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United States

New York City Examines Law Mandating Open Source 292

An anonymous submitter writes "The New York Council held a hearing on the 'SOFTWARE WARS.' The Select Committee on Technology in Government, chaired by Council Member Gale A. Brewer (D-Manhattan), held a public hearing Tuesday on software procurement practices by state and local governments. Representatives from the City's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, Microsoft, as well as numerous local software companies testified. Newsforge is carrying the testimony at the hearing of Tony Stanco, Director of The Center of Open Source & Government." Newsforge and Slashdot are both part of OSDN.
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New York City Examines Law Mandating Open Source

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  • Mandatory? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mistermund ( 605799 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @07:47AM (#5851653)
    The title of this post seems to imply that the decision to use open source should be mandatory. This is as harmful to the world of open source as it is helpful. Remember guys, it's all about decision - and the ability to use the best tool for the job. I've got a Windows workstation, a Linux server, and a Mac laptop on my desk. I feel that each OS is best suited to that particular role, and I use them accordingly.

    The article states in regards to lobbying against OSS: " This is a very subtle silencing of Open Source. It is supremely disingenuous, and violates the fundamental principle of a free market: fully informed decision-making. Why shouldn't procurement officers be asked to consider Open Source software?

    Fully informed decision making is far from mandatory policies.
    • Re:Mandatory? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by dfiguero ( 324827 )
      But it says mandatory use of Open Source software not of non-Linux platforms no? As long as MS, Apple and other vendors open the source to the government I assume they'll be fine. I know I'm daydreaming but when it comes to government the more transparent it is the better and that includes software -IMO.
    • Re:Mandatory? (Score:5, Informative)

      by goldspider ( 445116 ) <ardrake79@@@gmail...com> on Thursday May 01, 2003 @07:53AM (#5851690) Homepage
      I think this has more to do with mandatory consideration than it does with mandatory use. Isn't similar legislation in process in California as well?
    • Re:Mandatory? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mccalli ( 323026 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @08:07AM (#5851785) Homepage
      it's all about decision - and the ability to use the best tool for the job....I feel that each OS is best suited to that particular role, and I use them accordingly.

      But you are a private individual (or company), and have little or no need for public accountability in those choices. The money you spent on the tools you choose is entirely your own.

      This is entirely different to a public body's decision-making process. There, it is other people's money that is being spent. The choice should not be merely what's best for that body, but what's best for the people who are funding that body. It could be argued that the public should have a right to use software that they have funded.

      I actually agree with your post, but I feel the debate is framed in a different manner to that which you suggest.

      Cheers,
      Ian

    • I've got a Windows workstation, a Linux server, and a Mac laptop on my desk.

      Whoa! There must be about as much space on your desk to do real work as a post-it-note.
    • Thoughtful reply (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 01, 2003 @09:18AM (#5852188)
      I have to add my concern here. I am all for open source software, products, services, etc. I use linux at work. I have used linux of several years now. I have watched it mature into a robust server OS, and a bloated workstation OS. I enjoy working with it, and other than the GUI being slow with all but a few WMs, I enjoy it. This includes kernel rebuilds, driver hunts, rpm nightmares and the like.

      That said, I am not sure how I feel about mandating OSS. Why? Because this economy is horrible right now. If you are in IT, and have a job, don't think of quitting anytime soon, if you want to stay in IT. Jobs are cut all over, and workloads are heaped on those that do have jobs. But IT isn't the only sector hit. I am speaking of NYC looking to lay off 1000s of people soon. If they 'mandate' OSS, then they can use that same purchasing principal to hiring people to work on those systems- at very low wages (hell, maybe even internships). Doesn't make sense, right? Well, it appears that in the business world, if they purchase a very expensive system, companies think they need high end good IT people to work on them. Our industry benefits from this by getting just wages. But if the system is dirt cheap or free, then they look at that and think 'well, we cut costs in IT here, let's keep our costs low and bring in a qualified person at a lower wage'. They hire at a lower wage. And, they are less likely to try to use IT to help the business make money. No incentive. IT becomes the money pit businesses claim it is.

      Now, this isn't typical in all businesses, mostly in large businesses and governments. Small to medium businesses usually understand (even if they aren't too thrilled about it) the costs required to upkeep systems, and are more open minded to getting low cost solutions and hiring IT people at decent (not great) wages.
      • If they 'mandate' OSS, then they can use that same purchasing principal to hiring people to work on those systems- at very low wages (hell, maybe even internships). Doesn't make sense, right? Well, it appears that in the business world, if they purchase a very expensive system, companies think they need high end good IT people to work on them. Our industry benefits from this by getting just wages. But if the system is dirt cheap or free, then they look at that and think 'well, we cut costs in IT here, let's
    • Remember guys, it's all about decision - and the ability to use the best tool for the job.

      And the job is to ensure that government data remains available and accessible to the government and its citizens regardless of the whims or fortunes of private enterprise.

      As engineers, it is easy to forget that there is more to a "job" than just the specific operations you want the computer to perform. There's the licensing terms -- are you allowed to do what you need? Maintainability, support, cost, etc etc. A
    • I didn't see anything in the article actually calling for mandatory open source, only laws allowing the consideration of using open source. The headline was misleading.
  • Ummm.... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Knightsabre ( 101754 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @07:53AM (#5851687) Homepage Journal
    Representatives from the City's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, Microsoft, as well as numerous local software companies testified.

    I assume that was meant to read 'Representatives from the City's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications AND Microsoft, as well as numerous local software companies testified.'?

    Not that we didn't already suspect there was evil at work in government... ;)
    • Re:Ummm.... (Score:3, Informative)

      by Latent IT ( 121513 )
      Funny trivia:

      City's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications

      That's right. They're called DoITT. Pronounced (seriously here) "Do it."

      Which, when they send memos mandating something, that's really all they say. Not really why, but just do it!

      Though, they are usually right, believe it or not.
  • by d-man ( 83148 ) <chris@th e y e l l o w box.com> on Thursday May 01, 2003 @07:57AM (#5851712) Homepage
    I hope this story hits the mainstream news wires soon. As a volunteer firefighter 10 minutes from the City line, it's depressing and disturbing to hear that the City's funds are so mismanaged that eight FDNY firehouses have to be closed. Maybe the UFA (the firefighters' union) should pick up on this story and run some numbers past the mayor and the council.

    Go Tony!
    • by benzapp ( 464105 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @08:30AM (#5851911)
      MOST of thse closed firehouses are in northern Brooklyn in East Williamsburg, Bushwick, Bed-Sty, etc... These firehouses date from when these were the most popular neighborhoods in Brooklyn (1880-1920). When many were built, southern areas like Bensonhurst still had farms. Today, this part of Brooklyn is among the worst ghetto in the city and the population is far less than it once was. Even though the population density of Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge, and the southern neighborhoods have grown tenfold, they have not received further fire coverage.

      These neighorhoods will have fire coverage in line with the city average.

      I believe one firehouse is being closed downtown, a relic from when more people lived there. It could be argued that trend is reversing (I mean, look at the price for an apartment on the Lower East Side, a total ghetto just 10 years ago)... But most of those firehouses just don't need to be there.
      • But most of those firehouses just don't need to be there.

        First, that's simply not true. Fire houses, at least in NYC, tend to be spaced in such a way that minimizes response time for the whole city, not just one neighborhood, regardless of population density or income level. Traffic is still traffic. Also, if the rig in your local firehouse is out on a job, and you report a fire in your house, the engine that reports comes from the next-nearest firehouse, and the entire battalion, and eventually the entire borough, fans out to fill the gaps. Fewer fire houses farther apart breaks the whole system down, and can, in theory, lead to higher response times borough-wide.

        But besides all that, you're missing my point. This is a way to save the city a few bucks. What's better -- closed firehouses and slot machines in the city (another wonderful Bloomberg idea), or open firehouses and open source?
      • Ghetto areas have the most fires. Today few houses in good neighborhoods go up in flames because of new saftey features.

        Poor areas, areas with lots of abandoned building in particular, are vulnerable to kids and lunatics who get a thrill out of setting things on fire. When abandoned buildings go up, they have a tendency to spread quickly and create problems.

        In middle class areas, 70% of firemen's duties are acting as first responders and paramedics for anything from car accidents to gas leaks and medical
    • As a volunteer firefighter 10 minutes from the City line
      Is that 10 minutes by walk, car, subway or by fire truck with sirens at full blast????
  • Good news (Score:5, Interesting)

    by r_arr ( 613036 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @08:01AM (#5851736)
    Seeing how the city is almost broke and getting no support from Albany.(I live in NYC) And thinking about raising taxes or levies as they call it. I guess purchasing expensive MS products is out of the question. So I guess opensource would be the logical choice.
    • Re:Good news (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gbjbaanb ( 229885 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @09:14AM (#5852164)
      yeah, opensource is the logical choice if all you're doing is attempting to get software for free.. except that the city will hire IBM (or simlar) to consult them as to which software to use, and implement it, and maintain it.....

      free software? nothing's ever free. This will prevent them from just buying more of whatever they've currently got, which is always cheaper than buying new stuff.
      • Re:Good news (Score:5, Insightful)

        by div_2n ( 525075 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @10:16AM (#5852680)
        Except that with free software they don't EVER have to worry about whether or not their licensing is compliant. That alone will free up resources not having to worry about it or keep up with it.

        Free software frees you to focus on what matters--keeping the systems running smoothly.
      • Re: Good news (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Black Parrot ( 19622 )

        > yeah, opensource is the logical choice if all you're doing is attempting to get software for free.. except that the city will hire IBM (or simlar) to consult them as to which software to use, and implement it, and maintain it.....

        More likely Microsoft will pay them to to use Windows.

        > free software? nothing's ever free. This will prevent them from just buying more of whatever they've currently got, which is always cheaper than buying new stuff.

        Depends on whether you're thinking short term or l

      • Re:Good news (Score:3, Insightful)

        yeah, opensource is the logical choice if all you're doing is attempting to get software for free.. except that the city will hire IBM (or simlar) to consult them as to which software to use, and implement it, and maintain it.....

        Whether they need consultants on an ongoing basis is an issue that is seperable from which software they need. It's not as though windows software solves all its own problems (in fact, at the rate windows viri and vulnerabilities have been cropping up, I'd say it's the reignin

      • There is no reason the city of New York could not have a terrific inhouse IS department. Getting rid of software fees could free up the initial money needed to start the chain and once started the low software fees + low consulting fees allows it to continue. Government doesn't have to be wasteful and silly any more than corporations do. Most east coast cities hit bottom 15-20 years ago and are doing an excellent job of improving things in every sphere.
    • I think I'd rather have my tax dollars going to support some Open-Source geeks working for the gov't than being poured (read: pissed away) into MS's newest licensing scheme whereby they get MORE of the government's money so they can take out even more questionable 'software patents' and lobby for the legislation to allow them to stifle my innovation.

      And I don't want to fund Palladium. Not from my pocket, not from my taxes. Write your representatives and tell them that it does matter *how* they spend your
  • A waste of time (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tphil913 ( 608067 )
    NYC is staring a $10 BILLION deficit this year alone and this is all they can talk about?

    What a waste of everyone's time and taxpayer money. Maybe they should do something more productive, like taking classes on accounting and business management so they can solve the REAL problems facing the city.

    This shouldn't even be an issue for a government.
    • Re:A waste of time (Score:3, Insightful)

      by peretzpup ( 530366 )
      Wow, you're so right! Wasting valuable time considering cost cutting measures when there's a DEFICIT to be dealt with!
    • NYC is staring a $10 BILLION deficit this year alone and this is all they can talk about?
      holy strawman argument, batman. my guess is based on the other headlines i'm reading, such as the transit fare hike that's coming next week, the proposed commuter tax, the slashing of the police and fire forces, etc., that they're talking about a whole bunch aside from thinking about open source.
  • by rf0 ( 159958 ) <rghf@fsck.me.uk> on Thursday May 01, 2003 @08:03AM (#5851750) Homepage
    Whatever way you look at this you have to heopt he the NY council will get the right tool for the right job. If you have a system that is old,closed source but works for months on end then why should you change it?

    Also if you think about the machines on workers desktops should they all be switch to Linux as its free? I personally would say no as you will soon lose more with a drop in productivity as people have to learn something new.

    Just my $0.02

    Rus
    • If you have a system that is old,closed source but works for months on end then why should you change it?

      Because when the company stops supporting that system, you don't get important security fixes (woe betide those using NT 4), you're basically forced to change anyway, but without a guarantee that you will still be able to access your old data.

      Do I get a cookie? I like cookies.
    • > Also if you think about the machines on workers desktops should they all be switch to Linux as its free? I personally would say no as you will soon lose more with a drop in productivity as people have to learn something new.

      As opposed to having to learn something new anyway, every time Microsoft or Apple come out with a new version of whatever product your people use?

      Commercial companies are fond of gratuitous changes in UIs, because if they don't make gratuitous changes their customers will think

      • If you configure the WinXP desktop in classic mode, you'll find that it looks and works pretty much the same way as Win95 did 8 years ago apart from som admin type stuff which the users shouldn't be allowed to touch anyway.
  • Sigh... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Latent IT ( 121513 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @08:03AM (#5851755)
    I happen to work for NYC government, and this post makes me want to cry.

    Something people need to understand - city/federal government isn't anything similar to amazon or google. They can save money using open source - but we're the government - we're not running a search engine here, or selling books on the web. Most of what any city government IT department does is desktop support for people who use computers to do their jobs, usually entering some kind of information into one database or another.

    Something else to keep in mind - we're not exactly paying the big bucks on salary either, especially for NYC. The kind of people who use these computers are very frequently people on a welfare assistance program that requires you to work to get your welfare check. Most of the time, these are some pretty great people, but they didn't exactly grow up with a computer in the house... ease of use is a big issue, and I think that it's still safe to say that crown belongs to Microsoft.

    The only other big thing is communication. E-mail and the like. We use Groupwise in my agency, which is much lower cost than exchange, since Novell cuts us some pretty good deals on state contract. But we need to communicate to other people - the central IT agency for the city currently mandates that we maintain an exchange gateway, since there is no anti-virus product I can find that can scan attachments in groupwise. Even if that wasn't an issue, these are fairly important political figures, and so they demand blackberries - Mayor Bloomberg is *huge* on these things, and insists that people have them, and be able to respond to any e-mail within 10 minutes. If you can tell me how to get the BES (Blackberry Enterprise Server) running on Linux, I'll give you a great big cookie. There's countless things like this.

    And back to those databases? Honestly, many of them still pop open a DOS window, for crying out loud. Even more require a *terminal emulator* to connect to an IBM mainframe. I think it's safe to say that we've been keeping the software budget on the cheap. Our standard workstation runs Windows 98, with Office 97. And keep in mind, they *come with the PC's*... so we're not exactly hosing money around here.

    Sorry. A little bitterness slipped through there. =)

    I'll sum up. Open source is good, and we use it when we can. We have a few Linux servers in production, and have used it for DNS, DHCP, Jabber, and firewalling. But mandating open source is just a *bad* thing.
    • Re:Sigh... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by IamTheRealMike ( 537420 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @08:13AM (#5851822)
      But mandating open source is just a *bad* thing.

      No no, read the testimony. This isn't about forcing people to use open source, it's about forcing people to consider it. Everybody knows there are some things open source can't do, some things that proprietary software does better, somet things free software does better BUT there's too much lockin to make it worthwhile etc etc etc.

      This is just about trying to counter balance the lobbyists (why do such people even exist?).

    • Re:Sigh... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Latent IT ( 121513 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @08:19AM (#5851856)
      A small follow up:

      I realized, you could reply to my post, "But the city spends 750 million on IT each year! There's got to be something to cut somewhere!"

      Well, There's about 300,000 city workers. Though that number is a'dropping, and maybe that is too many, but that's a discussion for another time.

      750 million/300,000 = $2,500. But that's all of IT. It's not just workstations, it's IT people, software, development, servers, *wiring*, paying for internet access... you get the idea. My agency has about 1500 users, and all of them get internet access (intended to be used for job posting/research) through a single T1 line. At maybe $900/month, that means people in our agency get internet access for...

      Sixty cents a month.

      Seriously, *most* of city government isn't out to screw you. On average, we're a hard working bunch of people who have to follow a lot of rules to try to save *your* money. Everythings bid out, justified, gone over with a fine tooth comb, and then sometimes turned down anyway. Leave government waste to the feds. =)
    • Re:Sigh... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Chanc_Gorkon ( 94133 ) <gorkon@gmai l . c om> on Thursday May 01, 2003 @08:33AM (#5851931)
      We use Groupwise in my agency, which is much lower cost than exchange, since Novell cuts us some pretty good deals on state contract. But we need to communicate to other people - the central IT agency for the city currently mandates that we maintain an exchange gateway, since there is no anti-virus product I can find that can scan attachments in groupwise

      That's funny. We found one. Not sure the exact product, but we do use one. In any event according to Novell [novell.com] in Groupwise 6.5 you can have it filter Junk mail and viruses. Plus when all of those exchange servers got beat up thanks to Code Red, our Groupwise server was fine. Also, for your blackberries, could you not just set up forwarding rules that forward the mail and then the mail back from the blackberry could be sent thru their smtp? I mean if your worried about e-mail security, your probably should not be using a Blackberry anyway.

      I agree about Open Source not being mandated though. There are lots of good products out there that deserve attention as well. I am all for using the best tool for the job period. Just like you can't use a hammer for everything, you can't use Open Source for everything either.
      • Two comments:

        Just like you can't use a hammer for everything, you can't use Open Source for everything either.

        Even if the government places requirements that the software be open source (which isn't the issue, but is an even more extreme circumstance), how would that be a problem? If MS wanted their business, they would give them the source code along with the software. That doesn't make it Free software by any means, it just means the govt has the source code and can modify and study it for their own nee

        • You make good points, but are a little off on specifics. Firstly, you highlighted the ambiguity about the term "Open Source", which is a good thing to bring up. I think most readers in this forum equate "Open Source" to "Released under the GPL" or some equivalent, but it is an inherently vague term, which one would need to clearly defined before any discussion of mandating it would be meaningful.

          I like your second point, too, that gov't orgs should not put their data into formats or software that could r
        • Open Soruce is a trademarked term involing the open source definition [opensource.org].
    • One of the things I noticed about working in a NYC government backed institution was their inexplicable ability to "back the losing horse." During my tenure, we had a network based on Token Ring, routed by Bay routers, on a Novell network, and editing documents using Word Perfect. No joke. We must have spent millions as an organization on Token Ring cards for every laptop and PC.
    • There are a few thinmgs to consider here, first, the ease of use factor:

      If you have apps popping open DOS windows, you've already given up on ease of use. DOS is an abomination. I am an experianced Linux user and live by the command line, but find the DOS command line to be a real pain (not impossible, just a great big pain) Compared to DOS, Linux would be a big step up for usability.

      Much of the so-called usability issues with Linux are really more a lack of familliarity. Windows also has a great many u

    • ease of use is a big issue, and I think that it's still safe to say that crown belongs to Microsoft. Every time I see this line of thought, I laugh. I've had it up to here {gestures about 3 feet over head} with the inconsistency of the Microsoft UI.

      The "big secret" to being easy to use is consistency. When you see a round doorknob, you expect to turn it, not pull. But Windows has to have the most inconsistent UI design I've ever seen; the following two things are the most blantant breakage of consistency

      • In all fairness that's a feature not a bug. What you are really talking about is document language vs. interface language. Take the distintion between typing Russian into Word in the American version of Windows/Word vs. typing Russian into Word into the Russian version of Windows/Word. In the first example you are interacting with a native English product in Russian so the message language is English. In the second example everything is in Russian. Microsoft offers you both options.

        Your inferface lan
    • But mandating open source is just a *bad* thing.

      Doesn't anyone bother to RTFA? They are not talking about mandating FS/OSS. They are talking about mandating that government officials consider it as an option, and justify not using it if they don't. The idea is to level the playing field, and give FS/OSS a chance to compete on it's merits. Quite frankly, also, there are many things -- like voting software -- which simply should be FS/OSS as a matter of principle (transparency).
    • Most of what any city government IT department does is desktop support for people who use computers to do their jobs, usually entering some kind of information into one database or another.

      That is absolutely true from a manhours perspective. You have to remember that from a budget perspective things like: fees for software, consultants to install/configure/customize software, maintance contracts .... play a much larger role. Inhousing all that work would save a ton of money.

      Also desktop support is rea
  • by Steve B ( 42864 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @08:04AM (#5851763)
    Governments should not mandate the use of a specific tool, but should mandate that the documents and files created are stored in an open (fully documented and non-proprietary) form so that legacy data cannot be held hostage and can be accessed by citizens regardless of their software preferences.
    • by IamTheRealMike ( 537420 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @08:16AM (#5851846)
      an open (fully documented and non-proprietary) form

      I see a lot of people saying this on Slashdot. Unfortunately, it's rather badly defined exactly what "non-proprietary" is, and I feel that open formats are only half the story anyway. By now the MS Office file formats have been mostly reverse engineered and there is documentation available on the web about them. OpenOffice can read them, as can AbiWord. AbiWord however, cannot read OpenOffice files (d'oh).

      So, which is more open? They are both fully documented, arguably Word has better multi-vendor support. Both the OpenOffice and Word formats are controlled by large companies (effectively). Therefore, by your logic, we should all use Word. Except that Word isn't open source nor free software, and we've got nowhere.

      Open formats are one thing, but they are useless without equally open implementations as well. Hence the emphasis on the software.

      • by guanxi ( 216397 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @09:35AM (#5852331)
        By now the MS Office file formats have been mostly reverse engineered and there is documentation available on the web about them. OpenOffice can read them, as can AbiWord.

        Nothing reads MS formats reliably enough. Every alternative products says they do, but every time I get down to the details of the issue, it turns out they do, BUT,
        * only simply formatted documents
        * many features aren't supported
        * there's degradation on every conversion, so you can't pass the documents back and forth too often

        In the end, my users would have to manually reformat the documents, even if only to a small degree, almost every time. They don't have the time or patience.
      • by russellh ( 547685 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @09:57AM (#5852504) Homepage
        MS changes the file format to break compatibility on purpose, to force upgrades, and that is something which is well-documented.

        Wait, I have an idea. Let's chuck this open-standard "non-proprietary" ASCII crap and return to the standardized, stable, American, and well-documented beauty queen that is EBCDIC. I mean, nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM, and of course ASCII is the domain of hippies and microcomputer losers, which will never succeed, by the way.

      • by 4of12 ( 97621 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @09:59AM (#5852525) Homepage Journal

        They are both fully documented,

        Uh, excuse me, but if the formats were fully documented, then why did reverse engineering of MS Office file formats even need to be done?

        From what I understand, there is a signficantly large mysterious black box called Word that transforms these "documented formats" into displayable form on screen or to paper. That publicly documented transformation of various flavors of .doc into displayed form is what's missing for Word users and it's what can be found by examining OpenOffice source code as much as you like.

        Using OpenOffice doesn't make you beholden to a large corporation; Sun can't hold your document hostage by saying that you have to run OpenOffice and you can only do that on Sun's operating system.

        If you don't like the direction Sun is pushing OpenOffice with its StarOffice work, then you're copy the entire source code base and start making MoreOpenOffice even better. Shoot, if you have great ideas for improving OO and present them to the OO developers, they might even help you do it.

      • To point out the painfully obvious, AbiWord doesn't open OO files because the team doesn't consider it worth the effort at this point. Word has orders of magnitude more users than OO. To draw from your own post, the Word doc format had to be reverse engineered, whereas OO is open source. If the developers really cared they could just look at the code and see what the OO doc format is. As can any others. I'm not sure what the multi-vendor relevance is, you mean I can call CompUSA when a doc doesn't open?

        Argu

      • I had someone send me a schedule in MS Word format.
        I opened it and looked at it on KWord.

        After some disagreement about what it said, I took it to MS Word, and sure enough, the document was completely different. I think I was seeing something that had been deleted and replaced, actually.

        Likewise, equations, pictures, tables, all do not translate successfully, regularly. Shoot, MS Word can't even read old MS Word files, and sometimes can't read new MS Word files, you would think that they have the full
      • by dominator ( 61418 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @11:09AM (#5853136) Homepage
        As AbiWord's and wvWare's maintainer (and author of the DOC, RTF, and OpenWriter support in Abi), I'd just like to point out a few things in the parent post:

        AbiWord can read and write the OpenOffice format to a large degree. I direct you to: http://www.abisource.com/lxr/source/abiword-plugin s/wp/impexp/OpenWriter/xp/

        From experience, handling DOC and OpenOffice/OASIS SXW format aren't even comparable. SXW's format is much more intelligible to us humans and its documentation is much more complete and accurate than the DOC documentation.

        In order to read/write DOC, you need specialized OLE2 libraries (libole2, libgsf, POI) and a deep knowledge of DOC and how it applies binary SPRM diffs to create the master document. There are no user-friendly or command-line type tools to create OLE2 files. OSS language bindings to OLE2 parsers are non-existant. A generic "MSWord file format" parsing/generation tool simply does not exist. SXW's XML format at least helps in this regard.

        In order to read/write a SXW file, you need a Zip implementation (winzip, zip, libgsf, pkzip, ...) and an XML parser. There are a plethora of both on the market for every flavour of OS and language you can imagine.

        The end result? It's near-trivial to write a script to generate a SXW file as the output of a report, and say, serve it up on the web. It's near impossible to do the same with DOC, unless you're using a COM interface into Word on Win32.

        The problem with the documentation on DOC is that MSFT pulled its documentation from MSDN and other sites, and is unlikely to ever release newer versions. The last oficially documented format was Word 97 (8), while we're at something like Word 11 now. Fortunately, the formats are similar enough for us to get by. OpenOffice's documentation, however, will always be available from openoffice.org. This is quite significant.

        Granted, DOC is ubiquituous in the marketplace today, and we software vendors should do our best to inter-operate with all of the MS Wordies out there. I'd give it a few years, though - SXW is a very new format, and it's only natural that it take a bit of time for it to be widely adopted. But it is being adopted by GnomeOffice and KOffice, amongst others. I bet that you'll be seeing a lot more SXW files floating around the 'net. And this is a *very* good thing.

        Dom
      • First, the Word formats are not fully documented, second the Word formats are no standard because they change all the time which is a pain, third no Word document can really be reliably read by anything other than the exact same version of Word, other versions or other programs "usually" work, but fail often enough.
  • by subreality ( 157447 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @08:20AM (#5851865)
    The title to the /. article looks like it's wrong.

    Having actually RTFA, it sounds like they're not advotacting mandating open source - they're trying to *prevent* mandating *commercial software*. It sounds like MS has been lobbying that allowing open souce software would unfairly impact them, and this is people trying to fight it down.
  • I thought we had already discussed this with the bill in Oregon. To me the best comment out of the whole discussion is the one [slashdot.org] about making open standards mandatory rather than oss. Looks like politicians do not read /. !!
    • I totally agree. At the very least, fundamentally the gov't should be utilizing open standards, and not necessarily/absolutely open source software. Now obviously open source software often is based upon open standards. Having said that, logically OSS becomes a solid candidate because it almost always is based on open standards.

      So I don't think a commercial product that is based largely on open standards is a gov't no-no. In fact, the gov't could use any OSS or Commercial SW they see fit -- at least t

  • by mainguym ( 611910 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @08:32AM (#5851926)
    The article (or one that it was linked to) was about requiring agencies to consider open source products if they are available. The fact that anybody cares about this sort of legislation is very telling.

    To me, software is a tool and currently the state of affairs is much like going to work and not being able to use a free tool because the boss only wants Craftsman or Snap-on. In the real world, this legislation would be similar to saying "before paying money to someone for something, first see if it is available for free".

    When put that way it seems like the legislation would be needless, but the problem is that software companies have 2 marketing/sales folks for every one developer. Most open source projects have zero marketing guys, and the only projects who have any would be corporate folks in a mixed model like redhat or mysql.

    In summary (while typing on my windows98 machine) I think this sort of direction is important from the government. The most important thing about this is that the data be stored in a non-proprietary, open format that is well documented. I don't want to have to pay for (via taxes) a copy of microsoft exchange so that I can communicate with my legislative body via email when there are 20+ FREE products that can do the same thing for much less money.

    Now we should get about 20 Microsoft ROI monkeys who will try and explain how microsoft product X is cheaper than product Y. Give it up, we all know that ROI stands for Really Optimistic Ignorance! L8R

  • Missing the Point (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @08:35AM (#5851945) Homepage Journal
    Microsoft can not allow one of the world's most visible cities to even consider open source solutions. This is not about New York City using Open Source. This is about getting Microsoft to underwrite some of that billion dollar budget shortfall.

    I suspect large bribes*cough*grants will be paid and the whole issue will be quietly dropped.

    • It's sad, but I think you are right...

      That is largely how government works. :(
    • I suspect large bribes*cough*grants will be paid and the whole issue will be quietly dropped.

      You're probably very close to the truth. The problem, though, is that administrations change and Microsoft will have to keep buying them out (in the literal sense, not the "Buy 'em out, boys!" Compuglobalhypermeganet [snpp.com] sense).

      This will become a major expense for Microsoft, and I can see that $40B dwindling. It may look like a lot right now but if it's not being replaced faster than it's leaving, then it'll

  • In theory, the free-market means that people are free to buy as well as are free to sell what they feel is the best solution to a given problem, be it feeding one's livestock, grooming one's prune trees or insuring against meteorites.

    Of course, it goes without saying that free choice is only possible when there is a genuine possibility of learning beforehand all the characteristics (good or bad) of any given product.

    However, when it comes to software, it seems that the bourgeois involved in making closed-

  • by BlueYoshi ( 670106 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @08:52AM (#5852042)

    I think that companies and administration need to take care on the perpetuity of the information they store and use. Backup is important but what append if you cannot read the data from you backup? And what is happening if the application says 'bad registration key'. Please call our commercial departement...' and the software company no more exist?

    If you're using Open Source software you can finfd solution because you can fix the problem by yourself (or pay somebody). But if you are using propietary software you can't an may not fix the problem.

    It's why I think that if you use proprietary software you need to impose that they use standardized data format so you can change from software provider and keeping you data.

  • by AdamBa ( 64128 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @09:43AM (#5852402) Homepage
    (in the linked-to article, Tony Stanco gives seven reasons why open source is good). My aim is to think about "how easy is it for a proprietary source software company to defuse these points."

    Democratic Implications: I don't know if I would phrase it as "democratic implications", but his point about having data formats be open is excellent. The second argument about transparency in voting software is a bit of a stretch. People already use proprietary software for all kinds of important government functions, and the republic still stands. Presumably if someone really pressured a company to have their e-voting source code examined by an independent person, they could allow it without going full "open source".

    Privacy: This might be a good buzzword, but a bad argument. Why can't open source software transmit or leak privacy data? The vague monopoly reference I suppose will play well in a state that was one of the parties to the DOJ Microsoft lawsuit.

    Cost: I think it is best not to focus on cost. First of all because the price of software is such a small part and there are more support options for some proprietary software. But mostly because institutions already consider cost when making buying decisions.

    R&D/Technology Transfer: Doubtful. Telling a government to buy such-and-such because of a "general good to society/it's the right thing to do" argument is not going to fly in a time of budget crunch.

    Education: Not a bad argument, but still not something governments can probably afford to worry about right now. Perhaps you could argue that the programmers working for the city/state itself could benefit from seeing the source.

    Job Creation: NO NO NO. Don't say this. It will not work to argue that the open source industry, with its share prices around $1, is a better way to create jobs then the closed source one with Microsoft, Oracle, etc.

    Security: This is a good argument, but badly stated. 1) the "more eyeballs" theory of open source code quality is not proven 2) The quote in question relates to *banning* open source software and apparently simply refers to the fact that open source applications such as sendmail are heavily used by the DoD. I think a much better way to approach security is to talk about security of the *data* stored by open source, because it is easier to access.

    So in summary -- the real argument should be for open data formats, not open source. That's the argument that Microsoft is going to have a hard time with.

    - adam

    • Privacy: This might be a good buzzword, but a bad argument. Why can't open source software transmit or leak privacy data? The vague monopoly reference I suppose will play well in a state that was one of the parties to the DOJ Microsoft lawsuit.

      Given that MS is a corporation with a well-documented history of criminal activity, the government should be goddamned well concerned with privacy when it comes to a product they can't examine. Simply taking Microsoft's word for what's in the product and what it d
  • ...than see Open Source mandated. No single source of software should be mandated. The government should be free to evaluate each solution based on its merits and price/performance. Mandating anything like this is a bad idea.

    • No, MS getting every contract would be more wrong than mandating OSS, period. The ONLY way that it would be acceptable would be if the mandate was for fully open standards, regardless of whether the actual vendor/provider is OSS or closed source. So long as government databases, documents, etc, are in an open format that ANYONE can read with or without a propriatory product, then all is well.

      So, the question shouldn't be whether to mandate OSS or not, but whether or not fully open standards and formats

  • Software wars map [atai.org]...

    The previous ones were available through this link [atai.org].
  • by guanxi ( 216397 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @09:52AM (#5852474)
    The author writes very clearly, but focuses on the issues important to the Open Source community, not on the issues important to the audience.

    Democratic implications? It's a wonderful ideal, an I support it and I'm sure some of the audience does, but if that's one of the first arguments you offer, you look pretty weak. Maybe I'm misjudging the audience.

    Educate the next generation of IT professionals? That's wonderful, but is the user base geeks-in-training or city workers? Even in schools, most students -- believe it not -- aren't studying comp. sci. Heck, I'm an IT professional, and the hassles of Linux aren't worth it for my desktop either.

    Privacy? Few people have the obsession with it that is found (rightfully, I think) on Slashdot.

    Their concern is price and performance. Focus on the markets where OSS can kill.

    * Provide software to all city employees that perform one task, for free
    * Sure, some managers need Excel, and someone writing a manual might want something proprietary, but you can provide software to all those employees writing letters and memos for free
    * Back end basic infrustructure -- You only need proprietary software in specialized cases. E-mail is a commodity.

    etc. I don't know much about the needs of city gov't, so I'm only guessing above. But I doubt their interests align so neatly with the open source community. The point of marketing and sales is to learn your customers needs and address them. OSS serves the developers, not the customers, but don't be surprised when the customers aren't interested.
  • Why is it that OSS people feel the only way they can get people to use their software is if they force it down their throats?
    • You miss the point (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tony ( 765 )
      Most procurement systems are biased against open-source software. They are designed specifically to cater to commercial entities. For instance, many bids that go out are mandated by policy to include certain types of software, often name-specific.

      Also, by the very fact they go out to bid indicates money must be spent. Software is not represented by a commercial entity is at a disadvantage.

      The problem with a monopoly is that it warps the market space-time around it, like a black hole. Decisions are mad
      • "For instance, many bids that go out are mandated by policy to include certain types of software, often name-specific."

        That depends on the problem being solved. If your problem is you need MS Office, well then the decision as to which software to use has already been made.

        If your problem is you need a GIS system for the county assessor's office, then that's not true. You're getting bids for outside contractors to build the system, and if they use OSS or commercial than so be it, as long as the system me

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