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GNU is Not Unix

Public Procurement and Open Source 79

Steve writes "Open code in public procurement is an interesting take on free software and open source software in a federal or state environment. Pawlo: 'It is time that public bodies and governments look over their public procurement policies. The policy should guarantee competition, not stifle it.' Thinking of the latest Bill Gates rant this make sense."
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Public Procurement and Open Source

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  • A major problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by interstellar_donkey ( 200782 ) <> on Sunday April 21, 2002 @08:51AM (#3382751) Homepage Journal
    As somebody who works in procurment from time to time, I can say that open source work is'nt something that is too appealing.

    Basically, it comes down to accountability. When the RFP responses come back, the government agency needs to see that there is a clearly defined orginization that it can access to resolve issues. If they see 'free' or 'open source', red flags will go up. "You mean anyone can change this? No thanks"

    It's a standard way of thinking for government agencies. They will never adopt open source unless it first becomes general practice in the commerical sector.
    • isn't that where companies like Red Hat and Suse are for?
      • I've yet to see Red Hat or SUSE respond to an RFP. That's probably a marketing issue (or it's just that the things I deal with is too small of potateos).

        But even if they did start responding, my guess is they would run into a brick wall. 'Liiinnn-Ex?.... is'nt that for hackers or something?' (not my words.. but the assumed words of a procurment department)
        • Really, this isn't a job for the procurement departments. It's been my experience that for things like software products, the RFPs are actually written by the technical people who will be receiving the goods, not anyone in procurement. RFPs are typically written to get a very specific product, or something that's exactly functionally equivalent.

          When the people who spec the requirements determine that Open Source is what they want, they'll writeup RFPs that require that the Source be provided and that they'll be able to make changes and still get support. Then, companies like RedHat, SuSe and Covalent will be able to respond adequately.

          Today, I would guess, that most RFPs for these kinds of products spec complete Solaris systems complete with Web Server/etc (which may be why Sun feels iPlanet is an important product for them, it may get thrown out in favor of Apache down the line, but it does fit the requirements of RFPs) or MS solutions. Nothing to which the Open Source support companies could adequately respond.

      • This is more what companies like IBM are for, being able to take advantage of the strengths and cost-benefits of open-source, putting them to work on custom software, built to specification, and not for distribution.

        In all debates about free and open software, a giant omission recurrs. There's no admission that the vast majority of software written *isn't* for distribution at all. It's custom work, for one installation, and the money paid is for the work, not the software. And the best reading I can see is that the GPL largely doesn't apply to that kind of work, because it never goes anywhere else. Does the user get the source code? Yup. Can they make changes to it? Sure. (If they do, it may break something that they'll have to pay to get fixed, but they're allowed to.) Can the user distribute it? Sure, but they're responsible for it thereafter, not the developer.

        Yes, I do work for IBM. But this isn't an endorsement of a particular vendor, just that there's a whole market huge market that hasn't reeally been connected to free software before because the organizations doing the requesting haven't really wrapped their minds around the idea that they can buy work instead of software.
    • Basically, it comes down to accountability. When the RFP responses come back, the government agency needs to see that there is a clearly defined orginization that it can access to resolve issues. If they see 'free' or 'open source', red flags will go up. "You mean anyone can change this? No thanks"

      Maybe I'm just totally confused, but that argumentation is so stupid in my eyes, just because anybody _can_ change this, doesn't mean the software they used it changed by anybody. But is provided and serviced from the entity they bought it from. Or the software they give to "consumers", either the software is unaltered, (hash key matches) or you loose all support, it's the same as opening my TV and ironing a new transistior to a place where I think it will do some good.

      I can change assembler code of released products also, it's just ultmativly more work and time consuming, but does that change anything on it's support?
      • Maybe I'm just totally confused, but that argumentation is so stupid in my eyes

        Who said people in procurment are smart... or even rational. But, to their credit, they can close html tags.
        • Come on now - I mean they did say they were from "procurement" - and IT procurement at that! I mean actually having to have a bit of knowledge about IT would be stretching it a bit now! I mean heaven help us when people are actually have experience in what they were doing! Who would the rest of us at work have then for comic relief?
    • It's a standard way of thinking for government agencies. They will never adopt open source...

      It all starts at the top []. I see it happening.
    • Having worked for the public sector, I agree that the lack of appeal of free software comes down to accountability, but not as represented by this post. The gist of the problem is that public employees don't want to be accountable.

      The true killer feature of proprietary software for public administration is that when things go wrong, all it takes is for the people responsible to point at {Microsoft, Oracle, PeopleSoft, whoever} and scream "it's not my fault, it's their software that's buggy", and since that is one of the many accepted "facts of IT life", they're off the hook. With free software, on the other hand, they cannot do this.

      Mind you that this technique of flinging blame around does nothing to actually solve the problem, but keeping the system up only comes a very distant second after keeping they asses of the line with a bare minimum of effort.

    • This isn't true. I am working on a massive development effort for the US federal government based entirely on open-source technologies.
      It's going very well. I'm not allowed to talk much about it though.

      However, we were actually told from the beginning to use open-source by the government. Adoption does not seem to be a problem.
  • ensure competition ?
    The FSF, EFF and associated bodies just want to lobby open software into federal institution. This in fact avoids open competition because the software is choosen by political considerations not by qualitative ones. Competition has nothing do to with the question wether to use open software or not, but with the terms how these decisions are made.
    So dragging the open vs. close software issue in is rather ridiculous.
  • by Astrorunner ( 316100 ) on Sunday April 21, 2002 @08:59AM (#3382768) Journal
    Its true. Mostly. People in Procurement generaly have some idea as to what it is their job is about, and some idea about the items they need to buy. Sure, anyone can buy trash bags and styrofoam cups, but you expect them to pick an open-source package over, say, a Microsoft package?

    Its not very likely to happen, mostly because of the FUD factor, and that, IMHO, Microsoft is a "sure thing" at least in terms of keeping their jobs. For example, choosing Windows over Linux -- the buyer knows Microsoft will be around tomorrow, and thats what everyone knows, so damnit, if it costs more and its insecure, its what people want and expect. Except the people "in the know."

    It comes down to the people who need the software to sit down and convince the buyers why this or that open source package is comparable, if not superior.
    • You're absolutly right. If a government agency is smart enough, they get the services of a project management firm (I should say this is what my company does). A PM firm will basically act as a member of the agency's staff through all phases of the project, including, and espicaly, procurment.

      On the data side, we like to set standards. Often we will get this: "I want X software, or I want X hardware." In my state, this is illegal (but this happens all the time). We are careful to re-write RFPs to include the little line 'or equivilent'. This opens things up to alternitives.

      But in the end, most vendors are going to accomidate the perceived wishes of the government agencies, which is pretty much the Microsoft/Office solution. Open source might be better, but it's a wild card that most government orginizations ar'nt willing to consider.
    • My personal experience as a software sales rep is quite the opposite. Procurement has NO IDEA what they're buying. They're there to make sure they get the best price for it. Procurement officers are responsible for reporting, not blindly paying more. If it's the project manager that requests Open Souce, open source is what they get. Only question for procurement is where from, and how to get it at the best possible price (out to tenor is a popular phrase. The REAL people who need to be marketed to are the project managers. They need to see outstanding stability and functionality out of the box vs the status quo OS. Then you'll see more Open Source being Procured. Remember, procurement officers have no say whether something is purchased or not. That's Finance's job.

      - Yo Grark
      Who to purchase from...RedHat, BestBuy, a local Reseller....what do you mean this is free software? How can we spend taxes blindly if we use free software?!?
    • by Global-Lightning ( 166494 ) on Sunday April 21, 2002 @10:57AM (#3382991)
      Tell me about it. About three years ago, four of our servers were at the end of their useful life and needed to be replaced.
      After doing some intensive research, we found a package that satisfied our current and future needs. Top of the line dual processors, maxed-out memory, dual RAID controllers, the fastest harddrives, etc, at quite a nice price
      So we write up the paperwork and send it off to the procurement folks. About 9 weeks later (this is considered blindingly quick in the federal govt) The boxes finally arrive. Upon opening them, however, we discover these aren't the systems we requested. They had less memory, and more importantly, no RAID nor harddrives. We contact Procurement to let them know there has been an error. A week later, they call us back to inform us that there was *no error*. It turns out they took our request, and duplicating our effort, researched what was available. Taking it in their hands to decide what was best for us, they found and ordered these 'comparable systems'. Total savings: $39 per server.
      Long story short, we had to purchase everything else we needed seperately. Your tax dollars at work...

      The procurement system in the government has long been known to be broken. It's a system that was designed for the industrial age to acquire massive quantities of commodity goods. Applying this obsolete system in the 'Information Age' betrays its shortfalls:

      • Beaureucratic documentation and approval processes that adds no value. What they succeed in is adding weeks and months (and sometimes years) to the procurement cycle.
      • This system inherently favors large corporations over any other source. Instead of overhauling the process, the government tinkers with legislative band-aids such as small and minority business requirements
      • By design, the people with the knowledge to make intelligent purchase decisions are not allowed to make the purchases!
      The problem is that no one with any real influence has a true desire to fix it. While elected leaders decry waste and inefficiency, most of those wasted dollars is spent in someone's district. The beaureucracy doesn't want to change the system since it creates jobs which are a nightmare to eliminate. Lastly, the system creates a strong 'profit motive' for large business to work with the governent since inflated purchase prices go directly towards the bottomline.
      In the end it's just another means of creating pork, only much more difficult to see

      • Yes, idiots second-guessing you are annoying, and this even happens in the private sector -- it's happened to me -- but you have to understand why this second step is needed. Say your brother Joe owned a computer store. What would stop you from putting in requests for Joe's servers at inflated prices?
  • by globaljustin ( 574257 ) on Sunday April 21, 2002 @08:59AM (#3382769) Journal
    I've worked in government at the local and national level doing data entry among other things. Now listen you open source die hards, the people who would be using the cheap open source software you tout so much actually need the uniformity and technical commonality that microsoft provides.

    The typical government computer user can barely use basic microsoft products. And before you counter with "well linux is easier" remember the computer background that most of these people have. A home pc for checking email and that's about it.

    When open source can offer some real compatablility and uniformity then maybe using it in government applications can be feasable. Right now, it is not even on the table
    • I my guess is you have not used MS for long...

      There is no uniformity - except the color of screen.

      Look and standard and uniformity in macros in Word, Excel, Access - there is none.

      MS does not even have their own programs comply with their standards for third parties to get the MS logo on the package. Look at File and Print services in Word and Excel.

      Why you may ask (most likely not) because since MS does it differently - it makes the barrier higher for a competing program. Actually impossible. You can not match MS functionality and get the MS logo on your box.
    • This explains why the EPA uses Word Perfect rather than MS Word?

      The feds are hardly a microsoft-only shop, though obviously they license enormous amounts of Microsoft software.
    • ... the people who would be using the cheap open source software you tout so much actually need the uniformity and technical commonality that microsoft provides.

      They certainly aren't in government service because they like or have any knowledge of computers!

      I agree that government, perhaps more than most organizations, needs the ability to provide a uniform, easily administered desktop and applications, which are the same for everyone, everywhere. Unix lets you do this, via the X-term/compute server route. Windows doesn't. And that is pretty much that. Yes, I am aware that there are kludges you can use to accomplish something like this on windows, but it's difficult, expensive and non-standard (i.e., non-MS).

      As you pointed out, the government employees really have no computer experience nor ability, so there is no question of them having extensive MS-centered knowledge. They are clueless, and you will have to train them on the specific buttons they will need to push for their specific jobs, whatever platform and applications you provide, be it Mac, Windows or *nix. By going with a *nix platform, you are really giving up nothing except the kickbacks from the salesmen, and I suspect that has far more to do with the original topic (Which was ``WHy Not Use Open Source'') than this sidetrack.

      • Your points about UNIX are taken i guess, but the point of my comment is that the ordinary government user will have difficulty using OS/software that isn't like the one on their home PC that they use to write their resume or check The majority of the population does not know what UNIX is let alone how to use it. That's the main reason the gov't can't switch to something like UNIX.
  • formats (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Alien54 ( 180860 ) on Sunday April 21, 2002 @09:02AM (#3382774) Journal
    isn't this why we have SMGL and HTML etcc in the first place?

    It seems that this is "merely" a matter of enforcing existing standards. But then, I am not a bureaucrat.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Everybody here seems to be so in love with "competition".
    Noone competes for competition's sake people !
    Maybe on a game server, but not in the business world !
    If I compete, I want to win, that is I want to put an end to the competition so I can profit undisturbed with highest margin possible.

    I admire Microsoft for realizing a monopoly, killing competition and getting away with it !

    It must be a cool feeling, that after all these trials and findings of your dirty tactics, there are still customers who happily bend over and buy your crap.
  • Why push the GPL? (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by mgkimsal2 ( 200677 )
    Of all things, why this here? If my company wrote something that would be sold to a government agency (say, our lovely Michigan) the *last* thing I'd want to do is GPL it, because there's another potential 49 states that could use the same software. If it's GPL'd, there'd be nothing to stop Michigan from reselling it to the other 49 states, cutting us out.

    Does everyone's brain turn off the moment the letters GPL are typed together?
    • That isn't really the question. The question is, if say, your lovely Michigan, were buying software... why would they not consider GPL to be one positive factor when evaluating their purchase?

      I don't imagine it's an explicit public policy goal in Michigan for your specific company to make as much money as possible. If GPL-ing the software would price you out of the market, then the gov't could either procure your software w/o the GPL, or go with a competitor that can provide more public interest oriented licensing than you can.

      GPL doesn't have to be an absolute requirement, it could merely be a factor... just like price and quality. All other things being equal, it seems to me the government has an interest in promoting the sort of cross-pollination and collaborative environment that free licensing encourages, _especially_ in software it will be investing substantial monies, employees' time and training.
    • If you build a system for the government, the government owns it, and the government can do whatever it wants with it. It doesn't need to be GPL'd to allow this: it's the law. This is assuming that you're building custom software (say, web applications, as my company does). We make our money by providing follow-on services. No two agencies are alike; every one has its own needs, just as every company does. The situation is different if it's your copyrighted program code, or whatever. But this is a flawed model: you can't sell exactly the same solution over and over again. You have to customize it. And if you price that base solution too high, someone else could quite easily undercut you if their base solution is GPL'd. And price is everything in government...
      • If you build a system *and* contractually agree that they own it, then yes. If I build something, then simply license it to a government agency that agrees to license it per my terms, they do not own it.

        The government doesn't own SQL Server, DB2, Oracle or other databases. They aren't written specifically for the government, granted, but something my company writes may be written in such a way as to keep the base system ours and/or open, and the customizations specific to the agency would become their property.
  • ...and that's exactly where OpenSource is weak, let's face it.

    OpenSource is not allways that easy to install and use and interoperable as Microsoft product are. Support is not as well available. If we think in terms of competition on the desktop, OpenSource falls flat on the belly.

    This is not something, which can be fixed by speeches. We need to cooperate and coordinate better, we need to have better interoperability with de facto standards (and isn't any standard a de facto standard?).

    What the government can (and should) do, is to take care, that the interface definitions are open and without patents or copyrights. That's it's typical role. Everything else is up to us.

    Windows-Interfaces should be open and public - all of them.
    File formats of Word, Excel, Power Point etc. should be open and public.

    I think, it's time to come out of the religious-like discussion and go for competition. We have the pole position in the server market and a very good base in the schools and universities - next areas to tackle will be desktop and then quality, documentation and support.

    Geee, an OpenSource AG!!! With Linus for core development, Taco for press relations and me as janitor!
    • OpenSource is not allways that easy to install and use and interoperable as Microsoft product are. Support is not as well available. If we think in terms of competition on the desktop, OpenSource falls flat on the belly.

      To take some words right, you use "OpenSource" in the wrong way. You should mean general GNU Source or anything like that. Any product for windows _could_ be OpenSource, which has nothing to do with easy installation, it's just a matter of trust.

      And get the difference between FreeSoftware and OpenSource Software, OpenSourced software must not be free (merely most times it is) Infact GNU is _free_ software.
  • by jhines ( 82154 ) <> on Sunday April 21, 2002 @10:45AM (#3382963) Homepage
    Look at the license of the BSD's, this is what software developed with public money should be released as.

    The TCP/IP stack, which has been adopted by just about everyone, to great benefit is the prime example.

    The GPL folks can use the BSD code, as can MS, and the rest of the commercial world. If the taxpayers have paid for the developement of the code, it should be free across the board from there, as its paid for.
    • Unfortunately this doesn't work in an "ecosystem" where one dominant monopolist can bend the market to its will. Anything that communicates with anything else can be subverted by a powerful enough monopoly. So if Jo Bloggs, government funded researcher, produces a new type of chat SW (call it NewChat) which will revolutionize internet chat, we can all use it under BSD. But if MS "improves" it subtly (by changing protocols) and incorporates NewChat Plus! in the latest version of XP, our taxes have been used to extend their monopoly, because anyone wanting to use NewChat Plus! has to buy MS Windows. And NewChat falls into dis-use because MS's monopoly is so complete. Note that MS doesn't need to make NewChat any better; they just have to change it enough and then incorporate it as binary-only into their OS. And everyone who funded Jo Bloggs to create her SW gets to pay twice to get the benefits of the work.

  • Peru and OpenSource (Score:5, Informative)

    by opkool ( 231966 ) on Sunday April 21, 2002 @11:33AM (#3383105) Homepage

    Peruvian Congressman Villanueva has proposed this law [] (in Spanish. Use the Fish []) that will change the way Peru buys its software. The origin of the Law and it's "travel" within the Peruvian Congress is in this timetable []

    Congressman Villanueva's Law will ask for any software to be bought by the Government of Peru to provide data in open formats. It will also ask for the source code and the hability to modify the code, to adapt it to the necessities of the Peruvian Republic.

    The idea behind this is (liberal translation from Spanish):

    "We, the Governemnt, cannot allow any company -foreing or domestic- to ship software that can hide spyware. We, the Government, cannot allow a private company to own the data that belongs to the People of Peru. We, the Government, have special needs and obligations: provide the best 'bung for the buck', allow any Peruvian to audit the source code of our applications to make sure there's nothing hidden that endangers Peru, and to make sure that the data is available even if we change the software supplier. Any software that do not abides by this law will not be used by any Peruvian Government agency".

    Also, check what Microsoft Peru [] had to say about it. And what Congressman Villanueva answered [] to them.

    Go, Peru!
    • provide the best 'bung for the buck'

      Isn't that what a lot of prostitutes try to offer?

      I know this is off-topic and possibly even trollish, but hell, what's the use of having karma if you don't spend some every now and then.
  • Thinking of the latest Bill Gates rant this makes sense.

    Right idea, but reversed.
    It's more like... thinking about this, the latest Bill Gates rant makes sense. The last thing billg wants is for the broader public interest in licensing terms to become a public procurement policy question. His rant was a response to the threat of discussions like this, not the other way around.
    • Agree.

      You know what is really, really odd about all the Microsoft ooga-booga attempts to scare people is that it is really unsophisticated. It always points back directly to their paranoia, their agenda. I wonder why people don't see that?

      Of course Open Source is going to hurt him. It already is in South Korea where the government has punted Windows. Sure, it's not much, about 100K seats, but it's a start.

      Same thing with the EU and even the UK where government bodies for the first time are required to look at open source alternatives in the bidding process. That's right, they were not before. And we know that governments generally (perhaps ours excluded) have to go with the lowest bidder of acceptable quality.

      Gates must be crapping his drawers for reasons we already know. He should thank his lucky stars that desktop/client-side Linux has not takne off. Otherwise he would already be face down in the pool.
  • by Bowfinger ( 559430 ) on Sunday April 21, 2002 @12:00PM (#3383216)
    Background: I have some experience with government IT procurement. I worked for a state agency several years ago. I was responsible for several UNIX and PC-related procurements for my agency since those were my areas of IT responsibility. Then, because I had both technical expertise and experience with our procurement process, I was part of several procurement committees for other agencies and for state-wide contracts. These activities were all led by a centralized purchasing group.

    In my experience, the purchasing process itself discourages open source software. This isn't through malice, and it isn't even necessarily that management needs someone they can make responsible for problems. It's more of side-effect of the rules established to ensure open and fair use of public money. Other jurisdictions have their own rules with their own quirks, but I'll bet a lot of my experiences are common to others.

    For example, in order to be invited to submit a proposal, the vendor usually needs to be on the state's vendor list. The state requires this to be sure that vendors are qualified and legitimate - they don't want some bureacrat's buddy to hijack a bid through inside information. To get on the vendor list, a company must usually approach the state and provide qualification documentation. Large companies have sales and marketing groups that seek opportunities like this. They follow up with whatever is necessary to become a qualified vendor, just for the potential chance to be approached and asked for a bid someday. Open source interests don't have the resources to do this on a wide scale.

    Another obstacle for open source is the proposal process itself. When we issued an RFP (Request for Proposal), we typically provided dozens of pages of requirements and specifications. To ensure a level playing field for all vendors, every vendor had to provide a response for every one of our requirements, and every vendor had to rigidly follow every rule: deadlines, format of response, number of copies, and often some sort of up-front money as a performance bond.

    As you can guess, responding to an RFP can be expensive. You can't just mail in a brochure with a price list. A compliant response routinely required 50 to 100 pages of information. A response to a major RFP might contain two or three binders full of information, much of it custom-written to answer our specific questions. Even worse, we required that the vendor submit one complete copy for each person on the procurement committee, as many as ten or twelve copies (up to 36 binders total). In other words, responses came in boxes, not envelopes. That's a lot of up-front expense for a slim chance of giving away software.

    Other hurdles included mandatory in-person vendor conferences for each RFP, extensive reference requirements, contractual and legal requirements for vendors (are open-source interests prepared to certify EEO, ADA, OSHA, etc. compliance?), and on and on. In short, a massive bureaucracy of rules, regulations, and requirements, all enforced to make sure that the government agency can document that their public dollars are spent fairly and effectively.

    The paradox, of course, is that this process is so burdensome, it actually only rarely results in effective use of money. Even worse, because the process is so convoluted, it is more ripe for abuse by insiders who know how to play the game.

    The good news is that it is possible to bring open source software into government. The whole procurement mess only takes over when you try to buy products. If someone within the organization takes the initiative to make a decision, to select, download, and implement "free" (as in beer) software, there is no purchase, so there's no purchasing process. For example, while I worked in government, I brought in sendmail and Elm for our e-mail system. (I also had a lot of fun with Nethack, but that's another story.)

    If you want to use open-source software in your agency, your best bet is to just do it. The formal purchasing process is heavily slanted towards expensive products from large companies with deep pockets. Your only other hope is getting someone like IBM to propose the open-source software as part of a package of hardware and services.

    • I think your argument is specific to selling product. Open source has much greater penetration and potency in distinct network layers. Consequently, open source is really applicable when you're selling services (as we do).

      I write proposals for IT work in the Federal government. We sell services to several agencies, mainly focused on web application development. When we propose a solution, we look at what the needs are and devise an appropriate response.

      The response takes the form of saying, "We'll use product A, product B, and product C, and we'll customize them to serve your specific requirements" (because every agency needs its commercial software customized). Any of those products could be open source: the server OS, the database, the development platform, the application server...

      And because they're open source, we're often less expensive than our competitors (who might use, say, WebSphere when we'd use JBoss). Price being a big consideration in government, this is significant.

      Our company trades on our 'technology agnosticism.' We're partnered with Microsoft and Oracle (and IBM, to some extent), but we pick and choose the best software for the job. We've already used MySQL, Linux, PostgreSQL, J2EE, and all sorts of other open source technologies and tools to complete projects for the government.

      Of course, we also use Oracle and Microsoft when we need to. Introducing these products is important to government when they want assurances of accountability (even though those assurances are completely mythical most of the time; do any of us know of any instance when Microsoft has said, "Yeah, sorry about your failed project. Our marketing folks kinda overstated the capabilities of our product"??). Combating this kind of management thinking takes more than technical argument. Confidence in open source will take time and experience to build. We can only help that along by using open source wherever we can in the meantime.

      Right now, open source cannot compete if it's a marketing dogfight based on product. But it can compete when technological and cost constraints are analyzed closely.

    • We ended up NOT responding to an RFP recently precisely because it was too expensive to do so. Part of our response would have been the inclusion and customization of GPL and other open source software, but the RFP seemed to discourage that.

      It also seemed to discourage critical reading.

      Here's a sample of some questions which needed addressing (keep in mind that the RFP was really designed to get services out of people, because regardless of what anyone was saying, *everything* needed to be customized):

      Question #4
      What OS does your product run on?

      Question #15
      What operating systems do you support?

      Question #23
      We require products to run on NT and/or AIX.

      The last question there wasn't even a *QUESTION* - it was a statement. This was a rather large organization, and to not even be able to write a coherent document spoke volumes about the potential crap we'd have had to dealt with. I felt like replying that yes, our product runs on NT (3.51) just to get a reaction, but I doubt it would have been received well. :)
  • Believe it or not, the following announcement [in italian] [] from a branch of the italian government asking for system administration / OS software explicitly says they are not interested in open source products.

    No comment.
    • What a shame!

      I browsed through the Microsoft Word document and it says in two places "the operating system cannot belong to the OpenSource type ".

      Even, though, IMHO Linux could really do the job (support for Webspher, RISC architecture, JFS, 5 aprtitions, big amount of RAM...).


      Also, wasn't there an initiative in Italy to try to move away from Microsoft products? I remember reading something about it.

  • I read that article, and got very scared - I've just bought a new 52x CD ROM, and apparently this'll make my AOL disc explode!!!!!

    So I glued the CD to a small dinner plate to strengthen it, but it wouldn't fit in my drive until I hammered it in.

    But this didn't work anyway (it wouldn't read the damned CD, and I put in in the right way up and everything), and now my CD drive is broken. Don't buy 52x CD ROMs, they're dangerous!
  • by billstewart ( 78916 ) on Sunday April 21, 2002 @03:52PM (#3383917) Journal
    Yes, the "We'll just download it off the internet" model isn't very confidence-inspiring to a government procurement officer, and it doesn't provide the necessary chain of responsibility to get things fixed. Businesses often have similar concerns about using it. But there's a fix for this - Open-souce support companies!
    • Cygnus, one of the originals, provided lots of custom support, ports to new hardware, driver development, etc. This model works well for customers that need more customized support. Of course, they've been bought by Red Hat.
    • Red Hat and similar mass-market operating system packaging companies provide uniform environments for customers that need uniformity rather than customization. It's supported at least as well as Microsoft, because in addition to the random developers in the background, there are people at the packaging company who develop pieces that are needed for the mass-market install&upgrade market as well as doing extensive testing. ... Ok, maybe this is a bit optimistic (:-), but I haven't had Linux crash on me even weekly, compared to at least daily for most Microsoft OS's, and keeping the kernel and the window system separate means that even though I've seldom had a window system crash on Linux, it does much less damage than a Microsoft Windows window system hang, and somehow vi and emacs never carried viruses like Word and Excel, and /bin/mail and its more clueful GUI friends never got into the rampant virus epidemics that Exchange / Outlook get.
  • Back before we had open source operating systems, we had Unix and its relatives, and the Posix standards were developed as an industry-neutral platform for developing portable Unix applications. The US government adopted Posix support as a standard requirement for all computer purchases - hardware had to run Posix, and application software had to run on Posix. It was easy to get waivers for it, so everybody did, and eventually Microsoft built some Posix support on top of Windows NT so that procurement people could check the box on their contracts saying they'd met the requirement without actually having to use it for real applications.

    Too bad, especially since Microsoft Office hadn't really taken over the world - Word was popular, but so was Word Perfect, and both were relatively ugly and usually character-based WYSIWYG rather than fully GUI-based.

  • The problem in getting Federal procurement and local procurement are different and need to be looked at separately. But the big trouble in getting either procurement is essentially the same. Very few members of the Free Software Community is either prepared, interested or capable of placing Free Software into Government with the kind of labor that such an effort requires. And the result is that Free Software users are suffering badly at the hands of proprietary software companies willing to invest in the effort to gain these important contract.

    In the case of the Federal Government, the Website is an archiac maze of half understandable requests for bids, which require a decent project manager to target and follow up on. It might take 2 people nearly full time to navigate this sites IT requests and to follow these up. Is it possible for Free Software groups to actually work through this process? Why yes. But it's a lot of work, and it must be initially done without pay. LUGS would need to organize to hammer on this. And that's the rub, Free Software users are essentially lazy unless a project stimulates them.

    In addition, Free Software leadership seems to be uninterested in the economic interests of Free Software users. They seem to believe that if anything other than 'Freedom' is motivation to work with software that it undermines the movement. I hope that someone can begin the process of showing the FSF, and other groups that you must look after the economic interests of Free Software users if you are to protect and guarantee the 'Freedom' that Free Software is to guarantee. If people are to be enabled and Free to use Free Software, then they MUST have REASONABLE choices and opportunity to opt for using Free Software, and that means the WORK MUST BE DONE, and the economic benefits must be properly doled out to supporters in the trenches of the Free Software movement.

    With NYLXS [] in New York, we are desperately trying to address these issues, and in fact, the paper, "The Path from Here" is written to largely address this issue and rally the troops. Let's all hope that we NYLXS and tohers succeed in their efforts, and that Free Software can become truly unshackled and the economic engine it's founders envisioned


  • From my limited familiarity with government contracting, I know that being found to have violated certain laws can cause a vendor to cease to be qualified to be a government contractor. Does anyone know whether the MS antitrust charges have had any impact on MS' status as a qualified government contractor (U.S. federal, state or foreign), or whether any actions have been taken to permit them to qualify despite the antitrust charges?

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