced to release all their documents in TXT format just because some poor slob can use /usr/local/bin/pico to view it? PDF is an Internet (dare I say industry) standard nowadays.
          "

          Should the government produce documents in order for them to look pretty or should they be produced to convey information to the largest number of citizens possible.

          The government should be producing it's electronic documents in a simple to parse format that works with braille displays, text->speech convertors and similar. It should be readable by completely free software or the government should provide software to read the documents. It governs blind people, deaf people and people who don't own Microsoft Word, all of these people have an equal say in how the country is run.
      • Re:Okay... (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tmark ( 230091 )
        PDF is well understood but PDF now has form input widgets and scripting.

        There isn't an open source viewer that can render these.


        Though you intended your post as a knock on the British government, your post stands as a stronger indictment of open source. If open source can't provide people with a viewer that can render one of the world's most widely used formats, then there is something seriously wrong with the blind faith that the open source world is going to provide the tools that everyone else needs to work.
        • Not to be an ass or anything, but open source relies on this silly little catch in order to function properly. That would be the word "open." It isn't the developer's fault that they can't read a closed format. If Adobe released the full specs for PDF then open source developers would have absolutely no problem providing a solution. But you see, since it is closed then you're kinda tied into using their (Adobe's) solution.

          Besides, give it time and there will be an open solution, it just takes time to break down the barriers that stand in the way of a free solution.
        • If open source can't provide people with a viewer that can render one of the world's most widely used formats, then there is something seriously wrong with the blind faith that the open source

          PDF is a proprietary format. Everytime an Open Source viewer appears which can render all of current generation PDF, Adobe can (and will) move the goalposts again. There are perfectly good open standards (e.g. HTML) for representing online forms, and there are perfectly good Open Source viewers for those formats.

        • well, I have at least two PDF viewers on Red Hat 7.2, and I believe they're both open source.

          xpdf -- generic

          KDE PS/PDF Viewer -- KDE specific

          The KDE version has a bit nicer an interface, but xpdf seems to be able to view some docs that the KDE version can't.

          But they both produce gibberish when trying to print. Would be nice to print PDFs from Linux.
        • If open source can't provide people with a viewer that can render one of the world's most widely used formats,

          It's so popular yet is only one reader implementation that people use? I can't think of any PDF implementations in the non-Open Source world besides Adobe's offerings. Hence I would argue that the problem exists in both Open Source and non-Open Source offerings, which in turn leads me to speculate that PDF is not a great format (else there would likely be more implementations!).

          • It's so popular yet is only one reader implementation that people use? [...] PDF is not a great format (else there would likely be more implementations!).

            That doesn't follow at all. If one implementation is good enough, there is no need for a competitor. Acrobat Reader is free, perfectly good enough for what it does, produced by the people who define the Acrobat format, and has no glaring missing features. What would be the point in producing a "competitor"?

    • As has been mentioned on Slashdot ad nauseum, Word is painfully proprietary, but PDF is a relatively open standard - Adobe owns the spec, but makes it freely availble, so anyone can create a PDF reader (or writer).

      That puts it at about the same level of openness as Java, but even more important, there are no alternatives that even have a smidge of mindshare - your only real alternative is plain old text...

      • Re:Okay... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by gilroy ( 155262 )
        Blockquoth the poster:

        but even more important, there are no alternatives that even have a smidge of mindshare - your only real alternative is plain old text...


        Or, um, how about HTML? Which is, after all, the wrapper for the thing anyway...
      • Adobe do not, however, make various patents which PDF uses / may use / can use (most of which aren't owned by Adobe anyway) freely available. Take LZW, for example. At the moment IBM are letting anyone use it, but Unisys have already started going after people who write compressors (the whole GIF thing). How long until they start suing anyone who writes a decompressor as well?

        PDF may well be a documented standard, but there are still problems implementing it. Remember the 'no restrictive patents' clause in the GPL?

        Sure, PDF is better than Word, but it still isn't ideal.
        • Adobe do not, however, make various patents which PDF uses / may use / can use (most of which aren't owned by Adobe anyway) freely available.
          You mean "various US patents." Given that this report was published in the UK, in which (like almost everywhere else bar the US) there is no such thing as a "software patent," I don't see a need to worry about such things.

          If laws in your country prevent you from freely viewing this report, made available in the UK, then perhaps you should petition your government to change those laws.

          (The above notwithstanding, I think HTML would have been an appropriate presentation format)

      • Word is painfully proprietary

        Yes, but is Star Office saving in word format?

        Michael
    • The little boy Timmy is the problem.

      Does he suggest a good open doc standard?

      Does he suggest a way in which the UK can quickly move away from doc or pdf and still service the tax payers?

      Does he add a witty insight?

      Does he add anything at all?

      In short Timmy couldn't keep his big mouth shut and just post an intersting story, he had to add some meaningless troll.

      One of the many reasons editors should not add comments to the posted stories they should have to post messages like the rest of us.
    • The documents are available in Word and .PDF format. These are pretty industry standard at this point, and .pdf can be read a multitude of ways. What's the problem?

      I believe the point is supposed to be that a document about OSS is only available in 2 closed formats. It's called irony. :)
    • I won't even bother explaining why word isn't open -- that should be obvious to anyone intelligent enough to create an account on slashdot.

      So that leaves Adobe Acrobat. Let's revisit the big issues against the company first:

      - Dimitry Skylarov [boycottadobe.com]
      - Killustrator [slashdot.org]

      Now lets remind ourselves of the biggest caveat they have against open source pdf compatible filters:

      - PDF saving [slashdot.org]

      Does that explain why the formats aren't acceptable?

      If not, lets put it clear, in terms that don't even require open source thinking: When you are presenting prettied up plain text (like those documents) then use a format desgined for the purpose -- HTML comes to mind. Distributing plain text in word and pdf shows you aren't "up" on even the slightest technical issues. It's simply the wrong tool for the job.
      • Well, let's assume they would have used HTML. Let's also assume they would not have used HTML coming out of FrontPage or even Word, nothing being "optimized" for one browser or the other. What we can tell about this document is that if it contains graphics, it's more than one file (and those files will have to be kept together) or you can only view it on-line or it's some proprietary format. We also know that it will look different on every browser there is - if it displays at all. And printing the document is yet another problem
        • Re:Okay... (Score:2, Insightful)

          by shepd ( 155729 )
          >hat we can tell about this document is that if it contains graphics, it's more than one file

          From what I saw, there's no graphics (just plain text).

          >and those files will have to be kept together

          Operating systems not related to CP/M offer subdirectories for this. :)

          >or you can only view it on-line or it's some proprietary format

          It isn't viewing online when you have to download the entire file first before you can view it. Word isn't online, and PDF barely manages to be online, but both are pathetic compared to HTML.

          >Let's also assume they would not have used HTML coming out of FrontPage or even Word, nothing being "optimized" for one browser or the other.

          Any "optimized" HTML becomes an IE document, Netscape document, whatever. It isn't proper HTML if it can't pass the W3C verifier (yep, slashdot doesn't use proper HTML either).

          >We also know that it will look different on every browser there is... ...And printing the document is yet another problem

          Yup, it would look different on each browser. What's the problem with that? It would also look different when it is printed in different countries! There's no way I could print the british document they way they want me to because in North America (my homeland) we don't use metric paper so I'd have to ruin their "looks the same no matter where you print it" idea anyways.

          If you use a page size specific format like word and pdf, you can easily be screwed by page size (same with postscript). HTML formats quite nicely on paper, TYVM. If it doesn't, well, perhaps you aren't using a decent HTML engine? Just a thought...

          >if it displays at all.

          If it doesn't either your browser is broken or you aren't creating HTML.

          With PDF you have to download a 5 MB viewer every year so you can "keep up" with every new version of PDF released. With plain text HTML I can still use mosaic to view files. Now that's backward compatibility that's hard to beat.
          • With PDF you have to download a 5 MB viewer every year so you can "keep up" with every new version of PDF released.

            Bull. I have a current version of Acrobat on every machine I use at home and at work, and I don't think I've ever downloaded a 5MB install. I certainly haven't done it once a year for every machine where I use it. For a start, the current version is on the cover disk of almost every PC magazine I've ever bought.

          • > From what I saw, there's no graphics (just plain text).

            The research paper has the logo of the company who did it (that looks like plain text at first view), and the consultation paper has those of UK Online and the Cabinet Office.

            > Operating systems not related to CP/M offer subdirectories for this. :)

            Which are not one file. This means added complication for a distribution format for this. What will it be, tar.gz, WIN.ZIP or sit.hqx?

            > It isn't viewing online when you have to download the entire file first before you can view it.

            Thanks for completely missing my point. I was talking about HTML files that can only be viewed online, because the images are on a remote server. I'm not even going to mention the security problems linked to that.

            > Yup, it would look different on each browser. What's the problem with that?

            Well, if you don't realize what the problem is here (same with "optimized" pages), you are obviously not the right person to argue about this matter. Almost anything that can't be done in plain text can also not been done in HTML. HTML is simply not a substitute for most things PDF is used for - the rest can just as well be done in plain text.

      • Let's revisit the big issues against the company first:

        Riiight. Sklyarov seems to have been a victim of a particularly naff US law. Adobe were involved, but equally, they are entitled in your country to enforce the rights granted to them under your laws. The problem you have is the DMCA, not Adobe.

        As for the Killustrator fiasco, as far as I can see, Adobe were perfectly entitled to defend their use of the name Illustrator against a blatant rip-off. I didn't think the Killustrator people had a legal or moral leg to stand on then, and I don't now, either.

        Now lets remind ourselves of the biggest caveat they have against open source pdf compatible filters:

        They provide a mechanism that aims to prevent people using their technology from being ripped off. I don't blame them. You look at things like Napster, which champion freedom, and the consequent blatant ripping off that happens (and the crappy arguments the thieves doing it make to "justify" their actions).

        Now look at the good points: Acrobat format is widely accessible, reliable and good at what it does. If you think HTML is the right tool for distributing large, formatted articles like that on the web, then you are the one who isn't even slightly up on the technical issues. Go learn about web usability, the impact of publishing long documents using HTML, the serious limitations an HTML model presents to even half-decent formatting, and get back to us when you've entered the new millenium.

    • I was able to view the DOC file using StarOffice 6 BETA and the PDF file inside my Netscape 6.2.1 Browser using acroread from Adobe.

      It took a little work to get acroread to work properly - 15min - but now it's working great. I prefer PDFs. heh

      At any rate, it looks like the UK is going to save alot of Pounds and get great software to boot.
    • What's the problem?

      None of my computers have software that can read Word's format.

      I can read PDF, but it's cumbersome. I only have a couple of programs that can read PDF, and they are big and slow and have limited functionality.

      OTOH, I have hundreds (thousands?) of programs that can read plain text, search it, etc. And I can do it on any computer. Even Windows users can do it.

      I also have a buttload of programs that can read HTML, and can even use the aforementioned text programs since HTML is usually pretty human-readable.

      When you look at it that way, if the content is just text, using proprietary formats seems completely gratuitous and also a just plain Bad Idea. It seems to be to be the same as if I gave you a document encoded in EBCDIC (it's an industry standard) and told you where to get a program to convert it to ASCII so that you could read it. That would be silly, wouldn't it?

  • How about using the NSA's version of linux in the UK? Its secure and upto government standards. I would love to see the UK move all its boxes over to linux. Lets just hope they don't use NT sys admins!
  • There's little argument (well, I think so) over what constitutes a proprietary app, but a proprietary service?

    In other words: Is Passport proprietary, just because its MS? I have heard that, for example, I can write my own "plugin" services for .NET and Passport and all that, so my serivces will use that back-end. (Or something like that anyway). Is that too open or closed?

    Sounds like they need to neaten up thier terms, else their whole policy becomes -1, Flamebait.
  • If you promise not to arrest him, Alan Cox might
    tell you all about open source.
    Just make sure you clap thrice, and shreik "DMCA"
    in order to shut him up.
  • The question (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by OzeBuddha ( 459435 )
    Ah Timothy. dont make comments like th@ when you are obviously just trolling for blind M$ hating comments. Dont get me wrong - i'm no fan of M$ but .doc is just a standard. Comments accompanying stories should probably be slightly more impartial & subjective.
    But on a more cheerful note, this is a gr8 move by the UK government and i hope that it will prove to be an example that other governments will follow, but i wont keep my fingers crossed here in Australia where the current government seems to have its head in the sand.
    HAPPY NEW YEAR!
  • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2002 @04:18AM (#2769837)
    The UK government wouldn't be in this pickle if they hadn't made a monumental mistake over 160 years ago. If they had seen fit to fully fund Charles Babbage's startup concepts, the British Crown would be the dominant player in information technology today.

    As it stands, they didn't. Babbage went to his grave as a failure despite his pleas for funding, and now the British Government playing second fiddle to some skinny rich geek in Seattle.

    Some say that government ownership would have stifled innovation. Maybe there would have been little progress beyond Babbage's designs. Whiners would argue that computers would be saddled with compatibility constraints like the government regulated telephone system (which to this day remains compatible with 19th century handsets).

    But so what? What would any true geek prefer to have: (A) a gleaming, multi-ton steam powered machine sporting thousands of shiny steel gears, or (B) a stupid beige box cowering under their desk? The answer is obviously A.

    The economics of scale has been directed at the wrong target. Any nerd can easily afford lots of the ugly plastic boxes we call computers, but today even a version 1 Difference Engine would be beyond most people's means. It didn't have to turn out like this. It's a shame, because just like a fine car, chix dig that kind of hardware. (Ada Lovelace, for example. Not bad.) Chix cannot relate to tiny silicon gadgets. I had to expend a lot of extra effort courting my wife using my wits and personality because my computers meant nothing to her.

    I place the blame for the current sorry state of affairs in computing technology squarely on the British government's shortsightedness. Right now, they are just trying to deflect attention from the fact that they dropped the ball.

    • tiny silicon gadgets."

      Hrm, the last time I check my ex couldn't get enough of here tiny silicon gadgets. At least I think they're silicon.
    • The UK government wouldn't be in this pickle if they hadn't made a monumental mistake over 160 years ago. If they had seen fit to fully fund Charles Babbage's startup concepts, the British Crown would be the dominant player in information technology today.

      Twaddle. Babbage recieved tens of thousands of pounds for his research. In fact he was one of the first ever recipients of government research funding. Babbage failled to deliver because he fell into tinkering and continual upgrades rather than delivering a working product.

      Disraeli and Gladstone were both major supporters of Babbage and pretty much understood the implications of what they were funding as well as Babbage.

    • Anyone who does business with the British government gets ripped off. Babbage was just one of many. Read about Harrison (chronometers)

      If Babbage had offered the Pru or Norwich Union an accurate way of accessing Insurance risk, he would be alive today :-)

      The truth is, we developed Colossus, a real computer, and shared our secrets with the Yanks. At the end of the war, we kept our secrets secret, while the yanks sold out for cash. They sold our secrets with theirs, to IBM, Sperry, Univac, Burroughs, etc, and leaked them via MIT to DEC (MIT Whirlwind later became PDP8).

      We had a computer industry, but thanks to the marvel of government intervention (Harold Wilson's "White Hot Technological Revolution" & Thatchers "We don't need manufactirubng, we can pay the rent by washing our own dishes") our computer industry was trashed.

      Briain's computer industry lives (staggers) on we probably make more PCs than anyone else apart from taiwan, and don't forget Arm is British. And all the RF parts of your mobile phone were probably designed in the UK, or by British Engineers on contract overseas.

      Sure Britain doesn't own much, but thats because of our tax laws. Ownership is punishable by horrendous levels of tax.

  • Here's an analogous story:

    A company wants a program that draws a triangle. Microsoft(tm) Triangle(tm) draws a triangle. You can specify what color you want it to be.

    An open source program draws a triangle. In addition to allowing you to choose the color, you can specify whether or not it's a right triangle, and if not, the various degrees.

    Company purchaser looks at options and says "Well, the open source one is way better, but who knows if they'll be around in a year or two. Hell, let's go with the company we know will be there."

    The root of all evil is accountability. With the Microsoft(tm) product, there will be a corporate entity to blame for any problems. With the open-source solutions, there's no guarantee that the producer will exist in the future.

    So they'll always choose the Microsoft(tm) option. That's just the way it is in the real business world. Even if there's no possibility of recovering losses from the vendor, at least there will always (?) be that vendor to blame/approach. And in the off (heh) chance that there are others with the same problems, the likelihood of finding a solution will be greater.

    Look at the computer predecessor, the typewriter. Sure, there have always been cheaper, and probably better-feature-laden typewriters, but the IBM sold so well because the suits always knew there would always be a big corporation behind them.


    Point being... there's no way open-source will work until there's an established set of software requirement standards. We should require that software meet standards prior to being allowed in the marketplace. Unfortunately, there is no such requirement. Hence, we have what we have.

    • one of the big problems is that the triangle that microsoft might make is the one people will choose because so many people don't totally trust open source and the fact that the big companies are trying to squash it.
    • Not this again. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Malcontent ( 40834 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2002 @05:54AM (#2769917)
      Nobody has ever sued MS because one of their products was faulty. No software from MS comes with any guarantee of usability whatsoever. If there is a CIO someplace in this world who thinks that they can hold MS accountable then by all means let us know who this collosal idiot is so that we can sell our stocks.

      The idea of a CEO or a CIO commiting shareholders money to sue MS because of a defect in one of their software is just too funny. It has never been done and it will never happen.

      Please people this kind of fud is old hat and stupid. Think of new ones.
      • Yes, but: there is always the idea that, in the event of MS Triangle(tm), you will know who to call: the number on the User Guide. It'll tell you to press "3" when you call. It'll put you in touch with someone know has a large, extensive script in how to deal with the fact that your angles aren't quite right, and by altering them, it changes the shade of blue, etc etc etc. AND, if your company has Large Money(tm), you can bribe^H^H^H^H^H contract with MS to have them give you priority for problems, by buying a bunch of incidents, etc.

        Contrast with Linux. If you call Red Hat about Sendmail, for example, they can only go so far before they say, "Well, you'll have to call sendmail, Inc. This is a bug in their app." Oh no, there's a problem with Evolution; now I have to call Ximian. And so on. Although it is my personal opinion that 98% of Unix/Linux problems you'd call about are wacky configuration issues and honest bugs. Those happen a lot, but not in the "stable" versions of apps. Who knows, the same might be true with WIndows. Anyway, a company like Red Hat is hindered because they provide integration of the apps, but not support on the apps themselves. Although I belive one of the jobs of Alan Cox is to provide a "strike force" for kernel fixes, should someone call about it.

        Lastly: look at the suing of MS like this. It might happen, in the current climate, if there was a highly publicised failure of an MS product; for example a security breach that led to something bad. The shareholders might actually say, "Look, we demand renumeration, because our stock took a nosedive after it was discovered that the default SQL Server password was left blank, which MS allows, and someone burned our customers badly w/ stolen CCs!" (pick your own compromise; yes, the blank password thing is the admins fault and not MS's, just dream something up, OK?) It isn't too likely - the press is too MS friendly (and MS too adept at manipulating it), but anything is possible.
        • Contrast with Linux. If you call Red Hat about Sendmail, for example, they can only go so far before they say, "Well, you'll have to call sendmail, Inc. This is a bug in their app."

          If you think this is what RedHat will do, you are seriously misinformed about their support. In fact, RedHat is as much a consulting/services firm as a Linux distributor. Since sendmail is OpenSource, they can actually fix real bugs (as opposed to configuration problems) in the software.

          But wait a minute, you can also go to Sendmail Inc. for support, so you have more full support options than with Microsoft. Not only that, but you can get real fixes for real problems because you can fix them at source level!

      • Re:Not this again. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by MrEfficient ( 82395 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2002 @12:00PM (#2770304)
        Well, unfortunately it isn't FUD. And it doesn't have anything to do with being able to sue MS. The old saying that nobody ever got fired for choosing MS is sad but true. It's really about job security. If you go with MS products and something screws up and it's an obvious problem with the software, then no one is going to blame you. You don't get fired, and you get to keep your house, dog, car, and wife.

        But try something different, and the pressure is on you to make it work. If something goes wrong, it's your fault no matter what. The first thing some people will ask is why you didn't use a MS product. The people who don't like you or your ideas to begin with will come out of the woodwork to lay blame. I've run across this situation many times. If you stick with the status quo, no one will bother you. But if you try to change things, even if it's a good idea, you face an uphill battle. Most people just can't afford to risk their financial security on some type of change. It's an unfortunate reality of the workplace, and if you haven't encountered it, you will. It's a real barrier to innovation.

      • For once I have to agree with the troll Malcontent... although only in part.

        Usually companies aren't sued over the quality of a product. Although I seem to recall Oracle might have been for their app suite.

        But there is accountability when money is exchanging hands, because look I'm not going to pay you this $1 mil until you can come in here and get your stupid software working right.

        It's that market conversation thing that the cluetrain manifesto talks about. It's something that is missing from the open source model.
        • "But there is accountability when money is exchanging hands"

          No there is not. Not once has MS ever been held accountable for any defective software. Hasn't happened yet and never will. In your example some third party consulting firm is likely to be target of that exchange. MS sells licenses there is no "come in there and get your stupid software working right" in their world.

          If you know of one example please let me in on it.
      • Re:Not this again. (Score:3, Insightful)

        by BluBrick ( 1924 )
        It's about perception of trust. Not litigation.

        Senior execs feel that they can trust MS, a large corporate entity that has a proven track record of success.

        It's those perceptions that we must change.
      • Companies go with Microsoft not because they can have someone to sue when something goes wrong, but because they can get support. One concern with a small software company is how to get support if the small company goes under. Often companies require small companies to offer "software escrow" - source is placed with a trusted third party; so that if the small company goes belly-up, the purchaser gets access to the source. This is where OSS offers a real advantage, but ONLY if the buyer has the wherewithal to do their own support.


        A CIO of a non IT-centric company is going to be very reluctant to go with software supported by volunteers and enthusiasts. In the case of Linux - the fact that commercial support (especially support by a large Fortune 500 company) is available will go a long way towards making CIO's take a serious look at OSS.

        • Support is available from large corporations. I really don't think HP, Compaq, Dell, IBM etc are going to be going out of business any time soon. Yes they all offer linux support all of them. Just fork over the money and they will gladly help you out. And you know what else. Red Hat looks like it's going to weather this dot com bust and come out of it actually making money. If that happens they will have done better then amazon.com!. It's clear they are not run a bunch of volunteers or amateurs (although they are probably enthusiasts). I don't think they will go out of business any time soon either.
    • So they'll always choose the Microsoft(tm) option. That's just the way it is in the real business world. Even if there's no possibility of recovering losses from the vendor, at least there will always (?) be that vendor to blame/approach. And in the off (heh) chance that there are others with the same problems, the likelihood of finding a solution will be greater.

      But that just not how it works (in certain cases):

      Apache ~ 60%, Microsoft ~ 30% [netcraft.com]


    • Company purchaser looks at options and says "Well, the open source one is way better, but who knows if they'll be around in a year or two. Hell, let's go with the company we know will be there."


      When a closed source software company goes under, the source code is lost forever and that program will likely never be developed on again. But when an open-source developer abandons a project, anyone can pick it up. If noone does, you can just hire someone to.
  • Govtalk, OSS et al (Score:5, Informative)

    by tagishsimon ( 175038 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2002 @04:33AM (#2769857) Homepage
    I'd commend a read of the cited QinetiQ [govtalk.gov.uk] Report cited as background to the current consultation. In fact, I'm quite shocked at how well considered it is; I'm sure it will help readers seeking to convince their management to consider the adoption of OSS.

    Its more than easy to diss Govtalk for its many failings - such as the failure to embrace text and RTF when it has the opportunity; hotchingly bad HTML [w3.org] on the website, &c.

    But there's a great deal of good going on, too; not least the RFC process of which this consultation is a part; and the strong support for XML in the eGovernment Interoperability framework [govtalk.gov.uk] (itself a coherent position statement).

    As food for further debate, here are the main recommendations under which the current consultation was predicated:

    1. OSS is indeed the start of a fundamental change in the software infrastructure marketplace, and is not a hype bubble that will burst.
    2. Within five years, 50% of the volume of the software infrastructure market could be taken by OSS.
    3. OSS's position in large servers (e.g. those managing massive multi-user databases), such as those that underpin many large Government procurements, will grow from its current position of near zero penetration, to a position where OSS is a viable option, within 2 - 3 years.
    4. Within the developed world, we as yet see no sign that OSS will become a viable alternative to Microsoft Windows, for user's (general purpose) desktop machines in the corporate or home PC markets. However, OSS on the desktop may soon become a significant player in the developing world. For these reasons we recommend against any preference for OSS on the desktop, but also recommend that this issue be reassessed by the end of 2002, by which time early trials of the use of OSS desktops may have generated sufficient evidence to warrant a reassessment.
    5. We see no benefit that the Government would gain from expressing a general preference for OSS within server infrastructures.
    6. The Government could clarify its position as to whether there are circumstances in which Microsoft products are to be preferred.
    7. The Government could consider publishing policy as to how the risk of lock-in to proprietary protocols is to be managed.
    8. As yet it is not possible to predict that OSS will make a major contribution to the software applications market.
    9. Many of the Government's risks that arise from over-dependence on proprietary protocols and data formats for interoperability can be controlled by the selective use of open data standards.
    10. The existence of an OSS reference implementation of a data standard has often accelerated the adoption of such standards, and we recommend that the Government consider selective sponsorship of OSS reference implementations.
    11. The rise of OSS, offers the possibility that non-US players will find it easier to influence the future direction of IT infrastructure technology.
    12. The Government should consider using OSS as the default exploitation route for UK Government funded software.
    13. The differences between OSS and proprietary software are not a major factor in either improving or degrading the vulnerability of a nation's IT infrastructure.
    14. We recommend that the Government obtain full rights to bespoke software that it procures - this includes any customisation of off-the-shelf software packages.
    15. The Open Source model offers a new paradigm for funding software in communities-of-interest (e.g. Health and Education). The Government could consider running pilot projects to test the viability of the OSS approach to such software.
    16. We recommend that the Medical Records data standard be examined by appropriate domain experts for possible inclusion in the e-GIF.
    • See section 2.7.3 page 15 of the QinetiQ regarding the failure of the W3C to properly establish HTML standards!!!!

      The W3C tools can't tell the difference between what is mark up language and what it marks up, regarding URLs. But most browsers can (if not all).
  • by Tsar ( 536185 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2002 @04:58AM (#2769880) Homepage Journal
    Aren't there open-source apps that can read Word documents and PDF files (Ghostscript [wisc.edu] and StarOffice [sun.com])?

    And more to the point, why should we expect someone presenting an open-source alternative to a predominantly Windows-based audience to present it in non-Windows formats? Are we really that zealous, that we expect organizations to convert completely to open-source alternatives before they can even mention Linux on their website? And didn't we just cover this subject [linuxplanet.com]?

    I grew up in the rural South, and I remember folk who considered it acceptable to use racial slurs when in a whites-only group, because it was safe to assume that most everyone would agree, and those that didn't would remain silent. Thankfully, times have changed—now I have to read Slashdot to find that kind of intolerance.

    If we're going to act like a bunch of militant fundamentalists, I think I might just sit this year out. Please wake me when the zealots stop screaming in the hallway.
    • xpdf does a great job and ggv looks better but is more limited.
    • One guy says "check out the formats in which the document is available", and you have a fit. You need to get out more.
  • As I sort through the tons of posts that are screaming bloody murder about how PDF is a horrible fascist file format that takes away their civil liberties... there is a solution:

    http://access.adobe.com/simple_form.html [adobe.com]

    will automagically translate any PDF document into HTML. It uses a perl engine, too! :)

  • The UK govt. does not care for the ideological aspects of Open Source. If you go after them with an RMS style rant you will get ignored, and rightly so. The Blair govt. is in power largely because it has rejected ideology in favor of pragmatism. Their political opponents on the other hand are crucifying their party on the cross of the Euro for entirely ideological and dogmatic reasons.

    So far we have seen a futile debate about open source document formats. Get it into your head, these guys are not looking to go the hair shirt, I shall not use closed source software route.

    The real issue is whether HMG should start adopting procurement guidelines that require the code they have written for them to be made available as open source. In some cases this would be a very bad idea, in others very good.

    The issue for the UK is that they can have a much bigger influence on the development of OSS than they can on the development of Windows.

    • You are correct that the Blair government does not want dogma. This could be for all sorts of reasons, like they are unable to grasp the concept of morals or beliefs. However, on the Euro, you have not got the facts right...

      It is absolututely essential that we don't take a decision.

      If we decide to join the Euro, the pound will crash, because all those fund managers in the Euro zone who hedge their risk by putting some investment in the UK will have to take it elsewhere.

      If we decide NOT to join the Euro the pound will crash, because all those far eastern and US companies that set up in the UK to be inside Europe will go to Spain (for Cheapness) or Germany (for Skill)

      By not being in the Euro, we allow the banks to tax us 4% on everything we import (our food) and 4% on everything we export to pay for our imports. Ie keeping the pound means we are taxed 8% by the banks, on top of the 17 1/2% by the govt.

      Its a dead cert that we will all be using the Euro in ten years, just to evade tax. All large companies are reuired to be able to accept and make payments in Euros anyway. Anyone with 1/2 a brain cell will be asking for his pay to be in Euros next year, so he can take out a Euro mortgage in place of a sterling one with no risk (cos a Euro Mortgage is half the price of a sterling one)

      The "Keep the pound" campaign is funded by UK banks for the above reasons.

      This posting is almost on topic, since the original topic did mention the British government "Scums that they are" (Rab C Nesbitt).

      • Most people don't want to join the euro because of pride, we don't want that eurotrash money :) what if the pound was replaced with a new pound that was fixed at the same rate of the euro - ie 1 euro = 1 pound. That way, everyone is happy...oh yeah, that makes no sense and is offtopic too: Microsoft is bad, kill Gates, kill Blair.. etc... etc..
      • . However, on the Euro, you have not got the facts right...

        My statement that the Tories are crucifying their party on the cross of the Euro was based on personal observation. I doubt that your opinion is based on the same degree of interaction with the participants in that particular farce.

        The dispute in the Conservative party over the Euro has no connection to economic or political sense. The real conflict is between the faction wanting to leave the EU and those wanting to stay in. That in turn has its roots in the various faction fights between the no turning back group, the one nation and the rump libertarian faction. The fracas over Europe is itself an attempt to refight the Anglo Irish agreement dispute.

        The dispute over the Euro is ridiculous because as an economic and political issue it has only middling significance at best. Still the Tory party managed to destroy themselves over the corn laws so their current Euro-obsession is simply being true to their origins.

        As for being taxed 4% by the banks, your opinions appear to be devoid of any connection to reality. Exchange commissions are nowhere near that high. Regardless of whether the UK is in or out of the Euro it is inevitable that most major scale commercial contracts will eventually be priced in Euros if they are not in dollars.

  • ASP pages..hmm.site seems to running microsoft's ISS....thoughtprovoking... -vikas
  • Guys, reality check here. This is a consultation document written by a civil servant. At the same time we have Tony Blair schmoozing with Bill Gates in order to look good. Hell, the National Health Service recently announced a huge (hundred of millions IIRC) deal with Microsoft for a "unified buying scheme", and one of the sweeteners was that Gates would come and address a conference on IT in the NHS. You have to remember that the UK government is motivated largely by vanity, and that a lot of excellent civil servants have been sidelined because they upset that vanity.

    During the last election campaign Blair paid a visit to Gates, who was in the UK promoting XP. It was very hard to see who was exploiting who for their own purposes.

    Although this is a significant bit of consultation from within the government's paid service, there are much weightier reasons why we might end up with a government here which embraces free software - like Gates forgetting Blair's birthday or something. While govenment agencies require submissions to be in "industry standard" formats (i.e. Word or Excel documents) we've got an awfully long way to go.

    Obligatory disclaimer - I'm a British Conservative, which influences my view on Blair's Britain a smidge.

    Dunstan
    • Obligatory disclaimer - I'm a British Conservative, which influences my view on Blair's Britain a smidge.

      I'd be genuinely interested to hear the British Conservative position on Free Software. Surely it was under Conservative stewardship that all the proprietary software was purchased by Queen Elizabeth's government? 8-P

      - Derwen


  • Whilst it's good to see serious discussion of open-source benefits to UK govt, one wonders if a related discussion could take place to explore the benefits to the UK economy of reducing the lengthy 125-year term of govt copyright [hmso.gov.uk] which currently prevents open-source projects from using and adding to 100-year old Victorian map data produced by the Ordnance Survey [ordnancesurvey.co.uk]. The nearest open-source projects can get is ancient pre-125 year map data [old-maps.co.uk] which are quite interesting as historical data but are seriously deficient for mapping because they are missing large areas of development from the late 19th century. By contrast, in the US, it seems the USGS [usgs.gov] has a more favorable policy of open-sourcing their data. The result is open-source mapping projects and software that use and extend the USGS datasets, in many cases also leading to commercially successful products.

  • Interesting (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Kirruth ( 544020 )
    I think the real message here is that a major Western European government, which is a very large procurer of software, has taken a close look at Free Software. The background document [govtalk.gov.uk] mentioned in the main article is very carefully considered.

    Of particular interest is the recommendation that if there is a value case, government departments should be free to go with Free Software (as opposed to being tied to software from "real companies"). This hard-headed value-for-money analysis the only way to check the political and marketing muscle of the software corps. The truth is that much of the corporately-developed software available offers very little additional value over the corresponding open source equivalent.

    Banging the drum for Open Source is great, but it's when procurers say, "show me the added value or give me a discount", that people like Microsoft pay attention.

  • Fine, they'll consider OSS for new stuff. Remember the UK's existing "e-government" that is only accessible via Windows? The policy should mandate the revision of all existing facilities to use open standards.
  • I have saved the PDF of the report as PostScript with xpdf for printing or download here [fibrespeed.net] (100k).

    http://www.fibrespeed.net/~mbabcock/mirrors/ukgo vt oss.ps (300k) for people who don't have compressed file support.

    http://www.fibrespeed.net/~mbabcock/mirrors/ukgovt oss.html [fibrespeed.net] (170k) for HTML converted by Star Office from the MS Word document.

  • by Ars-Fartsica ( 166957 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2002 @01:17PM (#2770446)
    Don't start by replacing people's desktop's - go on the server end and let linux shine where is truly can compete with the other solutions out there and demonstrably come out ahead.

    Use common sense on the desktop - people can still use Windows and get the power of linux off the server - ssh client tools are available for secure access.

    Don't try replacing Windows on the desktop...you will find that the vast majority of people aren't nearly as obsessed with monopoly politics as they are with using their favorite plugins.

    • mp3.com, pressplay.com, cnn.com, getmusic.com, akamai, yahoo, what more are we waiting for?

      Some quotes ...

      Tracy Reed [ultraviolet.org]: If you access pressplay.com or getmusic.com your music and videos will be routed through a Linux HA firewall thanks to me. :)

      Paul G Allen [randomlogic.com]: And if you access cnn.com, M$ downloads, Premier Radio station sites, and about a 1000 other corporations web sites and subsidiaries, you'll be routed through any one of a number of Linux servers, firewalls, broadcasters, etc.

      Anyone who says Linux can't play with the "Big Boys" is down right misinformed and/or wrong (I hear ppl say it all the time).

"No, no, I don't mind being called the smartest man in the world. I just wish it wasn't this one." -- Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, WATCHMEN

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