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Editorial

Open Code in Public Procurement 204

mpawlo writes: "I wrote something on public procurement and open code that you might want to share with your readers. In my opinion, it is time that public bodies and governments look over their public procurement policies to warrant competition. I don't think free software or open source should be the only choice when it comes to public computer programs, but as of today, public bodies all over the world designs their requirements in a way that rules out all Free Software and Open Source alternatives already at the drawing table. May the best computer program and license win! That's the only way to get an effective allocation of public money when it comes to public computer programs. Maybe a good topic for discussion among Slashdotters?"
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Open Code in Public Procurement

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  • public bodies all over the world designs their requirements in a way that rules out all Free Software and Open Source alternatives already at the drawing table

    Could have something to do with the fact that vendors often supply "helpful" templates to procurement officers that are often so tightly written that only one vendor's product will meet the requirements, much less that any open source product would.

    • The vendors would be nuts to do otherwise!
  • I'd like to see some discussion on open-source models that give the user freedom to choose their upgrade (libre) and gives programmers the right to fork, all while not requiring software to be free of charge (gratis). For more thoughts, see Distributed Copyright [distributedcopyright.org].
    • The GPL does not specify a price, and does not require software to be gratis. It does allow distribution for a fee.. Ofcourse, it's probably not what you mean, since it allows re-distribution without a fee..

      //rdj
  • by ender81b ( 520454 ) <(billd) (at) (inebraska.com)> on Sunday February 10, 2002 @07:49PM (#2984366) Homepage Journal
    At my university (Nebraska-Lincoln) [unl.edu] we are currently facing budget cuts to the tune of something like 8.3 million dollars. Now, the university has a contract with Microsoft to for about a few million a year to supply all computers on campus with windows/office.

    When somebody suggested not renewing the contract (Thereby saving a few mil) and instead switching over as much of campus as possible to Linux they where laughed out the door by the ITS people. They said, among other things:
    1.)Cost too much to implement (retraining users, etc)
    2.)Would be too hard to support
    3.)Wouldn't provide students with the knowledge of computers to succeed in the real world I.E. Microsoft software is used by 99% of the business world and having everything run linux would simply not be effective in teaching students how to use 'real world' applications.

    Where they right? I don't think so. But instead of cancelling the contract they are now cutting faculty raises, a number of teaching centers, and some extra programs.
    Before we go and change how gov'ts contract software we must realize just how damm impossible it is to get them to get past microsoft's FUD.
    • I'm on your side on this, and I work for a state university facing a budget crisis, like most of us are. I agree that we're throwing away seven figures on MS license fees.

      However, Microsoft has the administrators convinced that the "total cost of ownership" for the MS products is less than it would be for a pure open source solution.

      Perhaps proposing a departmental pilot of a package including Linux and Star Office for about twenty or so people, and determining how true the training deficiency theory is, might be the way to go. However, to get the full experience, someone's going to have to port the VBscript worms to Linux first.

      • Tried that. I work in a computer lab in the main library on campus and I suggested equipping 20-25 computers with linux and star office.

        My manager wouldn't approve it - wouldn't even think of it. The best I managed to do was get StarOffice for windows installed (which is actually quite useful with all of its converters built in).
        • That's better than nothing. Where I am, I can use anything that's legal and doesn't break the network. Right now, that includes the GIMP and cdrecord (with the cool graphical front end), both under Win32. I enjoy the amazed looks when I tell them these are free, and substitute (at least for my purposes) for Photoshop and EZ CD creator Pro and saved the University $500.00 in licenses.
        • The one place we've had luck is getting several CS labs converted. The problem is that Linux didn't displace NT/2000/XP. Oh, no. It displaced Digital Unix. Which, since DEC was bought by Compaquard Bell, is probably not all bad.
        • Maybe start with just a single computer. Once that seems to be working flawlessly your manager will see the wisdom of installing 20-25.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      1.)Cost too much to implement (retraining users, etc)

      This is a very valid concern that way too many OSS zealots overlook. Just because you took the time to learn how to use Linux does NOT mean the Dean of the college, or his secretary, or anyone else has the time or even WANTS to spend the time doing the same thing. They are USED to Windows, USED to Office, and USED to IE. They don't CARE that YOU like it, or even if it's free. The support costs of retraining people, not to mention the lost productivity while they come up to speed, is incredibly significant and can often add up to more than the money saved by going w/ a "free" solution.

      2.)Would be too hard to support

      Again, this is a very valid concern. Does the I.T. staff have anyone knowledgeable of the OS software being proposed? If not, then they'd have to hire someone or retrain someone. See the same point on #1 above -- this is not trivial, folks. Just because YOU find it easy doesn't many anyone else in the world will. Grow some perspective here.

      3.)Wouldn't provide students with the knowledge of computers to succeed in the real world I.E.

      Again, this is a very valid point. Unless you're aspiring to be a coder, it is much more advantageous for someone to learn Windows, Office, and IE than it would be for them to learn Linux, StarOffice, and Opera. Face facts: Windows owns the world out there, and no matter how much you despise MS, that isn't going to change anytime soon. People will, MUST acquire skillsets that are actually valuable to whatever they're planning on doing. Pie in the sky OSS stuff just isn't going to cut it when HR starts sorting through resume's.
      • Valid counterpoints. Nobody said it would be easy. But in my view, and of many people on campus, getting rid of M$ is far preferable to losing faculty (UNL is already way below the curve for teacher pay/benefits) and teaching resources which would hurt far more than having to 'learn' how to use a new system.
      • by An Onerous Coward ( 222037 ) on Sunday February 10, 2002 @11:05PM (#2984997) Homepage
        Point 1: For 95% of what the average person does, Windows is interchangeable with GNOME, Office is interchangeable with StarOffice, and the Big Blue 'E' can be replaced with Mozilla. They're not "used to Windows," per se. They're used to being able to drag-and-drop, use familiar key sequences like Ctrl-X, and have things start when they double-click. When my Windows drive went all wahooni-shaped, my family's full "retraining" consisted of "double-click the dragon to get your web browser."

        Point 2: is completely valid, and I'm not going to argue it.

        Point 3: As someone already pointed out, the value of knowledge of a particular application has a half-life that can be measured in months. Going from I.E. to Mozilla is only slightly more jarring than going from Explorer 4 to Explorer 6. Further, since you correctly pointed out that Microsoft pretty much owns the world, the users are probably going to become familiar with their applications elsewhere.

        I would also point out that any HR-type who would throw out a resume because someone has WordPerfect or StarOffice experience instead of MSOffice experience should be taken out and beaten with a cluestick. In many ways, an office suite is an office suite is an office suite. The vast majority of the knowledge learned from one can be transferred to another.
        • Point 1: For 95% of what the average person does, Windows is interchangeable with GNOME, Office is interchangeable with StarOffice, and the Big Blue 'E' can be replaced with Mozilla. They're not "used to Windows," per se.

          Windows (and MS Office) is something of a "moving target" anyway when it comes to the end user. How can these supposedly stupid people possibly cope. Maybe it's more that it is "cool" to claim that "computers are hard". (In terms of actual brain power the complicated part of a computer is actually operating the user interface anyway.)
          A lot of the time when people are actually using Windows it involves things such as defragmenting disks, which an end user shouldn't really need to be bothered with in the first place....
        • I would also point out that any HR-type who would throw out a resume because someone has WordPerfect or StarOffice experience instead of MSOffice experience should be taken out and beaten with a cluestick. In many ways, an office suite is an office suite is an office suite. The vast majority of the knowledge learned from one can be transferred to another.

          Exactly right. This is why my resume reads "Experienced with industry standard office productivity software". Covers most office suites (I've never had problems picking up new programs).
      • #1 is a good point. People don't like their interfaces changed on them. I read email in Pine, because that was what my first email program was. When I went to college and couldn't use Pine, I ended up installing linux, forwarding all of my email, and running Pine there. I don't like Gnome or KDE because I'm used to fvwm. Reportedly, some of the desktop software acts like Office, and Wine is reportedly becoming useful for running Office. I haven't tried any of this, because, of course, I can't stand any interface other than the one I'm used to.

        Point 2 is misinformed. If you get rid of Windows, you can get rid of the army of windows sysadmins and hire a linux sysadmin or two. Linux is much easier to administer, if only because MicroSoft support is so bad, and you can't fix anything with it. You won't, admittedly, necessarily be able to keep the same support staff without retraining, but the end result is better.

        Point 3 is foolish. Nobody will use any software currently available in a year or two. The best way to acquire skills would be to use half KDE and half Gnome. That way, you can't get used to the current interfaces, which will be the out-of-date versions that won't read new documents when you get to the real world.

        Win2k owns the world out there now. Pretty soon, it'll be unsupported and unavailable. There are plenty of places that use a mix of windows and linux now, and, if you want to use linux, that just means one fewer machine that breaks each month, and that will have to be bought again in a year or two.
      • It's been my experience that people don't really know how to perform tasks with their software anyway. If they don't do a mail merge for two months, they've forgotten and have to call the helpdesk. The more advanced users can remember small things, but overall if it's not a repetitive task, game over.

        It's also been my experience that the interface doesn't really matter to users. They use what's there, regardless of the options (hence the adoption of IE as peoples browser of choice). If that browser had been Mozilla they would have used that too. Users don't care!!

        Therefore, if you're still following my argument, this transition, while surely costing a couple days of retraining, won't cost that much more in the end. You're still going to have people calling the helpdesk because they can't remember how to do a mail merge with Star Office. They'll call about how to save bookmarks to that damned 'desktop cat' (glad nobody ported that one yet) in Mozilla.

        Grand Finale: Users will still be clueless whether they're using Windows or Linux. After the initial frustration, they'll forget they've even switched, and continue pestering the helpdesk.

        If you don't believe me, you've never been in the trenches.

        -Ben
        • I think it comes down to familiarity of the helpdesk with the common problems.
          I can go to any decent helpdesk kiddo and ask him what's wrong with my Win98 desktop and either he knows what's wrong or just nukes my box and reimages it, problem solved. It seems that the entire toolkits of 90% of so-called "techies" revolves around windows and getting windows working. The problem is not the end-users, it's the ability of the helpdesk to smoothly transition to an "alternative" system in terms of technical "expertise". I know I worked at a helpdesk and I could ask any of the 100's of techs about Windows and everyone had "solutions". If I had one question about Linux, I'd get blank stares. So, we have armies of MS techies, who refuse to switch. As you said, USERS don't give a damn. The techs do. It's the IT departments and the pseudo-computer literati that must be converted, not the users. Remember that the average user has post-it notes taped to his/her monitor telling them how to save a file! It would be no different if they were using Appleworks, MS OFFICE, WordPerfect, or Star Office.
    • Laughed out the door by the ITS people? That sounds predictable. The people laughing most likely fear for their jobs because they aren't qualified to deal with such a change.

      I agree that Microsoft provides a solution that works well for the majority of computer users at a University. But, I also think that Microsoft solutions are detrimental to the part of the University that actually produces the programming types. The computer science/engineering department of a University should wholeheartedly embrace nonproprietary, open, free solutions wherever possible and leave closed, underpowered, blackbox, unstudiable solutions by the wayside.

      It's an overwhelming trend that I've seen: Programmers that learned in a Microsoft-centric environment, in the great majority, don't really know how to program. They just don't understand so many fundamental things that people learn from working with any given Unix variety for a short period of time. There are plenty of other reasons why learning to program with a diet of Microsoft software is bad, but I won't mention any of them because they're insignificant in comparison to the fact that windows users that want to become programmers are at a severe disadvantage---period!

      How long does it take to learn how to use Windows and prepare yourself for "the real world", and how long does it take to learn how to program?

      None of the cited arguments hold water when you're talking about "geeks", so geeks shouldn't be subjected to such violence as being forced to use such mind-numbing garbage when they're perfectly capable of working in a more-empowering environment.

      I was saddened when I learned that the college that I graduated from has nearly eradicated any non-Microsoft stuff from their CS department. I'm saddened because it wasn't until I got to college that I learned anything about non-Microsoft software, and the poor suckers that are following in my footsteps won't have a chance.

      Oh well, why not let the proletariat population of programmers expand? The next wave of dumbasses is less likely to threaten the jobs of the already established.

      • Actually the UofA where I'm attending all of the CS labs past 1st year(and formerly those) are non-MS (I've seen FreeBSD and Sun Unix and there may be others). Also where my brother works in the physics department most of the computers they use at the post-grad level are Linux.
    • What about Apple? The core of their OS is open source (a FreeBSD variant) and if, as your IT staff claims, their end users really really really love MS Office apps, then they could simply buy or site license MS Office for Mac.

      Also, Apple's OS licenses fee's are one-time fees, and most point upgrades are free. So, unlike MS "activation" fees, you could run the current version for a relatively long time (until some new feature comes out that you "can't" live without).

      Furthermore, Apple already has a huge presence in Education, so there shouldn't be any incremental costs.
      • I love apple personally but to switch an entire university system over to apple computers would be way too expensive. For linux you don't have to 'buy' anything (support or such yes) but for apple you have to purchase literally thousands of computers.
    • 3.)Wouldn't provide students with the knowledge of computers to succeed in the real world I.E. Microsoft software is used by 99% of the business world and having everything run linux would simply not be effective in teaching students how to use 'real world' applications.

      Yes & no. Most people that sit down at my Linux box have no problem using it. They've been "trained" on Windows, and they do the basic stuff. They're not gearheads, and they don't really care too much what's going on. The biggest deal is knowing what apps are comparable. The question I hear most is "I don't see Word, what can I use to type my term paper?" I point them to abi or whatever (I use vim, so I usually have to look to see what I have installed). They do their thing & are happy.

      So if people have basic computing skills, they'll be able to easily translate those basic skills to other OSs. Plus, if they're used to using Linux in college, they won't be as hesitant to try it in the real world.

      All this has been said before, and will be said again...

    • When the faculty are empowered - and I'm refering to the empowerment of cold, green, cash (for swimming in) - they can do as they please; which, when it comes to computers, is generally whatever their post docs, grad students and senior techs want (I'm a biologist.)

      Often, at least here at Columbia, that means individual labs will just go out and buy a bunch of Intel machines on their own initiative, and put Linux on them. This has been going on for the past year or more, and Linux is starting to gain credence with the administration.

      At a school where people don't have that kind of funding, individual groups don't have the resources to investigate, not just Linux but new avenues of procurement generally. As is too often the case, if you don't have the sugary wampum to evaluate the different vendors/solutions, you end up stuck with a bad deal.

      Anyway, this is a problem that Linux people, especially those at academic instistutions, ought to be pursuing - I say this without bothering to look and see who's pursuing it and how, hoping that someone already familiar with the situation will respond by posting details.

      Also, I have a sneaking suspicion that ill-will on the parts of some CS faculty towards some other CS faculty may be hampering the adoption of Linux by certain institutions.
    • Microsoft software is used by 99% of the business world and having everything run linux would simply not be effective in teaching students how to use 'real world' applications.

      A specious lie if I ever heard one. Has everyone lost their short term memories? Think back just a mere ten years ago. All the schools were teaching Lotus-123 and Wordperfect. I actually know someone that got a certificate in Wordperfect! Another has an AA in DOS!!! To assume that the applications of the future will be identical to the ones used today is ludicrous. Using that premise to educate students is irresponsible.

      If you want to prepare students for the real world, teach them the basics. Teach them how to software engineering, not how to use Java or C++. Teach them how to create business documents, not how to use MSWord. Teach them how to communicate effectively, not how to use Powerpoint.
      • A specious lie if I ever heard one. Has everyone lost their short term memories? Think back just a mere ten years ago. All the schools were teaching Lotus-123 and Wordperfect. I actually know someone that got a certificate in Wordperfect! Another has an AA in DOS!!! To assume that the applications of the future will be identical to the ones used today is ludicrous. Using that premise to educate students is irresponsible.

        Especially when some of the students used as pawns in this kind of argument are aged 5 rather than 20.

        If you want to prepare students for the real world, teach them the basics. Teach them how to software engineering, not how to use Java or C++. Teach them how to create business documents, not how to use MSWord. Teach them how to communicate effectively, not how to use Powerpoint.

        All of these examples indicate the difference between education and training. Though in most other skill areas even "training" is less about leaning the quirks of a specific tool set in a robotic way.
    • so this state / political body falls behind. that's good for the rest us non-suckers. ignorance is strength, like they say.
  • Microsoft would probably sue everyone for trying to put them out of business if free software became more dominent then Windows. I honestly don't have a whole lot again Microsoft other than they try to get every possible penny out of you that they can. If Windows were free, I'd use it w/out any regrets.
    MS should open source 3.1, that would be pretty cool just for the sake of it. Plus, it would be interesting to see how coding has changed over the decade.
    • The one i'm using now? no, i didn't. Win98 on the other hand was purchased and WAS regretted because it was a very unstable piece of OS. And as far as 3.1 going open source, like i said, just because. Kind of as a novelty type thing.
      What is your problem anyway? This was a very innocent post. Calm down...
    • MS should open source 3.1, that would be pretty cool just for the sake of it

      Whilst I think that forcing MS to open source win 3.1 would not be good thing, I beleive that at the point that a company is not willing to sell/support old software, the said software should loose it's copyright status.

      Just like trademark law, if you don't fight to maintain your trademark, you loose it.

    • MS should open source 3.1

      Anyone else see some big WINE changes coming from that..?

      If nothing else, they should put it under the CE "shared source" license. That's pretty much freer than free, it's so free RMS would hate it because it's freer than the GPL!! *ducks* Ok, so I'm exaggerating.

      -pi
  • by Rebel Patriot ( 540101 ) on Sunday February 10, 2002 @07:50PM (#2984371) Journal
    Government doesn't have a reason to change, therefor, they won't. One of our biggest clients is a government body. They've been ingrained for a long time with Microsoft and just aren't going to switch from MS Office to say, Staroffice. Reasons for this are actually valid.

    1) They are comfrotable and familiar with Word and Excell.
    2) Some of their Access documents would be hard to render properly in Staroffice.
    3) They've invested a ton of money into several Visual Basic programs that use Access as a back end.

    As long as government agencies, departments, etc need things like that (which they've spent alot of money on to impliment), they are loath to switch.
    • Odd that you can't spell "Excel" . . .

      Anyway, I read what you have said as "They walked into vendor lock-in with both eyes open."

      What is your point?

      -Peter
    • Government doesn't have a reason to change, therefor, [sic] they won't.

      Don't be so sure. Microsoft is providing some rather compelling motivation in the form of their new forced-upgrades, subscription licensed software business model. Many government organizations have in the past followed the wise corporations in only upgrading when there was a compelling case to do so, to a demonstrably stable release. These organizations are rightly appalled at the prospect of paying extortionate annual Microsoft software license fees that are 100% - 200% higher than their historical expenses. And the MSCE's in the IT Department won't be the ones ultimately making the decisions, no matter how much FUD they might throw around about TCO. They are the major drain on TCO, so they'll lose whatever credibility they might have had, once the gimlet-eyed executives who make decisions peruse their budget projections.

      Microsoft is also their own worst enemy, relative to the way they've been playing hardball with government IT managers - threatening them and going over their heads - typical Microsoft gutter tactics, but it's building a broadly based backlash among government IT managers they've abused lately. If you talk to these people, they'll tell you that they're looking at ways to purge their shops of Microsoft software everywhere they can, and yesterday wouldn't be too soon. Microsoft's going to lose in government.

    • Point 1 is true, but for most of the time, at least here in Finland, there is no access. Backend servers seem to be running mostly Oracle on Solaris. It doesn't matter there though, as those have good reputation and users never see them. What I think is that replacing Servers with GNU or BSD would be more likely to happen than replacing Desktop software.
      • Samba can do pretty well as a fileshare replacement. Nobody won't know the difference.
      • Normal people most often don't even know that over half of webservers are already running Apache.
      • OpenSource database servers like PostgreSQL already compete with Oracle.
      • PHP is one of the most efficient was to handle dynamic web content. ASP is not.
      Only that some of this won't most Slashdotters any happier since it's Sun, Oracle, Netscape (iPlanet's still widely used) and others that are more likely to lose their share than MicroSoft, because those that understand are already running something else, and most of the time couldn't care a sh*t about somebody elses desktop software.
  • by J.D. Hogg ( 545364 ) on Sunday February 10, 2002 @07:51PM (#2984380) Homepage
    "First, I want to make one thing clear: In my view, governments and public bodies should not push "gratis," "free," "open" or "proprietary" solutions over any of the other options. That could severely damage the incentives for software developers and the national market for IT at large."

    You haven't quite understood the open-source and free-software business proposition, have you ? What's more, in my views, when the government buys Microsoft software, it makes them a little richer and that threatens my job in a small non-Microsoft company that much more. How about a little of that ?

    "The government should always choose the best computer program and IT solution at any given period of time."

    You forget half of the equation : a government is more than a company, and they have to take national interests into account, which is usually more important than the technical solution. For non-US governments, that often means one of the most important requirements is to not run closed-source software from a US monopoly.

    • "First, I want to make one thing clear: In my view, governments and public bodies should not push "gratis," "free," "open" or "proprietary" solutions over any of the other options. That could severely damage the incentives for software developers and the national market for IT at large."

      You haven't quite understood the open-source and free-software business proposition, have you ? What's more, in my views, when the government buys Microsoft software, it makes them a little richer and that threatens my job in a small non-Microsoft company that much more. How about a little of that?

      You misunderstand the position. Currently the govt is effectively "pushing" microsoft's stuff. What you want, and what that quote states, is for them to stop pushing that, and not start pushing anything else specifically.

      What do you see as a solution? If they start using something else, it still doesn't help your job in a "small non-Microsoft company." If they decide to use the best tools for the job (which they probably don't have the budget to determine) then your job security is based on your performance.

      Personally, I think that the government *should* push open data storage formats. That would make switching to a different set of software that much less painful.

  • Well, "open code" could mean several things. If it means free software, or Free Software, there is no procurement at all: people inside the government just use it; there is no procurement. By the time procurement happens, most likely, the government IT people have already ruled out free software. Procurement then involves two sides: the government and vendors. The vendors could, of course, involve companies like RedHat.
  • Support Contracts? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SkewlD00d ( 314017 )
    You also have to weight the costs/benefits of open-source, and what kind of support contract(s) you can get for such systems. A system can be completely open-source and proprietary at the same time, making the learning curve for any potential support personnel unnecessarily steep. Though Apache/BSD shoud be pretty much standard everywhere, as I can't see a good reason to use a Windoze webserver in a minimal cost environment, such as government. Then again, the government never seems to have any incentive to make fiscally-sound choices, as what profit motive do they have?
  • I saw on Friday that my job centre had up graded thier computer system. It was now running some form of Work Station. I couldn't be 100% sure it was running NT4 or Windows2000, but I think it was NT4.

    The application(s) they were running were command line based DOS looking things.

    Waste of Money? Could be. I think that they may have been running a Win 3.11 thing before, but I'm open to surguestion.

    Crazy
  • by caduguid ( 152224 ) on Sunday February 10, 2002 @08:13PM (#2984472)
    IMHO, this idea is both reasonable and constructive. It's certainly not the radical pseudo-communism the purveyors of FUD will inevitably make it out to be.

    Personally, I like the way Lessig put it in _The Future of Ideas_ when he argued that the government should encourage the development of open code.

    "Open code ... risks none of the dangers of strategic behavior that closed code, or controlled networks, do. If open code is used strategically, then the resource to counter that strategic action are always available. Innovators can rely upon the promise of open code in their innovations. They need not worry that what they develop will be swallowed by the platform they develop for.

    This encouragement should not be coercive. There's no reason to ban or punish proprietary providers. People should be free to develop code however they wish.

    But a government has its own interests, and closing its resources to others is not one of them. If the federal government develops a system to handle welfare claims, what reason does it have for hiding the code for that system from the states? Why not let the states take that code and build upon it? And if the states, then so, too, with the universities. In each case, the aim should be to expand the reach of these powerful and valuable resources, not to contract and hoard them when to value to the hoarding exists." The Future of Ideas [amazon.com], p.249

    • But a government has its own interests, and closing its resources to others is not one of them.

      Call me a cynic, but last time I looked the government seems to care a great deal what the (insert name of anything that puts money into a politician's pocket) ^H^H^H community wants. Since open source tends not to have the lobbyist or deep pockets an Adobe, Oracle, or any other large corporation, they have to fight fair.... Not so for the big boys - a checkbook can buy almost any "interest".

      I chuckle when my co-workers were shocked about the matrix Enron put together to optimize their government purchases. To be innocent again...
      • Not true at all. The EPA uses WordPerfect, for instance, because MS lost a competitive bid to supply the government with word processing software.

        For years the Forest Service used Data General systems in all their offices, networked together (early achievers in that regard) but not via TCP/IP (they gateway'd back and forth eventually so they could talk to the rest of the world after the rest of the world started talking via e-mail). Again, it was another won bid scenario.

        That, not "lobbyists lining a politician's pocket" , is typically how large purchasing decisions are made in the federal government, at least.

        This does, actually, have certainly in the past worked against Open Source solutions. Now that there are sizable companies standing behind such solutions adoption may slowly follow. Sun, for instance, can bid Start Office when it finally releases and when existing contracts are up for renewal. If you don't think IBM will bid Linux servers in response to government bid auctions you're not watching enough TV and are missing out on some great commercials targetted towards executives everywhere.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    All non-classified custom development for the US federal government used to be open source. If you could locate the agency that had the source and pay the cost of reproduction and shipping, you could get a copy of the source of any federal-government-paid-for program. This included a bunch of defense-related simulations, military pensions, military hospitals, atomic number crunching, and all kinds of miscellaneous programs too miscellaneous to describe.


    Now, the more interesting provisions in government purchasing usually read like this (1) you have to certify that you never have and never will sell it to anyone else for less than you charge the government, (2) it has to be accessible to users with various handicaps (eg visually impaired, carpal tunnel victims, etc).

    • Now, the more interesting provisions in government purchasing usually read like this (1) you have to certify that you never have and never will sell it to anyone else for less than you charge the government, (2) it has to be accessible to users with various handicaps (eg visually impaired, carpal tunnel victims, etc).

      How well does open source meet the needs of the handicapped? I know that it is be easier to make a text-based command-line system work for the blind (just link to a reader program), but a blind office-worker has to run the same word processor his colleagues are running -- and that's GUI whether it's Windoze & Office, or Gnome or KDE with Star Office... And how about accommodations for other handicaps?
  • by evil_roy ( 241455 ) on Sunday February 10, 2002 @08:28PM (#2984504)
    No-one would specify an OS / Platform or any other detail that is not necessary. A good specification in an RFQ ( Request for Quote) or an RFT (tender) outlines essential & desirable criteria. By specifying outcomes rather than details the market is opened up and the benefits of an open proceurement policy are seen - including $$$ savings , quality and probity.

    The problems faced when writing specs are legacy systems & applications - staff knowledge & training included. It may be necessary to specify exact hardware / software ; you may be able to specify "compatibility" requirements rather than exact products ; or in the best case you can write an outcomes only based spec.

    It's horses for courses though. The more open the better generally - if you start closing your specs you start removing some of the benefits - $$$$ , probity for example. But , if you have to run the app on an NT4 box with IIS then spec it that way.

    If you need compatability with Office apps then spec it that way.

    If you need Office then just order a copy. Once you water down your spec by being too tight you may as well just buy the product you want. There is no point issuing an RFQ if there is no market to test. And sometimes this is the best option to take.
  • I was recently interviewed by a small government funded department for the role of project manager with a view to putting together a package of networked applications for children in the local authority care system (I can't go into more details, but it was, and is a pretty big "Walled Garden" project). When I arrived, I was shown what they'd accomplished already, asked for my opinions, and to suggest a direction for things to take.

    What I found was that all the software had been developed from scratch at great expense, and from what I saw was actually inferior to software freely available that would be perfect for the various tasks. I demonstrated some of the existing alternatives (always a good idea to install a bunch of possibly relevant software on your laptop before-hand!) To say they were surprised this was available would be an understatement! Actually, the people I spoke with had little understanding of the open source community - I think the words were "doesn't Redhat own Linux like Microsoft own Windows?". Anyway, there was a problem...

    Local authorities are given budgets they must spend in certain areas, and this being the case, bespoke, unnecessary software is being developed in order to use the cash. It was made clear to me that this will continue to be the case, and so using anything "free" in either sense of the word would not fit in with their plans. The old support issue popped up too - obviously they hadn't read the Microsoft EULA before installing all their NT servers...

    Basically, I found the whole thing depressing, and decided I couldn't work in an environment watching sub-standard software being developed for no reason other than to spend cash...
    • Local authorities are given budgets they must spend in certain areas, and this being the case, bespoke, unnecessary software is being developed in order to use the cash. So you have them contract with (insert your favorite OSS guru here) to "customize" the free software to their specs.
  • by WasterDave ( 20047 ) <davep@@@zedkep...com> on Sunday February 10, 2002 @09:11PM (#2984596)
    This exact question flared up a couple of weeks ago, with a letter [openz.org] being sent to the minister for Information Technology (amongst others) pointing out the advantages of open source and offering to demonstrate our collective ability to support such a solution. There were, as you see, 364 co-signers including myself.

    The reply arrived about half an hour ago:

    --
    Re: Open Standards and Open Source Software

    Thank you for your letter to me, and my colleagues, the Minister of
    Information Technology, the Minister of Research, Science and
    Technology, and the Minister of Economic Development sent on 30 November
    2001. This letter responds on behalf of us all.

    As I see it, your letter raises two main issues. First you raise the
    role of government in stimulating industry development through its
    procurement policies. Regarding this I make the following points.
    - In terms of developing and/or procuring IT systems or software,
    government agencies are currently free to adopt open cousrce software
    solutions, i.e there is no restriction on the use of open source
    software. Also, there is no policy in favour of the purchase of
    proprietary software.
    - The overriding principle of 'value for money' must be adhered to by
    government agencies when making procurement relating to the procurement
    of IT systems. This principle must be applied equally when considering
    proprietary and and open source software options. In other words,
    government agencies must meet their business requirements in the most
    cost-effective way.

    Second, as you rightly point out, the issue of interoperability is
    important to achieving the government's e-government goals. You may be
    aware that interoperability is a key component of the E-government
    Strategy. To achieve interoperability between government agencies, the
    E-government Unit of the State Services Commision has been developing
    the New Zealand E-government Interoperability Framework (NZ eGIF). This
    has involved input from a range of public and private sector
    organisations and has not revealed the need for any shift in relevant
    government policy with regard to open source software. This framework
    will be opened to public consultation in late February or March 2002.

    I have asked my officials in the E-government Unit to keep me advised of
    developments in the open source software area.

    Yours sincerely,

    [Signed]

    Hon Trevor Mallard
    Minister of State Services
    --

    ...and is presently being debated on the NZ open source mailing list (mailto:opensource-subscribe@openz.org, send a blank message).

    Dave :)
  • People have a fundamental misconception about open source licenses like the GPL. The General Public License [gnu.org], has a loophole for large organizations, such as governments, in paragraph 2.b of Section 3 [gnu.org]. If they develop their own internal applications they don't have to share their source code with anyone under the GPL so long as they only deploy the modified software within the organization.

    BTW: This loophole also applies to large corporations, such as the Fortune 500, where they can afford to recover the costs of development entirely through internal use and thereby skirt Sec 3 pp2.b of the GPL.

    There are licenses out there that plug this loophole [technicalpursuit.com] but they might not appeal to the communal instincts to which politicians and the GPL appeal.

    Politics makes bad business decisions. I would hope that any "movement" to mandate "open source" would be very carefully limited to areas where it is obviously of value, such as academic research funded by the government -- and that technology development be relegated to the private sector where risk management is the whole point.

    • The General Public License [gnu.org], has a loophole for large organizations, such as governments, in paragraph 2.b of Section 3 [gnu.org]. If they develop their own internal applications they don't have to share their source code with anyone under the GPL so long as they only deploy the modified software within the organization.

      In the United States of America, you may be able to file a Freedom of Information Act request for the source code.

    • There are licenses out there that plug this loophole [technicalpursuit.com] but they might not appeal to the communal instincts to which politicians and the GPL appeal.

      Actually that link should have been to this -- the Reciprocal Public License [technicalpursuit.com].



  • The folowing is indicative of some of the challenges faced by supporters
    of free software in government.

    I've been working on DoD-sponsored research in the modeling and simulation
    field for many years, and both my COTR and I are proponents of using Linux
    and free software in general, whenever it is appropriate. We were somewhat
    dismayed to receive a recent letter, which stated (among other items):

    1. ...based on "current" research, both internally with colleagues
    and externally with NSA (who participates in the approval of Operating Systems
    (OS)), LINUX OS is not a certified OS. And LINUX can not be used in any government
    modelling and simulation system that needs to be accredited

    2. ...anyone wanting to pursue certification and approval to use LINUX
    OS must go through a tedious (many lab tests) and expensive (thousands of
    dollars) process which begins with NSA and takes in excess of a year. This
    OS approval process includes numerous NSA, DIA, and Rome Lab's tests to confirm
    the proposed LINUX OS meets all DSCID 6.3 OS requirements...


    In response to this notice, which potentially affects all of our ongoing
    work, we are searching for answers to the following questions:

    When is an accredited OS required?
    Is MS Windows XP accredited?
    If so, how did they get accredited?
    If XP is accredited, then the requirements must be simple and quick to get
    thru, so how do we do it.......

  • Just something I wanted to add to this, when considering software, instead of looking at the base price for the OS/system, also look at development, training, and other costs.. I obviously can't say without a doubt, but I'm atleast *somewhat* sure that money allocated would even out.. Lemme give an example here..

    Windows..
    higher cost for base OS
    less cost for training cause a good amount of people are atleast fimiliar with it..
    less administration cost (IT market flooded with people who know MS (atleast in my area), so they are looking for the guy who will work for cheap)
    More "out of the box" apps for various tasks (ADP, Office, etc..)

    Linux...
    little or no cost for base OS
    higher cost for training (even KDE is harder for some people to learn just cause it doesn't say "start")
    higher cost of administration, mainly 'cause *compentent* admins are no exactly cheap (OS not neccesarily harder, just a bit more configuration options)
    less "out of the box" apps for linux, which will come into development costs..

    In my opinion (and in a perfect world), it would be better to run linux instead of windows. don't get me wrong, I like windows and all, but u have to figure the licensing costs (ie.. the compnay I worked for just bought 300 MS Enterpise licening packs (CALs, OS Licenses, etc..) which definatly arn't cheap.. however with linux, you don't have that.. thus the price for licenses can be added into the admin/training/development costs..

    'course this is my opinion, and I could be totally wrong.. I know some of this is flawed (where do u turn when the sysadmin gets stumped, or if you get a wierd error, etc..), I beleive that *after-all-is-said-and-done* price would atleast be similiar, but atleast in most cases you wouldn't have to worry about someone knocking on your door wanting money cause you didn't keep track of that copy of Windows the PFY took home, etc.. 'course there are obvious things, ie.. that in-house sensitive application would prolly have to be released GPL (tho I'm not anywhere close to a licensing guru.. hell.. licensing guru's loose braincells when they talk to me.. :)..

    lemme know if I'm totally off, or mabey even somewhat close.. as I said earlier, this is just my opinion..

    • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Sunday February 10, 2002 @10:03PM (#2984738)
      One of the items that should be on any cost comparison list is the cost of maintaining the records to insure license compliance. It is not a trivial undertaking to maintain the detailed records, and to administer the various machines to insure that they are all in compliance with the guidelines that a BSA representative would expect.

      My guess is that this cost is larger than user training.

      As far as admin cost I disagree - a competant admin (not one of the hordes of paper MSCEs) will not be much different in cost, regardless of the OS. In addition it seems from anecdotal evidence that the admin cost per user is less for Linux than Windows.

  • If the logic of using MS desktop apps is to avoid a Microsoft divide, effectively preventing government from communicating with the private sector, or other governments, it would seem to me that it would represent an extreme risk to national security to depend on it! Its like saying that one cannot send a letter, or make a telephone call without having to pay a 3rd party any price it wishes, a party which is private and serves its own interests, rather than the interest of the country as a whole. The answer...eminent domain for Microsoft. Since the US government cannot function without using Micorsoft software, it should belong to the government. Needless to say this is a silly argument, there are alternatives to Microsoft for every category of software, and as was mentioned earlier, everybody wants to get a government contract, they will bend to government's rules. However, the government needs to prove that it can indeed function without depending on one private company. In order to do this they need to open the door to other providers of software and IT services, if for no other reason than to give the government power over its ability to function and communicate, and not be held to the will of anyone company, but to all of the american people.
  • by The Famous Brett Wat ( 12688 ) on Sunday February 10, 2002 @10:04PM (#2984740) Homepage Journal
    Large governments can make some pretty impressive changes if they really decide to. My suggestion for a mandatory requirement in any widely-deployed software (eg. office software, operating systems, but not special-purpose software) would be as follows. Software will only be considered for adoption if the machine-interface parts of the software (APIs, file formats, network protocols, etc.) adhere to published standards, and if more than one source of implementation is available.

    This would bless things like TCP/IP, the web, and so on, but would disqualify Windows and MS Office until such times as they had fully documented APIs and file formats, plus at least one real competitor. I wonder what Microsoft would do when faced with such a dilemma? (Answer: $lobby$ until the problem went away, of course.) Interestingly, I think it would also give something like the Linux Standards Base a real boost, since there would suddenly be major interest in forming a "Linux Standard" to which application vendors can adhere. I don't think Linux fully qualifies in terms of the "documented APIs" (we'd need a somewhat static API specification, not a situation where the code specifies the API), but in general the free *nixes are much better positioned than Microsoft to meet this demand. Of course, Microsoft could hand over some formal specifications and a [wad of cash/gaggle of developers] to the WINE and OpenOffice projects, but I can't see any pigs flying past my window at the moment.

    Clearly I'm handwaving a lot of detail here, but the basic idea is "only deal in markets that aren't monopolies", and it's pretty simple.

  • Not open meaning designed by a standards body, just open meaning documented. The issue is data preservation: if a data file is archived somewhere, how do you know that the program that reads it will be runnable when you want it back? Government institutions may be smart enough to keep transferring the data files to more current media, but if you can't find a Wintel machine in 2050 to read your Access database, it won't help much.

    So companies can use whatever format they want and change it as often as they want, but they need to document it. And a data format written with open source software would qualify under a liberal interpretation of "documented".

    Here's my original manifesto [osopinion.com].

    - adam

  • While this article specifically refers to the Swedish government, there is an added level of irony when coercion-to-use-M$ takes place in the US public sector.

    The truly disturbing thing about using US public funds to pay for M$ licenses is that a large, if not overwhelming, portion of open source development was done by students and other 'volunteers' being supported at universities, national labs and FFRDC's all predominantly supported on government grants and contracts. Your Taxpayer Dollar At Work

    Insisting that people use MicroShite software is tantamount to admitting that the US government's support of CS and other departments at Stanford, Berkeley and MIT -- not to mention ANL MCS, the code center at Oak Ridge, CASC at Livermore, CNLS and the Advanced Computing Lab at Lost Animals (los Alamos) and the tntire supercomputing initiative (NCSA, SDSC, Pittsburgh, UMN MSI...)-- are complete and utter failures, and a total waste of public money.

    Who developed TeX? BSD? gopher? Archie? NCSA Mosaic? GateD? vi? Ingres, whose bastard children include Oracle and Postgresql? csh? NCSA Telnet? tn3270? BIND? netlib? who was involved in the original internet ftp and telnet client/server bake-offs? X windows?

    It wasn't Bill Grates puling away the best years of his life making BIND beta bug reports, contributing BSD patches to net.unix-wizards, testing GateD, installing and fixing buggy Xr10 distros downloaded for *hours* from athena.mit, writing RPC mixed-language code to run applications distributed at several different supercomputer centers. And yet, that A-hole Grates acts like he invented the internet, the VM, bytecode and, most recently, mixed-language programming. You know, the stuff Your Taxpayer Dollars went to countless students, faculty and staff to develop, much of which lives still as open source software.

    Typically, private industry chipped in some (most notably Tektronix, IBM, AT&T, Sun Microsystems and HP), federal grants and contracts chipped in the lion's share, and, by working for next to nothing, the students, postdocs and technical staff themselves chipped in --well, all those years they could have been out in the real world making real money.

    Where was M$ during all this? Quietly sitting in the background, ripping off the mountains and mountains of code and internet standards being developed at universities, FFRDC's and the national labs on government grants, that's where.

    Why do you think M$ is so reluctant to open up their source?

    The government should have to prove that all the projects that the government has backed to develop this code was not a complete waste of time and money by using the code it paid so much to have developed

  • In spite of IBM's recent entry into Linux, there remains a death of competent, eligible, reputable companies to provide the necessary services, training, etc. There are dozens of large companies willing to bid their partners (MS, Sun, etc) solutions, but few companies actively bidding OSS solutions, even though there are a few with the capabilities (i.e. RedHat bidding RedHat).
    As for training, etc, any major upgrade project will require training, even if the product is just a newer version - training provides access to the new features, etc. Maybe a matter of degree required.
    Bids that are written so that only one product can win is called "sole-sourcing" and subject to different regs (at least in Canada), one of which is a more extensive appeal process. Gov. of Canada lost a WP vs. Office appeal and had to fork over $50M-$100M of taxpayers $ to Corel. Open-source orgs like the FSF, companies like RedHat, should be (are?) appealing sole-sourcing wherever possible. Unfortunately, you don't win many middle manager friends when you tie up their procurements for years in the appeals....

  • I've seen this over and over. And the math still makes more sense when open source is considered. One Collage in Brazil and five satellite campuses have moved to using Linux and and open source office package. The money spent on licensing and support dropped from several hundred thousand to around 30 thousand since 1997.

    PROCERGS [businessweek.com].

    They switched over the entire campus except for one Windows lab. The matriculation, grading and other administrative tasks are all running on an open database system with a web front end.

    SAGU [google.com], here is an english translation [google.com].

    So it gets old and tired to hear about organizations and companies and government offices who can't switch over because of "compatibility" or too much cost in transition. Stuff it. They're just lazy. And the gravy train is hard to walk away from... But people better start making some investments in a reasonable budget if they want to be taken seriously in the future.
  • Over in the UK... (Score:2, Informative)

    by DullTrev ( 533249 )
    There has been some work done by the UK government into where they can use open source, and whether they should. The report here (pdf) [govtalk.gov.uk] talks about where open source is used, where they expect it will be used in the future, and what alternatives to common proprietary apps there are on Linux. This is an interesting and well thought out report, if a little long...
    It is also interesting to note that the UK government is seriously pushing XML for all sorts of applications. More information on this can be found at the Office for the e-Envoy [e-envoy.gov.uk] and the UK Govtalk [govtalk.gov.uk] website.
  • This article makes the classic mistake of thinking the government procurement process goes like this:
    1. Establish need
    2. Determine requirements to fill requirements
    3. Locate solution that maximully forfills all requirements
    4. Implement solution


    In reality, the usual algorithm is:
    1. Identify desired solution
    2. Write requirements to fit desired solution
    3. Identify solution that meets requirement
    4. If identified solution != desired solution rewrite requirements
    5. Implement desired solution


    Thus, the way to get the government to adopt free software is to somehow make it the desired solution, not to attack the requirements phase.
    • A huge problem in government software procurements is writing the requirements. In no case that I've ever seen have the contract requirements met what was actually needed or even wanted. In some cases the contractor makes enough changes (often at a change-order $ cost several times the original procurement cost) that the product succeeds; in most cases the software simply goes unused because by the time it was delivered it wasn't needed anymore, or because the complexity required by the 3000-page list of requirements made it completely unusable.

      The "find product that works and then write requirements to meet it" may sound unfair, but often it's the only way to get something through the multi-year procurement/contract cycle that will do the needed job. It's as frustrating as hell to see something that I could bang out as a Perl script in a week or two go through a multi- year procurement and never get used. Other times it's very fun when I do write a Perl script in a week or two and it replaces the software delivered by the multi-million dollar procurement :-)

  • by Bazzargh ( 39195 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @11:20AM (#2987247)
    You can find the draft UK procurement policy on open source here: (all versions) [govtalk.gov.uk] (direct link to html version) [govtalk.gov.uk]

    This has been driven by the EU recommendation to consider open source mentioned in the past on Slashdot.

    Main body are these recommendations:

    • UK Government will consider OSS solutions alongside proprietary ones in IT procurements. Contracts will be awarded on a value for money basis.
    • UK Government will only use products for interoperability that support open standards and specifications in all future IT developments.
    • UK Government will seek to avoid lock-in to proprietary IT products and services.
    • UK Government will obtain full rights to bespoke software code that it procures and all customisations of COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) packages that it uses wherever this achieves value for money.
    • UK Government will explore further the possibilities of using OSS as the default exploitation route for Government funded R&D software by academic research institutes
    ... which all seems pretty laudable.

    BTW: PLEASE DON'T SEND COMMENTS TO GOVTALK if you are just going to say 'me too'. The 7 comments that are there are all pro-open source and we dont want to sound like fanatics, do we? Remember how a lot of the comments to the EU on patent law were essentially ignored for this reason - don't duplicate the arguments of others.

    Disclaimer: I don't work for the UK government, but I write software that gets sold to them. Which includes a lot of open source stuff. I just happened to be reading that policy today before I read /. ...

    Cheers, Baz

The means-and-ends moralists, or non-doers, always end up on their ends without any means. -- Saul Alinsky

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