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Software United States

Massachusetts Builds Open-Source Public Repository 135

An anonymous reader writes "Massachusetts on Wednesday took the wraps off a new software repository designed to let government agencies make more efficient use of open-source software. The repository will be managed by the Government Open Code Collaborative, a newly formed group of seven states and four municipalities that will contribute and download open-source software and proprietary software designed by government agencies for their use."
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Massachusetts Builds Open-Source Public Repository

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  • by DeadSea ( 69598 ) * on Friday March 19, 2004 @11:05AM (#8610453) Homepage Journal
    This makes me proud to live in Massachusetts. I can't find the repositor that the article is talking about, but it appears to come out of the Massachusetts Government Information Technology Division [state.ma.us] headed by Peter J. Quinn, CIO. He seems be putting quite a bit of support behind moving the Mass. Government to open source [govtech.net].

    The ITD website has some really kewl stuff on it like a legal toolkit for using Open Source software [state.ma.us]. Press releases on the sit seem to indicate that Republican Governer Mitt Romney is behind the move to open source [mass.gov]. He'll be getting my vote when he runs for re-election.

  • by tcopeland ( 32225 ) * <tom@@@thomasleecopeland...com> on Friday March 19, 2004 @11:06AM (#8610472) Homepage
    ...this [mit.edu]? It sounds like the same thing.

    Sounds like a perfect opportunity for another GForge [gforge.org] installation... one more for the list [gforge.org]!
    • i actually brought this up with them this past week at the conference for OpenSource in Government, where they initially announced the GOCC thing. the developer's been talking with tim, it seems, and they're trying to figure out of GF is really a good fit for them, especially with the security restrictions they want to have in there. maybe this will be a good push for that old RBAC patch i submitted to get dusted off and fixed? :)
      • > they're trying to figure out of
        > GF is really a good fit for them

        Cool. Maybe I'll email them with some current government usages of GForge... can't hurt.

        > that old RBAC patch i submitted

        Actually, Tim and Guillame were chatting about that on IRC just yesterday, I think...
  • Nice Zealotry (Score:1, Interesting)

    by USAPatriot ( 730422 )
    from the seeing-the-light dept.

    More proof that open-source is a religion here. No evidence of whether this repository will be any good or contain anything of value, just that's its OSS, hip hip hooray.

    I've seen the light on sourceforge, and it ain't pretty.

    • Re:Nice Zealotry (Score:2, Interesting)

      by J. Jacques ( 708438 )
      As I understand it, the point is to make OSS more easily available to government agencies which should in theory save the state a sizeable chunk of money that might otherwise be spent on other software. The thinking is that OSS = cheaper = a good thing.
      • Re:Nice Zealotry (Score:3, Insightful)

        by goldspider ( 445116 )
        "The thinking is that OSS = cheaper = a good thing."

        Before you call it a "good thing" did you ever stop and consider whether that statement is accurate?

        Just because it's open source, it doesn't automatically make it more useful, or imply sufficient support, or even meet the specific needs of the government.

        Hell, using OSS doesn't even mean that it is in fact cheaper! I work at a government institution and we have worked with free software. Sure, the software itself didn't cost us anything, but getti

        • Re:Nice Zealotry (Score:2, Interesting)

          by J. Jacques ( 708438 )
          Did you notice that I qualified my statements with "in theory" and "the thinking is"? Of course OSS is not going to be cheaper in EVERY SINGLE SITUATION. In this case, however, a number of people who have clearly done quite a bit of research into it have decided that OSS could be cheaper in this particular situation. They think it worthwhile to establish a means of distributing it more easily among government agencies.
        • Just curious: What were the pieces of free software that y'all had so much trouble with? It'd be nice to know, and perhaps the maintainers could be made aware of the difficulties and fix it in future releases. Granted, it won't help you now, but surely you'd like to help the next bunch who look at it...
          • Just curious: What were the pieces of free software that y'all had so much trouble with?

            I've had a lot of trouble finding a FTP over SSL Linux client that uses client certificates.

            Any suggestions?

          • by TWX ( 665546 )
            mainly just Common Unix Printing System...

            Though the wardriving software for Linux wasn't as easy to use as the wardriving software for OSX, last time I looked at both.

            That's about it so far...
        • If you RTFA, you would've noticed that:

          " The repository will consist of a MySQL database, Z Object Publishing Environment application server, Apache Web server, OpenLDAP authentication service for storing membership data, and Debian Linux"

          At least the software they are using for the repository aren't considered pieces of crap. As for the support, any decent sys admin shouldn't have trouble learning new O/S and software. If the sys admin sucks, then there plenty good out of work sys admins out there.
        • True, a piece of software being open source does not necessarily imply that it's the best tool for the job. However, I imagine that if a piece of software doesn't meet some government agency's needs, they'll modify it so it does or ask someone else to modify it. Then they can put it back in the repository for the next government agency to use. If the states involved in this effort play their cards right, and try to make sure that the code they produce is reusable and generally good quality, the developme
      • Maybe I'm just not understanding something, but if it applies to existing OSS projects, they are already on the internet for everyone to get/use (sounds pretty easy to me). If it's for new projects, why not just use something again already available publicly for creating/managing projects?
    • from the seeing-the-light dept.
      Either that, or he watched Stargate SG-1 last week and wants a Repository of the Ancients downloaded into his brain. (And who can blame him?!)
      It uses lots of flashy, colored, pretty light.
    • Re:Nice Zealotry (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I'm not an open source advocate, but I don't see how this could be a *bad* thing.

      I mean...it could be mostly worthless, but the idea, at least, is sound.

      At the very least, if another department needs software, they already have a catalog of what other departments are using.

      As for SourceForge...true, lots of unfinished and probably worthless stuff there. But I've gone there plenty of times and gotten exactly what I needed.
      • And how much taxpayer money will get pissed away maintaining this OSS repository?
        • The hardware/software setup doesn't sound very complicated. Administration will be the biggie, as always. But in the bigger picture, how much it costs to maintain isn't relevant; the hope is that the dollar figure will be dwarfed by the savings that come from better software, reduced licensing fees, reduced development costs, and more efficient government services.

          The trouble is, it's easy to quantify the costs of running the repository, and much harder to quantify the savings that it produces.
    • That's a rather inane comment. People here are really just interested in one thing, when you get right down to it: being able to make software work the way they want it to behave. It seems that Massachusetts' CIO is also interested in seeing this happen. What is wrong or zealous about being happy to see a state government doing its part to use open source software and possibly lower costs and improve productivity in the process? If you don't like it, don't participate. There's no reason to troll or rain
    • Re:Nice Zealotry (Score:5, Insightful)

      by homebrewmike ( 709361 ) on Friday March 19, 2004 @11:26AM (#8610724)
      Well, as I see it, the government is directly involved with developing software. Well, since we are the government WE are paying for the development of software, and yet WE don't get access ot that source

      Here's an example. The state of MN just wrote some software to help track the amount of salt that it uses during the winter time, allowing them to better track and order salt in a timely manner.

      Who paid for that? Well, me, and a bunch of other Minnesotans. Well, don't cha think that Wisconsin, our happy go-lucky-badger-fearing state would LOVE to have the code? Sure WI could buy that package from MN, but I'll bet that Wisconsin will just go ahead, and reinvent that wheel. Government works like a business (but with a bit more transparancy) and most businesses are heavily involed with the NOT INVENTED HERE SYNDROME.

      So WI and MN tax payers are paying twice what they need to. So, why not share the code? Chances are that WI will have projects that MN would want. Is it going to cut jobs? Probably not - it's just going to make things more efficent. Developers will still need to adapt the packages to the current environment.

      We're paying to have this software developed - we might as well get a copy of it!
      • "Well, since we are the government WE are paying for the development of software, and yet WE don't get access ot that source"

        There are many goods and services that the government buys without receiving any IP, what's so special about software? To be consistent, shouldn't we demand the design specs to the office equipment, vehicles, recipes, etc that the government buys. Perhaps we should also be able to obtain personal information about anyone that works for the government, since we are paying their salary
      • We're paying to have this software developed - we might as well get a copy of it! ... which is why it should be released under the Public Domain, and not under any Open Source license.

        That, after all, is one of the legal requirements that the government is held to - and for good reason.
      • One reason that existing software developed by the government will not be made open-source, is security. While a program to calculate salt usage is probably not a security risk, what about the software used to run a government web site, or to manage social security benefits?

        Programmers are lazy, and (IMO) security-by-obscurity is the most common type in use today in closed-source apps. If the code becomes open, then the security is invalidated, and sensitive data becomes at risk of being exposed. It cos
        • Programmers are lazy, and (IMO) security-by-obscurity is the most common type in use today in closed-source apps.

          No. Wrong. Backwards. Bizarro. That's all lies.

          Nobody uses security-through-obscurity in software. Especially in government military/espionage matters! The NSA simply isn't moronic enough to let that happen.
      • I don't know the current state of affairs in the US, I live in Canada.

        Years ago I found that it was the policy of the US government that if software was developed with public funding it had to be made available to the public. Agencies were able to charge a nominal fee to cover the cost of distribution, mag tapes at that time.

        I requested a listing of available software and was told that as a non-resident my access was restricted. Moreover the policy was under review and I would be kept informed if access

    • More like not RTFA is a religion here.

      " "We want to create a central place where the public sector can go and see what other projects are being developed,"

      This project looks more like the government opening up their projects for the public viewing, not the anti-MS, must use open-source project.
    • For many OSS proponents, it's not religious zeal. It's JOY ... joy over finally having a critical alternative to closed-source AND proprietary systems.

      The world is attempting to wake up from the Microsoft Age -- the Nightmare, the Dark Ages of Information -- which have been filled with secrecy, hidden potholes and vast mistrust. DRM is coming like a chariot being whipped by Microsoft and media corporations, and it frankly hates you, the common man. It's coming to turn your computer into a television set (and if I have to explain to you what's so horrible about TV, then you're intellectually lost).

      Some OSS repository in one state government is not hurting you at all. I'm sure Mass. has plenty of Microsoft, Oracle, etc. licences floating around. Now they have more choices. More alternatives. And this kind of thing is quite beneficial; after all, your government should be able to make data without having it held for ransom by a proprietary and closed provider.

      I'm warning you now. If you reside in willful ignorance long enough, you become STUPID. Is that what you really wanted in your life?
  • Other states (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hey ( 83763 ) on Friday March 19, 2004 @11:14AM (#8610582) Journal
    I wonder if other states could use it.
    If so it would make it easier for them to
    move to open source.
    • Re:Other states (Score:4, Informative)

      by mrscott ( 548097 ) on Friday March 19, 2004 @11:17AM (#8610622)
      If you contact one of the members of the GOCC, they can likely get any government entity into the project that is willing to work with open source. It's actually a really cool initiative and will hopefully drive consistent open source applications in government.
  • by Saeed al-Sahaf ( 665390 ) on Friday March 19, 2004 @11:14AM (#8610585) Homepage
    The is great. I suppose this might be a little "off topic" but I think it is due in no small part to the growing public awareness that has come about because of the SCO case. We are starting to see a much more critical eye from the press and public officials to FUD put out by anti-OOS pundits. This is in no small part to the fact that more than ever, the OSS position is more organized and sounds a lot less like a bunch of hippies frothing at the mouth against "big business". We (many of us) have known for a long time the benefits to society and by way of those that work in the Public Sector, bodies that are here to benefit society, the ideas behind OSS, but in the past these ideas have not been articulated in a way that is understandable to the non-geek, non-IT centered thought patterns. A good PowerPoint wouldn't hurt (joke). You have to tailor your arguments for your audience.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 19, 2004 @11:20AM (#8610651)
    "Government agencies looking to use the repository must sign a contract with the collaborative. This grants an agency a license to any open-source and proprietary software it finds in the repository and prohibits that software from being used to make a profit."

    Im not suggesting this idea is a _bad_thing_, it looks like a worthy endeavour, but doesn't this restriction go against the underlying GPL. ??
    • Ohmigoodness they aren't practicing the gospel according to RMS!

      This isn't linux or the HURD. This is stuff developed with taxpayer dollars. All the bits and bobs written for various agencies stuck in one pile. Under MA law, taxpayer dollars can not be used for corporate R&D.

      This isn't incompatible with the GPL, the GPL is incompatible with this. Doesn't stop them from using linux, but it does prevent them from contributing to it.
    • What underlying GPL? Not all the software in the repository is GPLd. There is proprietary software and non-GPL software in there as well.
    • My thoughts precisely. Surely that violates section 4 of the GPL, and I quote: "You may not... sublicense... except as expressly provided under this License", which would therefore invoke section 5, preventing them distributing it.

      Are they getting permission from the authors to sublicense the software under their own scheme? That's the only way I can see them getting around it.
    • IANAL

      Elsewhere in the article it explains that whenever states wanted to reuse each others software they needed to meet with lawyers and come up with a contract. This "collaborative" is like an ongoing contract/project. Instead of meeting after meeting you sign one contract and all future software in the collaborative comes under those terms.

      That being understood, the collaborative is not public. It is a private agreement among state governments. The software used by the collaborative is not public. You m
  • Not open source (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 19, 2004 @11:21AM (#8610671)
    Government agencies looking to use the repository must sign a contract with the collaborative. This grants an agency a license to any open-source and proprietary software it finds in the repository and prohibits that software from being used to make a profit. This is a crucial component, since Massachusetts law prohibits commercial entities from making money off products developed by the commonwealth using taxpayer money.

    The key words in the above are "prohibits that software from being used to make a profit". This means that any software they develop will either have to be done from scratch or from a very permissive license such as BSD, which allows the modification of the license of the code.

    Furthermore, this license does not fall under The Open Source Definition [opensource.org] or The Free Software Definition [gnu.org] for this same reason.
    • Exactly my point (Score:5, Interesting)

      by agslashdot ( 574098 ) <sundararaman.krishnan@nOSpAm.gmail.com> on Friday March 19, 2004 @11:35AM (#8610848)
      Look at the hurdles I'd face if I want to sign up -

      Must sign a contract

      Must use only stuff already in the repository

      Can't ever make money - prohibited by diktat - so what's my incentive ?

      Furthermore, how do you enforce these things ? If the repository is public, I could very easily take bits & pieces & repackage it as proprietary software & sell it, thus making money off products developed by the commonwealth using taxpayer money. If the repository is not public, then how is it open source ?

      Seems overly complicated. Why doesn't the government of MA simply provide monetary incentives for programmers to contribute to existing repositories like sourceforge ? You could get things moving so much faster that way...or am I missing something here ?

      • The point you are missing is that Mass laws in question are not going to change any time soon. Right or wrong (and I think its very wrong...), its the reality that we must live with, at least for now.

        The people doing this are not in a position to change the law to allow comenwealth employees to contribute to GPL (and many other F/OSS licenced) projects, but they want the benifits of it, and they want to have a nice way of documenting the need to change this in the future.

        While I have not seen this system
      • While I agree with most of your points, I must take issue with:

        If the repository is not public, then how is it open source?

        Open source does not necessarily mean that everyone has access to the source. It means that everyone who has access to the binary also has access to the source.

        That's a very different proposition, but it's enough to ensure code freedom. (For common values of 'freedom', anyway.) That's how companies can legally modify open-sourced software for their internal use without releasin

        • It means that everyone who has access to the binary also has access to the source.

          That's a little different from the definition of Free Software, which requires that everyone with access to the binary also has access and rights to the source.
  • Incentive issues (Score:4, Interesting)

    by agslashdot ( 574098 ) <sundararaman.krishnan@nOSpAm.gmail.com> on Friday March 19, 2004 @11:24AM (#8610698)
    Government managing something, anything, almost always results in inefficiency and bereaucracy. I'd hate the state government managing OSS or anything else. Let them build roads & such...

    Would there have been a Linux if the Government of Finland stepped in, instead of Linus & his bunch of highly caffeinated sharpshooters ?

    I don't have a problem with government embracing OSS that is privately built using legions of programmers, because the programmers then have the incentive - fame ( in the OSS community), fortune ( ok, takes much longer to go IPO these days), hopefully both. But government managing OSS, where's the incentive ?

    • Come on... they'll have to internally manage anything that they use to some extent. What agency that writes their own code doesn't have some way to manage it? Why does making it sharable with other agencies make it different?
      • by agslashdot ( 574098 ) <sundararaman.krishnan@nOSpAm.gmail.com> on Friday March 19, 2004 @11:57AM (#8611164)
        Whoever modded the grandparent a troll simply doesn't get it.

        See, the last outfit I worked for, a private brokerage company, had 15,000+ employees scattered across a dozen cities. They wanted to do the SAME EXACT thing - "build and manage an OSS software repository". Same spiel - "We are using OSS all over the place, but each department has its own variant & version, so lets get together & pool our resources, build an internal repository of OSS & then manage it ourselves".

        Guess what ? After a few months & a few hundred thousand dollars, the thing simply fell apart. The "department to build & manage OSS repository" was disbanded & people moved on.

        Why ? Because folks in insurance wanted functionality that folks in mortgage didn't want that compliance wanted that legal didn't want that sysadmins wanted that webmasters didn't want that Perl hackers wanted that Java developers didn't want that....you get my point.

        Different versions and variants exist because different people want different things. Trying to come up with a common software repository is just a pipedream.

        Now, all the above happened in a PRIVATE company, where there are things like profit margins & paychecks - real incentive to make things happen. Imagine a government trying to "build and manage an OSS repository", with umpteen departments, terrific bereaucracy, and absolutely no commercial incentive. The mind boggles...

        • I think the big distinction was that the sofware these states wanted to manage would be code that was written by them specifically for governmental purposes... as opposed to something like a standardized version of Apache.
    • Re:Incentive issues (Score:3, Informative)

      by jks ( 269 )
      Would there have been a Linux if the Government of Finland stepped in

      In fact, the Government of Finland, via the University of Helsinki, funded the beginnings of Linux by keeping Linus employed and not bothering him. Of course, nowadays the university is, shall we say, much more proactive about IPR issues, so it won't probably happen again.

  • You mean like this? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    gd.tuwien.ac.at [tuwien.ac.at]
  • by Xzzy ( 111297 ) <sether@tru7[ ]rg ['h.o' in gap]> on Friday March 19, 2004 @11:33AM (#8610821) Homepage
    Granted much of the software isn't as user-oriented, but that's not the point. The point is it is another government institution that has put real effort into making free software available to the public.

    http://fermitools.fnal.gov/ [fnal.gov]

    This is just one example I personally know of. Is this common at all? I'm too lazy to sift through every *.gov domain hunting for a software page. ;)
  • Mostly good (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mjlner ( 609829 ) on Friday March 19, 2004 @11:39AM (#8610906) Journal
    Any government that invests money in any sort of software development should make sure that the money goes back to tax payers. Just as with anything else, the government (in theory, at least) invests money in stuff that is for the peoples benefit. Eg. defence fundings are spent in order to defend the people.

    Free / Open source software is an effective way of making sure that the people benefits from the development. It's the ultimate public service. A penny spent on FOSS is a penny earned in future projects and software for the masses, while a penny spent on proprietary software is merely a penny spent.

  • Here in MA (Score:4, Funny)

    by superpulpsicle ( 533373 ) on Friday March 19, 2004 @11:39AM (#8610917)
    Ok if there is one thing about the state of MA. Every project with the word "government" begins with a budget and end with an infinite budget.

    Just look at Big Dig, that thing is never going to finish. It's a political blackhole for sucking up $$$.
    • Are you serious? (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      It is finished. The tunnels are open.
      • It is finished. The tunnels are open.

        No, it's not. The tunnels might be open, but they're not complete, and won't be for at least a year. Currently they're open to the elements (tunnels couldn't be completely enclosed until the elevated artery was demolished) and the southbound tunnel near Dewey Square only has 2 lanes instead of the 3-4 lanes it was designed for. It's scheduled to be finished in 12-18 months or so, I think, which only makes ita decade or so behind schedule.

    • Future of Freedom (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bstadil ( 7110 )
      I just finished Fareed Zakaria's book Future of Freedom [amazon.com] and he makes a point why it is that Programs never dies.

      The reason is the Cost / Benefit of the two groups involved.

      The benefactors of the program stands to gain a huge amount per member and as such is very motivated to Lobby and exercise Democratic rights for keeping the program.

      The group paying (General Public) is large and the impact on each member is VERY small so they have little incentive to stop it through democtatic pressure. Result: N

    • Just look at Big Dig, that thing is never going to finish. It's a political blackhole for sucking up $$$.

      Er, the Big Dig is very nearly complete [boston.com] and open to traffic now.

  • The way I see it... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by innerweb ( 721995 ) on Friday March 19, 2004 @11:46AM (#8611005)

    .. one of the huge problems for software developers is that so much of the money in software development goes to people who have relatively little if anything to do with software development. OSS will actually (IMHO) do more to correct this than any other business model.

    The step the state is taking will actually allow more money to be targeted at solutions and less money to be given to people who understood how to legally "appropriate" others ideas. Lets face it, with the IP world going the way it is going, if the government does not step in actively to fight the Copyright Law the fed has created, it will become fiscally dangerous to write and release code.

    If the governing bodies develop their own code base by paying internal people to write what they need, sharing and building upon the efforts of other similar bodies, not only will they evolve better standards (happens easier when you share code development), but we will wind up with more "fill in your state here" based coders. I am sure that outsourcing will happen with much of the development eventually, but they will still need internal brain trust to make it all work, and the code will be available for others to build upon. So, instead of paying forever for marginally valuable software, they pay once for targeted solutions that can be expanded, replaced or enhanced as they see fit. Then they only pay to enhance or fix what they have. Since the code base is shared by other government programmers (or actually is OSS), they gain the benefits of OSS at least to a limited degree. In the end, it will be less expensive, a better use of tax dollars and more productive at the user end.

    Maybe the states can use the savings to improve the education system. How many other professions can you attend school for 12 years of you life and only expect to make 50k to 60k per year? Heck, my wife worked at a cosmetics counter selling Cli**que and made more money than a teacher with less than a few years experience.

    InnerWeb

  • As a MA resident and one of the developers of the upcoming Zope 3 [zope.org] release, I was very positively surprised to see Zope [zope.org] (Z Object Publishing Environment) on the list of supported projects. I know that Zope has been used by the government for a long time, but that it is being embraced in this way is even better!

    Go MA and Peter Quinn!

  • For a minute there, I thought they'd made an open-source suppository.

    That would be bad in innumerable ways.


  • The repository will be managed by the Government Open Code Collaborative


    Given government's love of acronyms I can't believe that nobody though of Government Reusable Open Code Collaborative; aka, GROCC.
  • Not GPL compatible (Score:3, Informative)

    by 0x0d0a ( 568518 ) on Friday March 19, 2004 @06:59PM (#8616680) Journal
    The license being used by the repository is explicitly not GPL-compatible. It prohibits any commercial use of the code. This is a primary reason for setting up the repository, as commonwealth-produced software cannot (under the current system) be used by entities to make money, according to the article.
  • ...here in the Nordic countries:

    http://www.nordicos.org/

    Me like.
  • The best way to kill an idea is to let a government do it.

    Especially the government of the People's Republic of Massachusetts. Even with the best of intentions they will screw up.

If you can't understand it, it is intuitively obvious.

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